It looked like the very nature of the music industry was gearing up for a paradigm shift back in 2008. While digital music sales through services like iTunes and Amazon had never managed to catch up to the halcyon days of 1999 and 2000 when CD sales were skyrocketing, a new form of music distribution was taking shape thanks to Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were going to be a new source of catalog revenue for bands and music labels alike, with people buying new tracks each and every week to play with friends at home. When Guitar Hero 3 became the first individual game to earn $1 billion back in 2007, the future seemed set in stone. It didn’t really workout that way. By 2011 the music instrument video game market had crumbled, and now a possible final nail will be hammered into the proverbial coffin: Come spring 2013, there will be no more regular Rock Band downloadable content.
“As you may have seen in our recent announcement regarding the release of Rock Band Blitz tracks as singles, Rock Band DLC production has gradually slowed over the past five years,” reads a statement on the official Rock Band website, “We’ve managed to maintain a consistent release schedule for a staggering 275 consecutive weeks, releasing over 4,000 songs for the Rock Band Platform, but in recent months we’ve scaled production down as we’ve transitioned resources onto other projects. With several new titles in development and developers needed to usher these new games along, April 2nd will be the last weekly DLC release for Rock Band.”
When it released in 2007, Guitar Hero creator Harmonix’s Rock Band was a more forward-looking product than the franchise Activision had wrested from its control. Rather than forcing players to purchase discs of limited new songs, Rock Band would have a persistent iTunes-style storefront of new digital songs that carried across new iterations of the series. Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and the store of downloadable tracks generated $1 billion by March 2009, just eighteen months after the release of the original game.
While revenue for the series continued to grow into 2010, Electronic Arts, Viacom’s MTV Interactive division, and Harmonix’s ambitions outpaced their market. The cost of developing products like The Beatles: Rock Band—a single song cost “thousands” to produce—crippled the franchise whose value was diminishing as Activision and Electronic Arts flooded the music game market.
Harmonix will continue to release new Rock Band DLC over the next six weeks.