Guitar Hero to be 'reinvented,' says Activision CEO

Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, has spoken about innovation at the monolithic developer and publisher, including plans to resurrect Guitar Hero after a rest.


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.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 21, 2011 10:00 AM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, Guitar Hero to be 'reinvented,' says Activision CEO.

    Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, has spoken about innovation at the monolithic developer and publisher, including plans to resurrect Guitar Hero after a rest.

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      July 21, 2011 10:21 AM

      I'm quite sad to see Guitar Hero go. Can't wait to see the reinvention though.

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        July 21, 2011 10:23 AM

        "Reinvention:" Exactly the same gameplay, but it requires an online subscription to play.

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          July 21, 2011 10:37 AM

          Why would such a tragedy not surprise me?

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          July 21, 2011 11:23 AM

          I thought this was actually covered quite well in an episode of the Wire.

          Just give your old product that is lacking in sales a new buzz word and slap a fresh coat of paint on it.

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      July 21, 2011 10:25 AM


      hahahaohohhoohohhohoahahahah oh man good one kotick

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        July 21, 2011 1:24 PM

        Your laughter somehow just made my day. Good job :)

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      July 21, 2011 10:31 AM

      I guess nourishment and care are the new pessimism and fear.

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      July 21, 2011 10:55 AM

      Re: the entire second paragraph

      NO SHIT!

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      July 21, 2011 11:03 AM

      Resurrect it by selling the exclusives to Harmonix for pennies on the dollar.

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      July 21, 2011 12:22 PM


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      July 21, 2011 12:27 PM


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      July 21, 2011 12:28 PM

      Kotick responded not by addressing any of the games by name, but by talking about Activision’s publishing philosophy. The games Activision Blizzard didn't pick up, he said, "don't have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we'll be working on them 10 years from now."

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      July 21, 2011 1:32 PM

      Excuse me while I roll my eyes at you, Bobby.

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      July 21, 2011 1:38 PM

      Sheesh! Can't this Simon for your fingers just die already and perish!

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      July 21, 2011 2:32 PM

      the problem came when they separated their product into half a dozen instances that didn't work together. They needed central system that could bring everyone together like rock band has. Guitar hero had no online community to keep it going.

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      July 21, 2011 2:56 PM

      Take something away for a while and when it comes back it would feel new again.

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        July 21, 2011 3:00 PM

        this is what i do with my 3 year old

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      July 21, 2011 4:02 PM

      I'm dismayed at the burn on DJ Hero, despite not owning the game myself, but casually mix-DJing house, trance, and drum-n-bass myself. It's an awesome experience to play around with tracks in real-time (pulling off a mix that drives people into euphoria is very thrilling), and DJ Hero was the game that came out (Scratch: The Ultimate DJ is still in limbo), and brought that experience to gamers in an approachable way.

      "...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."

      *sigh*. Yeah, I know that the above statement highlights the three biggest risks for Activision in pursuing this: making custom controllers, licensing tracks, and having a niche audience that won't translate to millions of sales. But setting up a basic DJing kit costs thousands of dollars, whether it's old-school turntables and a mixer, a laptop and MIDI controller, or a mixer and CDJs. And you have to build the scratching or mixing skills, which some people may not be able to perfect, and will get exasperated. DJ Hero simplified the experience and brought it to gamers for $120 MSRP. As much as people like to dig on "plastic instrument rhythm games", I'm glad that DJ Hero existed.

      I remember trying out the tutorial, Slim Shady scratched with Beck's "Loser". It felt interesting and fun, though being a mix DJ, I felt like I was getting messed up, since I'm not good at all at true scratching. That was when I appreciated the viewpoint of guitar musicians of Guitar Hero, where it's a different kind of experience, not representative of the true instrument, but an interesting experience in its own right. I had to pass it aside, but it felt good, and I appreciated what it was. I'm really disappointed that Kotick couldn't show the same appreciation.

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        July 21, 2011 4:03 PM

        speaking of DJ, I'm surprised that 1) no one has figured out how to rev engineer the control for the PC for 2) a open-source DJ Hero clone.

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      July 21, 2011 4:02 PM

      There's a surprising negative tone to DJ Hero in all this, and I've seen some game journalists having to apologize to FreeStyleGames for effectively being put at as the sole downfall of GH.

      Kotick needs to realize that the reason GH failed is that when you are pumping out 6 titles a year in the series, boredom sets in fast. (They also thought they could buy the name and not the developers and get away with the same, ha ha that failed terribly).

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      July 21, 2011 4:25 PM

      I got a great line in bullshit too.. maybe I should apply for a CEO job.

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      July 21, 2011 9:49 PM

      Screw you Activision! GH failed because you guys rested on your laurels and did not innovation. You guys probably have committees for committees for those committees who are/were afraid to try something new.

      From what I remember hearing you guys didn't think a full band type of game would work. Dead wrong. And you didn't think opening up songs to user-made tracks (ala Rock Band Network) would work either. Double ha!

      Get some creative minds in there who don't have people holding them back and maybe you can revamp the franchise. I think Rock Band's success is due largely in part to the developers being musicians themselves and LISTENING TO THEIR FANS/CUSTOMERS!!!!!!

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      July 21, 2011 9:50 PM

      Please to be releasing DJ Hero 3 w/ another awesome soundtrack and new innovations.

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      July 21, 2011 10:46 PM

      Innovation is resurrecting dead franchises.

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