Viacom to sell Harmonix. Activision or EA expected to acquire Rock Band developer

Today is the day that the music died for media conglomerate Viacom. The company recently announced plans to sell its Rock Band development studio Harmonix. Despite an overwhelmingly positive critical reception for the studio’s music games, the high cost of producing the Rock Band instrument peripheral controllers contributed to a $65 million loss last quarter.

“Harmonix has and will continue to create terrific videogames,” explained Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman. “But for us, it is about focus. The console games business requires an expertise and scale that we don’t have.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Dauman said that Viacom is in talks with several potential buyers, but did not reveal when the deal is expected to close or Viacom’s asking price for Harmonix. In 2006, MTV, which is also owned by Viacom, purchased Harmonix for $175 million.

Electronic Arts is on the short list of suspects as a potential buyer for Harmonix. The publisher distributed the first three Rock Band titles as well as The Beatles Rock Band. But some analysts suspect that Harmonix would be a better fit for Activision. “We speculated several weeks ago that, given the declines in the music genre, it would make sense to (re)combine the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, thus we believe Activision Blizzard is a potential buyer,” said Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz to

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter agrees. “It would most likely be between EA and Activision, and the latter has more money and has more to gain by eliminating the competition,” said Pachter.

Harmonix representative John Drake insists the studio will continue to support its titles. “This morning’s announcement does not affect the ongoing work at the studio as we continue to support our existing franchises, Rock Band and Dance Central,” said Drake on the Harmonix forums.

Nov 11, 2010

Source: WSJGI.bizCVG 

Dance Central review
The closest thing to a “real” dance game to date

Rock Band 3 review
The Sergeant Pepper of music games


  • Pruman - November 23, 2010 8:12 p.m.

    @FanofSaiyan: This whole face-off between Harmonix and Activision reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Lisa teams up with the real Malibu Stacy to create Lisa Lionheart. At the end, right as the eager buyers stampede into the store, a pallet of Malibu Stacys, featuring a brand-new hat, is wheeled out in front of the crowd. They are amazed that "they changed Malibu Stacy!" and "now she's better than ever!" Lisa implores them to not fall for it, insisting that the doll is the same sexist caricature she was before. "But she's got a new hat!" cries Smithers...and the Stacys sell out, while the Lisa dolls go unbought except for the one sold to Kent Brockman's daughter. The features you mentioned are new hats for the same old Malibu Stacy. Harmonix creates Lisa Lionhearts, great products that don't do great financially. Sadly, reality turned out even worse than the episode; if the Malibu Stacy company was like Activision, they would have released a "new" doll with a new hat once every five months on average, until people got sick of dolls in general and stopped buying them too.
  • FanofSaiyan - November 12, 2010 4:04 p.m.

    People act as if Activision hasn't brought new innovations to it's games. Guitar Hero World Tour added open base notes and made star power possible to obtain during use. Guitar Hero Metallica introduced Expert+ drumming, Guitar Hero 5 made it possible to play up to 4 of the same instrument on one song and also added extra online modes. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock added stat tracking to follow your progress in-game. Activision, like any other company, does what it can to make innovations to it's games.
  • Killik_13 - November 12, 2010 7:50 a.m.

    EA! EA! EA! @FanofSaiyan - It's not as simple as Harmonix taking over GH. It's about Activision sacrificing the creativity, value and diversity found in the RB franchise for more SKU's and throwaway titles. Rock Band DLC far outnumbers GH DLC. GH DLC (At least in the UK) costs over one and a half times as much as RB DLC. Just look at the last main titles. Warriors of Rock featured the new features of a Quest mode and "character powers". Rock Band 3 featured keyboards, vocal harmonies, pro modes, which in turn now allows people to actually learn to play the instruments, overthrowing so many people's complaint that people that play music games should learn to play them. It's this kind of innovation that we risk losing if Activision owns Harmonix.
  • elpurplemonkey - November 12, 2010 7:34 a.m.

    If Activision buys Harmonix, then this is the death of (good) music games. Don't think so? Then compare the last couple of Rock Band games to the past few Guitar Hero games. The stage seems set for EA to step up here. Sad regardless though, Harmonix is one of my favorite developers.
  • jmcgrotty - November 12, 2010 7:17 a.m.

    Not that anyone cares about my opinion on this topic (including myself), I would hope that Activision would buy and kill Rock Band. The market isn't big enough for 2 separate games. The market is barely big enough for 1 game anymore.
  • CurryIsGood - November 12, 2010 5:36 a.m.

    if activison buts expedct "rock band 9:revenge of the guitar lords"
  • Crabhand - November 12, 2010 4:58 a.m.

    @FanofSaiyan Of course we're BAAAWing, Activision fucking ruined Guitar Hero and over saturated the market in an attempt to overshadow Rock Band. If Activision literally controls the rhythm gaming market, they basically have free reign to go nuts and release too many games and overcharge for peripherals (which Kotick has expressed interest in doing). Harmonix worked really hard to overcome the brand they created and it would be a damn shame for that work to be for nothing.
  • TruckThunders - November 11, 2010 11:30 p.m.

