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Harmonix: gimmicks essential to innovation

Guitar Hero and Rock Band creator says resurgence of music games is inevitable

Brian Chan, a senior designer at Harmonix, has dismissed the notion that the recent decline of the rhythm genre marks it out as a fad.

In an interview with GameSetWatch, Chan argues that the innovations in franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band prefigured some of the trends still taking root in the wider industry.

"Harmonix was an early pioneer of the 'game-as-platform' concept and continues to set the bar for volume and consistency with respect to our DLC business," he said. "I think that we've learned important lessons from that experience that we will bring to bear in our future products."

The success of the music genre was such that, in 2008, Harmonix founders Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy were offered $300 million in performance related bonuses following Viacom's $175 million acquisition of the studio.

However, the precipitous decline in the sales of rhythm games prompted Viacom to demand that the bonus payment be returned in February 2010.

This, in turn, led to Harmonix filing suit against Viacom for unpaid bonuses in December 2010. Later in the same month, Harmonix announced that it had collaborated with private investment group Colombus Nova to buy the company back from Viacom.

Despite these complications, Chan doesn't entirely reject the claim that music games have - up to this point - been based on gimmicks; it's just that most people fail to recognise the value of gimmicks to future progress.

"Gimmicks, so-called, are really just risky moves taken in the larger narrative of innovation. They are bold and sometimes stupid, but we should applaud such risk-taking. And sometimes they are thin at the start, but many good ideas mature over time and with iteration."

As the rest of the industry catches up to the concepts Harmonix pioneered, music games will enjoy an inevitable resurgence.

"Music is a ubiquitous and inextricable part of people's lives. In addition to being a powerful medium in isolation, it tends to go with everything else. With social media and the democratisation of music software, more people are making music than ever before."

"So, if, indeed, the future is casual, trans-media, and highly monetised, then popular music, as an expressive medium and a media format, seems about as flexible and future-forward as any genre or fantasy I can think of."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar

Matthew Handrahan


Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.