February 09, 2011, 11:45 PM — It's a common narrative in the music biz -- a monster debut to critical acclaim and massive sales. But then tastes change and the public moves on. Before you know it, the dream is over and the music dies. And all that's left are memories -- and a bunch of crappy, plastic fake guitars.
So goes the sad story of Guitar Hero, the video music game that was a godsend to air guitarists everywhere when it came out in 2005. Finally, a way to show off their pretend chops!
The game, created by RedOctane and Harmonix Music Systems, was an instant hit, mostly because it only required players to press buttons on their faux guitars in time to notes scrolling up their television screen while songs by bands like Aerosmith and Van Halen played. No need for music lessons or, you know, talent.
According to Activision Blizzard, which bought RedOctane and distributed Guitar Hero, the game sold more than 25 million units worldwide and generated $2 billion in sales. It also launched the careers of thousands of not-real guitarists, many of whom eventually fell prey to the twin sirens of imaginary drug addictions and non-existent groupies. In this cautionary tale, no one gets out of their parents' basement alive -- well, at least until their mom calls them for dinner.
Finally, though, the inevitable end came. On Wednesday, Activision announced it will discontinue Guitar Hero after two years of declining sales and net losses. The music game genre overall is no longer popular, being supplanted by action games such as Call of Duty and online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, not to mention the creeping realization among players that they look pretty ridiculous frantically pressing buttons on toy guitars. Viacom recently sold Harmonix -- which went on to develop the other big music video game, Rock Band -- for chump change and a CD of Meat Loaf's greatest hits.
Pretend music business, you are a cruel mistress.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.