Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Day the Music Died

Viacom has announced that it plans to sell Harmonix, developer of the Rock Band series and Dance Central. The mega-corp has reclassified the Boston-based company as a "discontinued operation" in its third-quarter financial and has already changed all future earnings to reflect the sale.

Does that mean the little plastic instrument genre is dead? No-- it was already dead. This is just the sound of the body hitting the floor.

When Harmonix announced earlier this week that all DLC going forward will be RB3-compatible only, they officially announced the inception date of their suicide mission.

I don't mean that as a condemnation-- let me make that clear--but as a mathematical conclusion.

Here's the math. Harmonix, with one decision, excluded their entire customer base from buying DLC unless they purchased Rock Band 3. So if you've shrunk your customer base for DLC, and substantially, how do you make up for the lost revenue?

This, seemingly, is a fatal mistake: at a time when the pool of people willing to purchase little plastic instrument games and DLC was already shrinking, Harmonix went ahead and essentially drained the existing pool. That's exactly the opposite of what they should've been doing. The entire focus should have been on making the pool larger.

Back to Viacom. Here's a question: who would want to sell an unprofitable business when the customer base is clearly shrinking?

Answer: everyone.

Another question: who would want to buy an unprofitable operation when the customer base is clearly shrinking?

Answer: crickets chirping.

Someone, I'm sure, will buy Harmonix. Even if the bottom line might be frightening, the amount of talent and the quality level at Harmonix is unsurpassed. It appears, though, that Rock Band continues as a franchise only via DLC.

I'm fine with that, but I'm afraid that even the days as a DLC franchise are numbered.

Raise a glass of something, then, to celebrate how Harmonix lived, not how they died. It was a magnificent run, filled with some of the greatest games ever made. I don't think any other gaming company ever made so much sheer fun in such a short span of time.

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