Activision Blizzard Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick told Forbes magazine earlier this month that he desperately tried to get the members of LED ZEPPELIN to sign away their rights to a Guitar Hero game without success.
ZEPPELIN guitarist Jimmy Page previously made it clear he that he had no time for games that don’t teach players anything “significant” about music. He said in 2009, “You think of the drum part that John Bonham did on LED ZEPPELIN’s first track on the first album, ‘Good Times Bad Times’. How many drummers in the world can play that part, let alone on Christmas morning?” He later softened his tone, stating, “It’s always a possibility that someone who’s playing those games may well want to actually take the step on their own. Or maybe they’re already playing guitar and they play that rock game. Y’know, it’s a fun thing to do, you get an understanding of the timing of music, with that you can have fun with on it. I think the most important thing is that with an instrument, you should just really have fun with it and enjoy it.”
Speaking to Forbes, Kotick said getting a ZEPPELIN-themed game was the “number one thing” fans wanted from Activision, but the firm was unable to convince the band to sign on the dotted line.
“In the case of Guitar Hero, we did the research and it was very clear people didn’t want more ’80s heavy metal music,” he said. “But what they wanted was very difficult for us to get from the music companies.
“I’ll give you an example: The number one thing that our audiences wanted in Guitar Hero was LED ZEPPELIN. But we couldn’t get LED ZEPPELIN to consent to give us the rights. And there were a lot of instances of that, a whole host of artists who just didn’t want to give rights to Guitar Hero, and it was hard to get around that. And then there were other things… we put things out there that were not ready for prime time and that today actually would resonate very well with audiences.”
Activision announced in February 9 that it was disbanding the unit that makes its Guitar Hero games. The company blamed declining popularity for music-based video games and said it would stop all development of the Guitar Hero franchise for 2011. Activision chief executive Eric Hirshberg told Wall Street analysts, “We simply cannot make these games profitably based on current economics.”
The Guitar Hero series was launched in 2005 by RedOctane and Harmonix Music Systems, and distributed by Activision. Players used a guitar-shaped game controller to simulate playing lead, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar on numerous rock music songs. More instruments and vocals were added to later editions.
After publishing several editions of the game featuring songs from multiple artists, Activision released versions based specifically around the music of AEROSMITH, METALLICA and VAN HALEN.
At the time of the release of METALLICA’s game, drummer Lars Ulrich pointed to the Guitar Hero franchise as a possible future avenue for music distribution. “This is gonna be a whole ‘nother platform that music is gonna reach, an audience, and especially a younger audience, over the years. I mean, we put out our last record, ‘Death Magnetic’, through Guitar Hero and it’s great. It works on all fronts. And so I think that over the years, it’ll turn into an expected way of releasing records.”
Over the past couple of years, however, sales of music-based video games have slid rapidly, a result of tough economic times possibly coupled with consumer fatigue over so many editions of the games.
While the first Guitar Hero games and METALLICA’s edition sold well, later titles like “Guitar Hero V” have bombed with consumers.