There’s not much need to go over the details again, but earlier this year, Activision made huge news by announcing the cancelation of 2011’s Guitar Hero title(s), and dissolving the Hero business. The franchise itself, as we’ve learned in the months since, is not dead, it’s merely on indefinite hiatus, until an innovative way to bring it back at peak level has been found.
In an recent interview with Forbes, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick opened up a bit further on the downfall of the Hero brand, and spoke on how the new development team assigned to it is going about the effective reboot.
“We had a view that this was something that had much more broad appeal, and that because it’s a manufactured product, being efficient in the supply chain could get the manufacturing costs down. We thought our relationships with the music companies would be more valuable than a small startup company could ever develop on their own. So we bought the company, and after a few iterations of the game it became one of the most successful games of all time,” says Kotick.
“And then we didn’t really take the time that we usually take to understand audience behavior. It was one of those things where we were resting on the idea that one of the essential fantasies of video games is to unleash your inner rock star. And it didn’t really matter how you did that, but as long as you were allowing people to unleash their inner rock star fantasies, you’d continue to be successful. So we went off on a passion project that had a point of differentiation –which is called DJ Hero.”
Kotick then goes on to address FreeStyle Games’ DJ Hero, and how it was ‘shoved down gamers’ throats’, as well as the overall quality decrease of the whole franchise.
“And in hindsight, if you step back –and it really would have been a simple thing to do– we should have said, ‘Well, how many people really want to unleash their inner DJ?’ And then out of the people who do want to unleash their inner DJ, how many want to do it in the context of a game where you earn points, versus just taking a DJ deck or tools on their Macintosh and actually being a DJ? And it turns out it’s a very small market. But we created this critically acclaimed, highly rated game –and these are the hardest failures, when you put your heart and soul into it and you deliver an extraordinarily well received game, and nobody shows up to buy it. So that’s what happened with DJ Hero.“
“At the same time we were so excited about going down this new direction with DJ Hero, I think we abandoned a bit of the innovation that was required in the Guitar Hero franchise. And so it was the double whammy of DJ Hero was unsuccessful, and then Guitar Hero became unsuccessful because it didn’t have any nourishment and care.“
“So we made what I think was exactly the right decision last year. We said you know what, we need to regain our audience interest, and we really need to deliver inspired innovation. So we’re going to take the products out of the market, and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing for awhile, but we’re going to stop selling Guitar Hero altogether. And then we’re going to go back to the studios and we’re going to use new studios and reinvent Guitar Hero. And so that’s what we’re doing with it now.”
How are they doing that, exactly? Meetings, of course, loads of focus testing with people like you, and letting the developers try new things.
“We have a business intelligence group that will go and spend a lot of time with our audiences that we already have,” Kotick explains, “we have a very defined over 20 years process, because it’s one thing to ask a customer to give you some feedback on a product, it’s another where you’re trying to glean insights into a future direction for a franchise. And so it’s a very rigorous process, but we spend a lot of time talking to different customers in different customer ranges and different demographics, different audience interests, and that process takes a little bit of time.“
“Then we also let the studio –there’s a studio that’s now assigned to this project– we let them explore technology pathways, and so they’ll do a variety of different prototypes.“
Who this new studio is, Kotick doesn’t say. Former lead studio Neversoft was replaced by Vicarious Visions last year, who then suffered lay-offs after Activision’s business decision back in February. Whether they are still attached, or if another team has been handed the reins is unknown.
Currently there’s no projected timeframe for a reinvented Guitar Hero. Rumors have claimed Activision may try to enter the dance game market, but that’s not yet been officially confirmed.