Bobby Kotick Talks Hero Failure in Latest Interview

Forbes.com has published an interview with Activision CEO, Bobby Kotick. The interview touched on innovation, and learning from mistakes of the past. One passage in particular struck a chord with us, as Kotick discussed the progression of Guitar Hero in relation to the topic at hand.

Despite the several development studio closures of 2010 and 2011, Kotick claims that Activision prides itself on giving developers a unique freedom that may be directly tied to those very closures. “The most important thing we do to encourage innovation is give people the freedom to fail,” Kotick said in the interview. “And I think you can articulate that and establish that as a value in a lot of different ways. I don’t want to say celebrate the failures, but in a lot of respects it’s sort of that.”

While there is a load of interesting information in the interview, the passage that most caught out attention was in regards to Guitar Hero and DJ Hero’s “failures.”

So Guitar Hero has had enormous success –we didn’t start the company that made Guitar Hero, we bought it after it started, it put the first one in the marketplace. We had a view that this was something that had much more broad appeal, and that because it’s a manufactured product, being efficient in the supply chain could get the manufacturing costs down. We thought our relationships with the music companies would be more valuable than a small startup company could ever develop on their own. So we bought the company, and after a few iterations of the game it became one of the most successful games of all time.

And then we didn’t really take the time that we usually take to understand audience behavior. It was one of those things where we were resting on the idea that one of the essential fantasies of video games is to unleash your inner rock star. And it didn’t really matter how you did that, but as long as you were allowing people to unleash their inner rock star fantasies, you’d continue to be successful. So we went off on a passion project that had a point of differentiation –which is called DJ Hero.

And in hindsight, if you step back –and it really would have been a simple thing to do– we should have said, ‘Well, how many people really want to unleash their inner DJ?’ And then out of the people who do want to unleash their inner DJ, how many want to do it in the context of a game where you earn points, versus just taking a DJ deck or tools on their Macintosh and actually being a DJ? And it turns out it’s a very small market.

But we created this critically acclaimed, highly rated game –and these are the hardest failures, when you put your heart and soul into it and you deliver an extraordinarily well received game, and nobody shows up to buy it. So that’s what happened with DJ Hero. At the same time we were so excited about going down this new direction with DJ Hero, I think we abandoned a bit of the innovation that was required in the Guitar Hero franchise.

And so it was the double whammy of DJ Hero was unsuccessful, and then Guitar Hero became unsuccessful because it didn’t have any nourishment and care. So we made what I think was exactly the right decision last year. We said you know what, we need to regain our audience interest, and we really need to deliver inspired innovation. So we’re going to take the products out of the market, and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing for awhile, but we’re going to stop selling Guitar Hero altogether. And then we’re going to go back to the studios and we’re going to use new studios and reinvent Guitar Hero. And so that’s what we’re doing with it now.

In addition to that one passage of interest, Kotick went on to recognize that despite their best efforts, Activision failed to deliver the one game everybody really wanted.

In the case of Guitar Hero, we did the research and it was very clear people didn’t want more 80s heavy metal music. 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.

The entire interview is really worth checking out. Head on over to Forbes.com for the entire interview from the Activision CEO.

[via Forbes.com]

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36 Responses to Bobby Kotick Talks Hero Failure in Latest Interview

  1. Greg says:

    People didn’t want 80s heavy metal music? I Prefer 70s rock but metal is definitely one of the best genres for the game.

  2. leon x says:

    I like its gameplay as it is. I do not think Guitar Hero needs to reinvent itself.

    I only wish more players (6 or 7), more things to import (characters, stages), rhythm guitar, play the notes of other instruments with the guitar, better songs (more classic rock, please) and more downloadable content!!

    And Activision should remember something:

    Ten Best Selling Rock Band DLC Artists

    The Beatles (29 songs)
    The Who (14 songs)
    Metallica (3 songs)
    Boston (7 songs)
    Disturbed (11 songs)
    No Doubt (23 songs)
    Foo Fighters (22 songs)
    The Police (9 songs)
    Red Hot Chili Peppers (18 songs)
    Blink 182 (9 songs)

    It’s just my opinion

  3. Kyle Polansky says:

    Can’t wait for the return of Guitar Hero!

