The Guitar Hero franchise fell "because it didn't have any nourishment and care," Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick admitted to Forbes in an interview about the monolithic publisher's approach to innovating. Kotick also said that the DJ Hero series, also currently on hiatus, flopped because there simply wasn't an audience to support it.
"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?'" he explained. "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."
Although the potential audience was small, DJ Hero went on to be "critically acclaimed" according to the CEO. The product's lackluster sales was one of the "hardest failures," according to Kotick. "You put your heart and soul into it and you deliver an extraordinarily well received game, and nobody shows up to buy it."
Putting the two rhythm game series on hiatus was "exactly the right decision" to make, Kotick said.
"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."
Kotick also spoke of the company's love for extensive audience consultation and focus testing, used for everything from predicting how well a game will sell to shaping the future of franchises. However, it wasn't always possible to act upon the feedback.
"We did the research and it was very clear people didn't want more 80s heavy metal music" in Guitar Hero, he explained. "The number one thing that our audiences wanted in Guitar Hero was Led Zeppelin. But we couldn't get Led Zeppelin to consent to give us the rights. And there were a lot of instances of that, a whole host of artists who just didn't want to give rights to Guitar Hero, and it was hard to get around that."
Of course, it's debatable whether the franchise would have survived, even with Led Zeppelin. The aggressive turnout of new installments, with minor changes over each iteration, probably didn't help with customer burnout.