    I sincerely hope Harmonix gets acquired by anyone other than Activision. But regardless of who buys them, I hope Harmonix has a lot of say in their contract in relation to their punisher. Give Harmonix control over what they do, because they've done a great job so far. Time will tell what happens. I'm sure most of us are hoping for the best.
  • FanofSaiyan - November 11, 2010 11:18 p.m.

    I love how all the RB fans are BAAAWing over this. I was quite surprised by the news myself. What I don't get is why people are treating this like such a bad thing. If Harmonix takes over production of both GH and RB then Activision can focus on Call of Duty and other projects... so it's not all bad.
  • spideralex90 - November 11, 2010 10:59 p.m.

    EA YOU BETTER BUY THEM. THATS AN ORDER. Viacom, i'll be disappointed in you if sell them to Activision. Although the guys at Viacom more than likely don't even play video games, so they probably are just going to give it to whoever forks over more cash.
  • dillman502 - November 11, 2010 10:45 p.m.

    If activision gets harmonix i will stop buying music games period. I swear Kotick eats puppys and kittens for breakfast and people for lunch.
  • batmanboy11 - November 11, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    I hope EA gets them....
  • D0CCON - November 11, 2010 9:46 p.m.

    Wasn't Viacom a big reason Beatles Rock Band stopped getting DLC? If they go to EA, it would be more likely to get that DLC, which would be nice. But to give an innovative company that created everything Activision's GHs copied over to Activision isn't worth that DLC. It'll either be one game every 3 months or no games at all to let Harmonix die and allow GH to be even more crappy (that's what lack of competition does, right?). Activision would strip away Harmonix's ability to make new things (as it did with COD, Spidey, GH, and everything it has touched in the past 3 years). I'd like to see new instruments and new ways to play music games, not the Activision code of "if it isn't broke, release shittier versions of it multiple times a year, our consumers are too stupid to notice."
  • Cleanser247 - November 11, 2010 9:28 p.m.

    I can see Activison making a "Guitar Hero V.S. RockBand" fighting game, and the ending has Guitar Hero winning, and killing off RockBand. This is seriously messed up!
  • Pruman - November 11, 2010 9:16 p.m.

    Basically: The music game market = That fat guy in the beginning of Se7en Activision = Kevin Spacey
  • Pruman - November 11, 2010 9:13 p.m.

    @SonicX_89: You really want to hand the studio responsible for some of the genre's crown jewels over to the company which is single-handedly responsible for music game oversaturation? If we only count the main consoles, Harmonix released six games in three years (RB1 in 2007, 2 in 2008, plus Beatles and Lego in 2009, and Green Day and 3 in 2010). That's a lot, but two a year is manageable. After Activision took over, three GH games came out in in 2007 (GH2 360, Rocks the 80s, GH3). 2008 saw two more releases (Aerosmith, World Tour), then 2009 hit with a whopping FIVE new games (Metallica, Smash Hits, GH5, Band Hero, and Van Halen)! In one year, Activision farted out 2.5 times more GH games than Harmonix had released in the first two years after they got bought out! Activision's case only gets worse when you consider DJ Hero, a great game that tried to ride GH's tattered coattails, or the crappy DS, PSP, and mobile games. Like you said, they seemed to have learned their lesson after last year, but at this point they can't un-strangle the golden goose. I'm sorry, but the company who created and then destroyed mainstream acceptance of music games CANNOT be rewarded for their actions. I've played music games since PaRappa and DDR, and they were always a niche market until GH exploded onto the scene. Thanks to Activision, they'll be a niche market again real soon.
  • CoryRX8 - November 11, 2010 8:46 p.m.

    @Pruman Neversoft is still around, they're just not developing GH anymore. No clue what they're up to next. I can imagine that EA will probably pony up for this. They're already Viacom's publishing partner for Rock Band, so I can't imagine them letting that property get away from them.
  • SonicX_89 - November 11, 2010 8:42 p.m.

    I guess I'm in the minority here, but I wouldn't mind if Activision bought Harmonix. After all, why not buy out the competition. The music game genre is over saturated, and having only one game on shelves could help prevent more of that issue. I can understand that people are afraid that Activision would flood the market wit more games, but they seem to have learned their lesson with that following last year's tidal wave of Guitar Hero games. Also, the Rock Band series is not exempt from releasing multiple titles in a given year. I doubt that Harmonix/EA would have released as many GH games as Activision/Neversoft did, but they were on track to emulate that behavior.
  • Crabhand - November 11, 2010 8:41 p.m.

    God dammit, if Harmonix is acquired by Activision it will break my heart. We've already seen what they did to Guitar Hero, and I doubt they will treat Rock Band any better. Come on EA, this is where we really need you :(
  • Pruman - November 11, 2010 8:26 p.m.

    Activision buying them makes no sense, since they just shuttered Neversoft and handed GH development duty off to port kings Vicarious Visions. However, Bobby Kotick has mentioned in the past that he regrets keeping Guitar Hero but cutting Harmonix loose, so there's that angle. Also, I could totally see them doing it just to kill the competition. They did something like that already with 7 Studios and Scratch to remove the only threat to DJ Hero, and won this site's Biggest Dick Move Anti-Award in the process. After watching Activision milk and then butcher Guitar Hero (in that order), I have no desire to see an innovative and successful studio like Harmonix fall into their vile clutches.

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