  4. Game!Ov3r says:

    Dang DJ hero killed Guitar Hero…

    • Game!Ov3r says:

      and as for what people want… how come Band Hero didn’t do as good as I thought it should? It hit right at home with the teenie bopper/top 40 crowd. And wasn’t Metallica their #1 selling game? Were they not heavy in the 80’s? And I do see what he is saying about songs that were not ready for prime time, Guitar Hero “I feel” gambled on a lot of songs from newer bands and failed.

      • Elliott says:

        I think what Kotick is saying is:

        Everyone wants specific songs in Guitar Hero and nobody wanted to give it to them! What they could get is 80s metal and that wasn’t what the casual consumer necessarily wanted.

        The second part I’ve still been trying to figure out… The only conclusion I can make is a lot of the bands licensed for World Tour and 5 would be better received right now then they were at the time.

        Or something…

    • Mike says:

      i agree, guitar hero is awesome and dj hero I’m not really into.

  5. Leonardo Storti says:

    Well at least this helps confirm that GH is not dead so I thank you Bobby Kotick for not letting it die. I guess all they are doing is trying to reinvent the game in a different way so ok, it would have been nice if you didn’t say Guitar Hero is dead, you should have mentioned Hiatus in the first place but it has been corrected so ok….

    Now that I think about it yeah, Led Zep is the most requested artist for these games but thanks to Jimmy Page we wont see that happen any time soon, the only way it’s gonna happen is if him and his band are dead, it’s a horrible thing to say I know, but hey that’s how we got nirvana in there, I would know that Kurt Kobaine would have hated these games too but he is not around to say anything now is he?….

    The game does need a reinvention so I’m glad that the brand is not dead and is still beating, thank god

    I know that it’s rediculous but you guys don’t understand how much Guitar Hero impacted my life, the first GH I played was GH2, I loved the game so much, because it was the first time for me listining to rock music, at the time I didn’t even know about rock music. But GH gave me the satisfaction of playing a video game and listining to music at the same time. I would have never known about artists such as Rush, Megadeth, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and sooooo many others if it wasn’t for this game. It’s because of this game I love listining to rock music, it really did a huge impact on life, it introduced me to rock music and I loved it…

    • joescorpion says:

      The same here… Guitar hero changed my life… I was lost before guitar hero… This game introduced me to many bands and introduced me to rock and metal. The game gave me a love for music. It has inspired me to start a band and create album artwork for a living. Guitar hero must return. With lots of metal punk and classic rock… thats what people want

  6. Jason2087 says:

    Maybe a bunch of bands are saying No to GH but not to RB. The great quality of weekly DLC is evident of that. What RB puts up as DLC, GH considers good enough for disc songs, There’s only a handful of major artists that aren’t in RB, Led Zep, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, etc, but besides that they land pretty much every big name. If GH doesn’t have as much luck, oh well.

    • Elliott says:

      That’s certainly an interesting way of thinking about it… Most of Rock Band’s DLC lately has looked pretty familiar to be honest. Not that it’s a bad thing but you just seem like your posting a “who cares I love Rock Band” comment to stir up an argument.

      That being said… I do appreciate your input on here and hope you continue to contribute, just try not to incite the tired RB vs. GH back and forth 🙂

    • Leonardo Storti says:

      I agree with Elliot, it seems to me you’re a RB fanboy Jason2087….well at least the way you wrote the comment it seems that way….

      Bands get just as much money from GH if not more so than RB, RB gets weekly DLC but it’s not quality DLC and it may not be DLC everybody would want to download, if you like the DLC that came out then that’s you but if you don’t, you don’t…its that simple there is no such thing as quality DLC only what you think is quality, and that’s just your oppinion because others might disagree, being that people have different music tastes. You are on the wrong site, if you want to comment on how awesome and how much better RB “supposedly” is, you may do so by going to the website Rock Band Aid (google search it), this is all Guitar Hero news not Rock Band.

      If you came here to start up a pointless arguement you’re a dick period…

    • Leonardo Storti says:

      I absolutely hate it when people come to this site just to boast that RB is better because of “quality DLC” or “More realistic Gameplay” or convince other GH players and fans to move to RB because your game is supposedly “superior” than Guitar Hero.

      No one cares.

