LOS ANGELES — Cambridge-based Harmonix Music Systems Inc. has had well-documented troubles lately, including poor sales of its last Rock Band franchise titles that led to parent company Viacom/MTV Games practically giving it away to an investment group.
New York investment firm, Columbus Nova LLC, clearly had faith in Harmonix to assume $100 million in liabilities when it paid just $50 for the company in December.
But another big time player also outwardly expressed support for the music game pioneer: Microsoft.
“The team at Harmonix has delivered ground-breaking music titles to the video game industry including Dance Central, the best selling dance game on Kinect for Xbox 360. While quite a few developers can create a compelling vision for an experience, Harmonix is one of the few who can actually bring it to market. Kinect challenges game designers to think differently and it’s been a joy to see Harmonix embrace the technology to create a fun dance experience for everyone to enjoy,” said George Peckham, general manager of Microsoft’s Global Publishing Group, when asked by Blast for a comment on Harmonix’s position at E3.
For the first time in years, Harmonix does not have its own booth at E3 this year. Instead, Dance Central 2 is mixed in with a half dozen Kinect titles inside Microsoft’s booth.
Microsoft, however, has no problem giving Harmonix a platform to showcase its latest offering.
Will Tuttle, editor of GameSpy.com, agreed with the sentiment.
“Right now, I think it’s too early to say that the music/rhythm game genre is dying. It’s definitely evolving, and Harmonix has been the developer most responsible for driving that change. When they first released Guitar Hero back in 2005, doubters questioned whether anyone would buy a plastic guitar. Sure enough, they did,” Tuttle said. “When Rock Band was revealed, we wondered if people would care enough about music games to invest hundreds of dollars in a complete band set. The game was a smash hit and spawned Rock Band parties and bar nights dedicated to helping people live out their rock ‘n roll fantasies. Once that market soured slightly, Harmonix adapted and embraced Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral, making Dance Central the system’s first killer app.”
To Tuttle and other analysts, the decision to back Harmonix is simple: people love music, and Harmonix does music video games better than anyone else.
“Harmonix has shown that they know music games far better than any developer in the game industry,” he said. “More importantly, the musicians themselves now respect Harmonix enough to work closely with them, ensuring a finished product that is more polished than competing games. They’ve also shown an affinity for pushing the music genre outside of traditional ‘gaming’ in an effort to actually teach people how to play music. With music department budgets shrinking in our public schools, this should be viewed as a step in a very good direction.”
Dance Central 2 features more than 40 songs, including a new multiplayer dance mode, allowing two players to dance at the same time.
“While this week’s announcement of multiplayer dancing in Dance Central 2 wasn’t earth shattering, you can bet that fans of the first game will snatch it up,” Tuttle said. “So what’s next for Harmonix? I’m personally hoping for a game that combines dancing and singing, allowing me to channel my inner Justin Timberlake to put on the ultimate stage show.”