Late last year, Viacom decided to sell the game developer Harmonix. Rumors suggested that Electronic Arts or even Activision might buy them out. Fortunately for the consumers, neither of those rumored deals was made! We all saw how Activision handled its ownership of Guitar Hero, effectively running the franchise (and possibly the music-rhythm genre, itself) into the ground by release one or two games every year! And we all also know how Electronic Arts's EA Sports brand has handled Madden NFL over the past 6 years with all competition in the pro football gaming market being effectively stamped out.
No, fortunately for us gamers, Harmonix decided to set up a holding company in order to buy themselves and once again become an independent developer.
As stated in an interview between Joystiq and Harmonix founder and current Vice President Chris Rigopolous, Harmonix has also severed ties with Viacom-owned MTV.
Is this really good news? Or is it bad news?
Well, on the upside, being free of the control of a larger corporation, Harmonix is now free to pursue development of whatever kinds of games it wants. They are also free to pursue licensing deals with additional artists and record labels, since they don't have any potential conflicts to worry about.
The separation from MTV and Viacom also means that Harmonix will be the sole recipient of any profits made from the sale of Rock Band and Dance Central downloadable content (after artist licensing fees and royalties, of course).
But being independent also comes with some problems.
For one, Harmonix may have a hard time publishing and distributing any new games they want to make. In fact, even Viacom (as rich as it is) was not well-suited to video game publishing, and had to license Rock Band 3 to Electronic Arts for distribution purposes.
Partnerships with peripheral manufacturers may also be a challenge for an independent Harmonix. So you might want to make sure you snatch up a Fender Stratocaster and/or Fender Mustang PRO guitar controller while they are still available!
The lack of a wealthy parent company also meant that Harmonix had to lay off a percentage of its employees. This means fewer people available to develop new games, future DLC, or conversions of old DLC into PRO mode compatibility.
Harmonix has already announced that there will not be any new Rock Band 4 game being released in 2011. This may or may not be a result of the sale and limited funds for Harmonix. The decline of music-rhythm genre sales may also have played a part in that decision. That decline is also what lead Activision to shut down Guitar Hero developer Red Octane and disband the Guitar Hero development team and franchise altogether.
Finally, the lack of resources and a direct connection to the music industry (through Viacom/MTV) may mean that licensing may become a problem for Harmonix in the future. So we could be seeing fewer songs being released as DLC for Rock Band and Dance Central in the future. It also may be unlikely that we'll see old DLC songs being converted into PRO mode, or any DLC or expansions for Beatles Rock Band or Green Day Rock Band.
So what's the future for Harmonix?
Don't panic though. Harmonix has stated that they will continue to support Rock Band 3 and Dance Central, and will continue to release new DLC for both games!
So that's a good sign.
It's hard to say what will lay in store for Harmonix. If the music-rhythm genre really does die off, then it would be bad news for the studio, since they almost exclusively deal in music-rhythm games.
But the declining demand for peripheral-based music-rhythm games may not stop Harmonix from continuing to go strong!
They could become a leader in contributing to the rise of motion-gaming through dance games such as Dance Central. Who knows, maybe they'll even release Air Rock Band for the Kinect!
They could also go back to making quirky, music-inspired games like their original Frequency and Amplitude games that put the name Harmonix on the map.
They could also shift their focus from full-fledged games. Instead, they could devote their time to releasing kick-ass DLC, more PRO mode compatible content, and might even try injecting life back into games like Beatles Rock Band (I hope!)
Besides, analysts never thought that the music-rhythm genre would take off to begin with. The instrument controllers were too expensive. The games too niche. They'd never be a hit. Well, Harmonix single-handedly proved those skeptics wrong with Guitar Hero, and then again with the first Rock Band.
There are plenty of options left for Harmonix, so don't count them out.
My personal wishlist for Harmonix
I can't let this discussion end without first offering up my own wishlist for what I would like to see from Harmonix in the coming months or years:
More DLC for Beatles Rock Band: Specifically, I'd like to see the PRO Mode be brought into the game! I - for one - would gladly pay $15 or even $30 to have PRO guitar, bass, and drum tracks be added for all the songs in the game. Especially if they include the addition of keyboard support, and all the existing DLC songs are upgraded as well.
Even if PRO mode isn't added, it would still be nice to see some other songs and/or albums be added:
- Hey Jude (song)
- Help! (album), or at least a few songs from the album such as Help!, The Night Before, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, You're Gonna Lose That Girl, I've Just Seen a Face, and Yesterday (the most covered song ever written).
- Magical Mystery Tour (album), or at least a few songs from the album such as Magical Mystery Tour, Flying, Blue Jay Way, Strawberry Fields Forever, and Penny Lane.
- Please, Please Me (song)
- Love Me Do (song)
... among others.
- Upgrade the existing Rock Band 1 and 2 game tracks to include PRO Mode, vocal harmonies, and key support where applicable.
- Similarly, upgrades to existing DLC to include PRO Mode, vocal harmonies, and key support where applicable. Specifically, I'd like to see the following DLC have PRO mode added:
- The Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape album
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic album
- The Best of the Who (Rock Band edition) DLC pack
- Bring back songs from Rock Band 1 and 2 that did not export. Harmonix has already done this with Run to the Hill, which was present as a cover version in the first Rock Band, but not exportable to Rock Band 2. It sure would be nice to have Dani California, Enter the Sandman, Paranoid, and Spoonman again. Especially if the new versions come with PRO, keys, and harmony upgrades!
- New DLC for Rock Band 3 (hopefully including PRO Mode):
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication album, or at least the songs Around the World, Californication, Otherside, and Road Trippin'
- Some Pink Floyd! Specifically, I'd like to see The Wall album. But I know that might be hard, since it contains some less-than-family-friendly lyrics. But how about just songs like Another Brick in the Wall (part I)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall (Part II), Mother, Goodbye Blue Sky, Another Brick in the Wall (Part III), Hey You, and Comfortably Numb. Songs from other albums like Money and Wish You Were Here would be nice, too.
- More Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze.
- Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry (with PRO guitar, please!).
- Some music tracks from other game franchises. We already got Still Alive from Portal, so why not Want You Gone from Portal 2? And why end there? How about some stuff like You're Not Here, Hell Frozen Rain, or When You're Gone from the Silent Hill soundtracks? or Snake Eater from Metal Gear Solid 3? "TREE FROG"!
- A PRO bass guitar similar to the Fender Stratocaster PRO guitar. I don't really care what model it is (although if it happened to end up being the Hofner violin bass, I wouldn't complain), as long as it's got four strings, is midi-capable, and can be played finger-style!
- Full Midi guitar support. Right now, the PRO guitar requires special finger-placement technology on the fingerboard. It would be nice if Harmonix could update Rock Band 3 to include pitch-detection for regular MIDI guitars, so they can be played with the game similar to MIDI keyboards and drum kits. Being able to hook up any guitar to a midi converter and sending that to the game would also be awesome. Maybe that's something to try for Rock Band 4. This would also allow the player to perform bends and other advanced guitar techniques that the game currently cannot detect.
- PRO support for Rock Band Network. Allow users to create custom tracks that use PRO mode and the new keyboard. I'm not sure if this is already allowed, since I have the game on PS3 instead of XBox360, and the PS3 doesn't have the song editor. Which brings me to my next wish...
- Rock Band Network editor for PS3 and/or Wii. Apparently, the song editor for Rock Band Network utilizes the XNA framework, and so Harmonix was not permitted to port the software onto the PS3 or Wii. It sure would be nice if Harmonix could create a similar feature that can be used by PS3 and Wii owners.