      • Game!Ov3r says:

        I think you took his post too personal… he did make a valid point and one that I was thinking as well, and I am both a Guitar Hero and Rock Band supporter. And I do agree on the recent DLC looking like old Guitar Heroish tunes (Soundgarden, P.O.D., Ozzy, and Poison) but I guess this would have something to do with Guitar Hero liscencing issues laxing, I dont know for sure, but that is what I am guessing. If he would have left off that last part of his post I would have agreed 100% with what he said.

        • Milt says:

          Both sides are guilty of “taking each others’ music”, which isn’t even really a problem. WoR had Aqualung, and numerous Rock Band DLC going all the way back to the first six singles (Cherry Bomb, Fortunate Son). It’s just music that people like, that one game doesn’t already have in it.

          I could do with less P.O.D. and Nickelback, but if that’s what people want, it’ll come out as DLC. I’m sure they’re much more desperate to get their music out than Zeppelin or Floyd.

  7. Champiness says:

    Seems like Kotik’s still in denial about the reason the Hero franchise tanked – it’s not because of DJ Hero, it’s because Activision released multiple Hero games in such a short frame of time. Seems to me like he’s using DJ Hero as a scapegoat for his own failures – giving himself “freedom to fail”?

    • Leonardo Storti says:

      Now that I think about it you’re right, why didn’t I come up with that?

      Yeah, GH failed because he released too many at a time, people got fed up with it he pressured them. It’s obviously his fault and he still question himself why did Guitar Hero failed…

      There are a number of reasons why but the main one I believe would be the music selection, I think everybody was pumped with GHWOR, because it was a game that was gonna be a supposed shredder with much more metal, but in the end it ended up being varried just like GH5, so we got dissapointed with it. I was expecting the most known metal bands in that game like Dream Theater, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne….you know, much more metal but I saw much more rock music and pop rock than anything else fore example, Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, R.E.M, Neil Young? they are not even remotely close to metal I mean come on, and they are not exactly shredders either….

      Regardless it was still way better than GH5 and GH5 sold amazingly because if you pre-ordered it you would get Van Halen free. Nobody really cared for GH5, yet IGN almost gave it a nine and they give GHWOR a 6.0? GHWOR is clearly a better game wth are they smoking? Sales sucked for GHWOR because Guitar Hero has been pumped out too many times and that is reason number two….Number three would be the fact that GHWOR didn’t have many changes from GH5, it still felt like GH5 hence proving that this game was rushed…and lastly, majority of people prefer RB so less sales for GH

      • Ospero says:

        Sorry, but GHWOR is not “clearly the better game” when compared to GH5. The engine was basically the same, so no luck there, and the setlist of GHWOR was filled to bursting with songs that were clearly in there only for the difficulty junkies, like, oh, the entire final set. Also, the story mode’s hijinks were so massively over the top as to become ridiculous. They meant well, and the concept was alright, but the realization left a lot to be desired.

        Oh, and it wasn’t just IGN, apparently. Metacritic aggregate score for GHWOR: 72-77 (depending on the platform). GH5 on the same three platforms: 85-89. The difference is not as massive, but it’s there.

        And I don’t believe that GH5 sold so relatively well because you got GHVH for free – for one, that only happened in the US; for two, how many people out there are so drawn in by Van Halen that this became a point in buying GH5?

        • Croq says:

          I have to admit, the only reason I didn’t wait for the price to drop on GH5 was because of the inclusion of GHVH. I have bought and play most of the GH titles, but don’t see any reason to pay full price unless I have to.

          Heck, I just bought GHWOR a couple of weeks ago because I was able to get the guitar bundle with the game for $14.99 at Toys R Us.

  8. Chris says:

    I can think of three main reasons why Guitar Hero failed.

    Reason #1, and probably the most obvious, is the oversaturation of the market. In 2009 alone Activision released 6 games with the word “Hero” in the title: Guitar Hero Metallica, Guitar Hero Smash Hits, Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero, DJ Hero, and Guitar Hero Van Halen. Metallica is still to this day my favorite GH game. Smash Hits was basically recycled songs that could have just as easily been re-released with the full band support as DLC. 5 was good as it appealed to both the casual crowd with more easier songs and the hardcore crowd with artists like Megadeth and Children Of Bodom. Band Hero, while not my cup of tea, was good for the more casual gaming crowd and the more pop-oriented crowd (I like my 80s thrash metal personally), and Van Halen pretty much tanked which was surprising considering the success and good execution of the Metallica game. At this point after seeing so many “Hero” games released in the same year people got sick of it, and when they saw Guitar Hero Warriors Of Rock on store shelves they thought “Oh great, another one.” Not only that, but like Kotick said, they really didn’t do much to add to the mechanics of each new game, resulting basically in different iterations of the same exact game. All Warriors of Rock added to the gameplay was open sustains on bass.

