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Viacom sells Rock Band maker Harmonix

Media conglomerate Viacom—owner of MTV and many other things—has sold off video game maker Harmonix to investment firm Columbus Nova for an undisclosed amount. Viacom has been looking to divest itself of the game maker for some time, noting that Viacom just doesn’t have expertise in the video game business. And Harmonix’s sale to Columbus Nova reflects that: rights for the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises will be going to the new company.

“We’re excited for Harmonix to return to its roots as a privately held and independent studio,” said Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos, in a statement “We are extremely grateful for Viacom’s support, and proud of the work that we’ve done in partnership with our colleagues at MTV Games over the past four years.”

Harmonix was founded by Rigopulos and Eran Egozy in 1995, and was the original developer of the Guitar Hero franchise. Harmonix was acquired by Viacom in 2006, enabling the company to take so-called “plastic instruments” games to the next level with Rock Band, while Guitar Hero moved to Activision/Blizzard. Harmonix scored a major coupe with The Beatles: Rock Band, which marked the first time the Fab Four had entered into a deal for digital distribution of Beatles music. However, Harmonix has steadily been losing money for Viacom.

Harmonix is casting the move as a return to independence, and says it will continue to support its existing titles with new downloadable content and is working on new as-yet unannounced projects. However, some industry watchers note that Viacom’s exit from the rhythm-game business might be bad news for the genre overall: if a media company like Viacom and subsidiary MTV Games can’t make music-based video games work, who can?

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