In 2006, Activision bought Red Octane, publisher of Guitar Hero, resulting in series developer Harmonix launching the rival game Rock Band and starting one of the uglier public feuds in gaming. Today, Activision's CEO said shunning Harmonix was a mistake.
"When we were buying Guitar Hero, or buying Red Octane, the makers of Guitar Hero, we knew about Harmonix," Activision's Bobby Kotick said today during a surprisingly warm and self-deprecating speech made at the DICE gaming convention. "We had always known them as sort of somewhat a failed developer of music games. They always had really great ideas but nothing that was really commercially viable until Guitar Hero. And [we thought], it's a good piece of software, and if we gave it to [Activision-owned Tony Hawk development studio] Neversoft, they'd knock the ball out of the park with this.
"We really didn't even think, 'Hey we should go to Boston, and meet these Harmonix guys and see what they're up to.' And, of course, if we had gone up, I think the world of Guitar Hero would have been rewritten. It would be a lot different today. And it would probably be a profitable opportunity for both of us and an opportunity where you'd have even more innovation in the category.
"A lot of times when you get caught up in the financial details of the business, it makes you overlook what's really important, which is who's passionate, who's committed, who's inspired and where's the next idea going to come from."
In the years that followed, Activision and Harmonix representatives frequently talked trash about each other's games, and, for a while, blamed each other for a lack of compatibility between the series' instruments. Those compatibility issues were resolved, but public comments about each other had not noticeably warmed.
Today, Harmonix is owned by MTV and develops the Guitar Hero rival Rock Band. The series has been distributed by Activision rival EA, but that EA deal expires at the end of next month. EA CEO John Riccitiello recently told investors he hopes a new deal can be set up.