    Second reason, I’d say, is that Warriors of Rock tended to cater more to the hardcore crowd, turning off casual gamers. While casual gamers tended to shy away from the difficult setlist, hardcore gamers eventually got burnt out trying to FC everything which explains why so many people have “quit” the game in recent years. I haven’t quit, and I never will, but I’m just making a point explaining my view on why people are quitting.

    Third, the franchise is starting to run out of big-name artists after releasing so many different games. In my opinion, music/rhythm games should have “bigger” songs and artists on the disc while the lesser-known songs and artists should be DLC. Guitar Hero’s more successful iterations had many big-name artists, like Black Sabbath, Guns N Roses, Boston, Jimi Hendrix (who is now Rock Band exclusive), Queens of the Stone Age, Motorhead, Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Metallica (who already had a full game based on them), Iron Maiden, Rush, etc. Look at the setlist for Warriors of Rock. As great as artists like Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Strung Out, Snot, Dillinger Escape Plan, and John 5 are (just to name a few), not a lot of players new to the series have heard of them before the setlist was announced. So it may have made more sense to include them as DLC and leave the disc songs to more bigger-name artists and songs that everybody knows.

    • Oliver says:

      I broadly agree, but I’d like to throw a couple of more reasons into the mix:

      The introduction of drums. It was no doubt deemed necessary to keep up with Rock Band but, in hindsight, the end result was largely negative: the games became more expensive to make, GH4 ended up feeling rushed, and it introduced bulky and expensive hardware into the mix that would put off new players.

      Rock Band. It split the market for rhythm games. Had only one of GH6 or RB3 been replaced, then you’d have one modest success rather than two failures.

      • Leonardo Storti says:

        No guitar hero needed their own drumset, otherwise sales would have been horrible, if only Guitar was on Guitar Hero, then Rockband would win constantly because it has all the instruments. I don’t think it was a bad move at all for Guitar Hero to come out with their own drumset which I personally think was better than RB2’s drumset….it had much more than RB2’s drum set, it had MIDI connections, it had 2 cymbals, it was way more difficult and you were able to include double pedal to the game unlike RB2 where it was still only one pedal, until they came out with RB3.

        And is for Chris’s comment on his final paragraph, I say why not release the artists again, why not release the ones that were in guitar hero 3 and the other songs that never fully imported from past games? if they were to say really really truly end the GH franchise, then they can give us our final imports, make every past game completely and fully importable to GHWOR no missing songs or artists. That’s ending the series with a very nice bang. Because I love Guitar Hero really, but I was so pissed with it too because no full imports from past games to current ones, HX got that right why Activision could not?…here is an example GHWT….30 songs out of 85?….WTF, it pissed me off beyond belief…if GH will end give us the rest of the songs from past imports

  9. Milt says:

    I’m not going to get into RB vs. GH in terms of gameplay, aesthetics, or the core audience, but I’ve always looked at DLC in terms of ‘make connections with artists and labels’ (Harmonix) and ‘throw money at your problems’ (Activision). While I’d prefer that a company make long-lasting partnerships with a label, ensuring that one track pack or single won’t be the last you’ll hear of a certain band, there are definitely some songs (on-disc or DLC) that I wish had made it to Rock Band as DLC instead of one of many non-exportable on-disc Guitar Hero tracks. I’m in no way saying that being featured in one game meant that artist or song shouldn’t be in the other, as in that song/artist is “claimed” by a game, but putting out something like a Rocky Horror Picture Show pack seems less like good label negotiation and more like “let’s talk with our wallet”, a signature move of Activision.

