The original Guitar Hero team reportedly thought the guitar controller was a “stupid” idea. We gained this and other insights from Vice’s report on the game’s history.
RedOctane and Harmonix were the dynamic duo responsible for Guitar Hero. RedOctane started as a video game rental service in the vein of GameFly, but made the pivot to manufacturing peripherals, specifically DDR dance mats, after the dot com bubble burst. Harmonix was the brainchild of two MIT grads who wanted to create ways for anyone to make music, regardless of their talent or ability. The two companies came together to merge RedOctane’s peripheral manufacturing experience and capabilities with Harmonix’s game development skills to create a new kind of guitar game.
There were a litany of reasons why the partnership and ensuing game should have failed instead of rocketing to success. Both music games and games that used peripherals were not all that popular or commercially successful in the US at the time. Plus, the addition of the peripheral meant that any game using it would automatically have a fairly high price point. And RedOctane was not only a small publisher, but an extremely inexperienced one. Despite all these reasons to say no, Harmonix accepted because this was “the exact game, the game that we felt born to make,” according to co-founder and CEO Alex Rigopulos.
Most of the developers on the Harmonix team thought the idea of a guitar controller was stupid at first. “My initial thoughts around the controller were that it was goofy and it wouldn’t work,” said Harmonix artist and animator Jason Kendall. Many of his coworkers felt similarly. But an early build that was already functional made many change their minds. Meanwhile, RedOctane was impressed from the first prototype onward, though it also imposed several restrictions on the game to ensure it would be on store shelves for the 2005 holiday season. This gave Harmonix 9 months to ship a completed game. The number of venues, characters, and several other design choices we saw in the original Guitar Hero were influenced by this time constraint.
The team hit the mark, and Guitar Hero released November 8, 2005. Within two months it had made $45 million, an instant success. RedOctane and Harmonix made two more games under their contract together–Guitar Hero 2 and Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80’s. But both were being courted by other companies, and both eventually sold; RedOctane was acquired by Activision and Harmonix went to Viacom. The genre grew too large too quickly in the years after RedOctane and Harmonix parted ways though, and soon a game type that had shaken the industry began to fade away. By 2017 Rock Band was done, with Guitar Hero having already been dead for about seven years at that point. The dream was over, but the legacy lived on in all the people, including artists like Post Malone, who were exposed to new music thanks to Guitar Hero.
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