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Activision VP says that the Guitar Hero franchise isn’t dead, it’s simply ‘on hiatus’

guitar hero5When Activision announced in February that it was disbanding its Guitar Hero business unit, no one was particularly surprised. Rhythm games were once quite popular, but market saturation combined with the higher-than-normal cost that each game’s specially designed peripherals demand contributed to a sharp decline in a short amount of time.

Now the video game publisher is stepping back somewhat from its actions earlier this year. While the planned 2011 Guitar Hero game continues to be cancelled — don’t expect that to change — it seems that a door is being left open for the franchise’s future. Certainly more than it seemed after that initial announcement. Dan Winters, the company’s vice president of developer relations, said as much in a new interview with gamesindustry.biz.

“Actually, just to clarify, we’re just putting Guitar Hero on hiatus, we’re not ending it,” he said. “We’re releasing products out of the vault – we’ll continue to sustain the channel, the brand won’t go away. We’re just not making a new one for next year, that’s all.”

When put like that, the tidings for the series seem far less dire than the original announcement suggested: “Due to continued declines in the music genre the company will disband Activision Publishing’s Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011.”

Winters also spoke a little bit on True Crime: Hong Kong, an open-world action game that was reported to be nearing completion when Activision pulled the plug on it in the same announcement that saw Guitar Hero being canned. He said that while a great game was shaping up — “We are confident that thing would have been eighty plus. Eighty five maybe.” — the cost to finish it off and put it out was too high in relation to the expected returns, especially with other higher profile titles crowding the market.

“We were really confident that they were tracking towards a very good game. The challenges in the marketplace right now, when you’re talking about open-world games that are going to compete with titles like Red Dead Redemption, expectations for the consumer are really high,” he said.

“That would have been, and still might end up being, a very successful mid-tier opportunity for someone. But, as I said, we changed our business model to where we were going to change our business model to focus disproportionately on three big, huge monsters. Those three monsters are the Bungie, Call of Duty and Spyro titles.”

The big question we should all be asking after reading Winters’ comments is… is Spyro really still that popular? Who knew?