    People will continue to support something they’ve grown comfortable with. I still know a handful of folks who prefer GH over RB, for things as silly as “ugh, I hate square notes”. I was always excited to see what DLC was coming out for Guitar Hero, trying in vain to keep up with Rock Band (regardless of how many GH fans cry “Rock Band has crappy music”, GH is just as guilty), even though I wouldn’t download any of it. I was saddened to see it cut down to every other week, then the monthly mega-packs. GH knew how to get its name up on the marquee, but Harmonix realized that in order to put out a quality music game (and quality, consistent DLC), you had to really care about music.

    • Leonardo Storti says:

      Well I guess I will agree with you, but it’s not the last time we heard of Guitar Hero, if Activision keeps the promise (which I am starting to doubt it btw) Guitar Hero will come back. They say they will reinvent it but how much can you re-invent the game? there is only one option left and it’s putting real instruments for GH but then GH will be accused of copying now would they?….how about if we let RB take the realism cake and we take the fantasy cake? keep guitar hero the way it is as many people prefer it this way anyway, guitar hero was always meant for difficulty and story telling so why not keep it that way…if the GH fans crave more difficultness, then here is an idea, how about adding a sixth fret to the guitar neck of the toy guitar?

      you have your standard 5 colors….G,R,Y,B and O….but how about adding a P, which would be Purple, by having that extra fret we would up the difficulty alot and it would be called Expert + for Guitar and Bass…but that’s just me

      • Milt says:

        “guitar hero was always meant for difficulty and story telling”

        You’re talking about Activision’s Guitar Hero, right? I remember getting into GH1 because I loved rock music and rhythm games.

        I think Activision should axe all the characters that Harmonix created, leave it with a few original characters (the ones they tossed into World Tour and 5, maybe WoR), leave a very sparse story, and focus on a much better engine with the same circular note shapes everyone loves.

        I don’t have any problems with the on-disc tracks, both game series do a good job of balancing popular music, semi-underground music, and stuff nobody has heard of (that you may or may not end up enjoying). Both series have fans that cry out for more Muse, Avenged Sevenfold, Metallica, etc., but GH seems to cater more to those fans instead of spreading things out for music geeks. Not picking on GH, just different crowds with the same goal — playing a fun rhythm game. It’s like going to a fast food restaurant in a different country, you can probably enjoy it, but you’ll start picking at the little differences and wishing you were back home.

  10. Louie says:

    Something I actually wanna see is some actual GUITARISTS in guitar hero. Like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, or Yngwie Malmsteen. I think that would be really cool, I mean, the game IS called GUITAR hero.

    • Mike says:

      i agree here, i think dave mustaine should be on this game, he deserves to be on it from the hard work he did on guitar hero warriors of rock, he is a legend 🙂

  11. Leonardo Storti says:

    Guitar Hero is coming back guys its official….there is no release date but its coming back guys I am not lying if you dont believe me search on google: Guitar Hero Comeback…..its coming back guys, re-invented….guitar hero is under a new studio tho i dont know the name….but Bobby K. Assured that it will comeback…..TIME TO CELEBRATE!!!!

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  13. Mike says:

    wishlist for guitar hero 🙂

    Toto – Hold The Line
    Pantera – Domination
    Testament – Into The Pit
    Saxon – 747
    Motorhead – In The Name Of Tragedy
    Angel Witch – Angel Witch
    Slipknot – Sulfur
    Ozzy Osbourne – Perry Mason
    Iced Earth – When The Night Falls
    Thin Lizzy – Emerald
    Dead By April – Erased
    Megadeth – Kick The Chair
    Van Halen – Humans Being
    Iron Maiden – Phantom Of The Opera
    Gwar – War Is All We Know
    Susperia – Home Sweet Hell
    Arch Enemy – End Of The Line
    Murderdolls – My Dark Place Alone
    Slayer – New Faith
    Misfits – Scream
    Machine Head – Blood, Sweat And Tears
    Black Label Society – World Of Trouble

  14. Game!Ov3r says:

    i just saw on yahoo that Activision had higher 2nd quarter earnings… hem… no guitar doesnt seem to be hurting them. The article said that online DLC for Call of Duty put them over the top. Numbers like this could hurt the Guitar Hero come back.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Activision-Blizzard-reports-apf-647365352.html?x=0

  15. Ian Atkinson says:

    If Guitar Hero comes back it will need to come back with a realistic controller or a real guitar.

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