The keynote presentation at DICE 2010 by Activision CEO Bobby Kotick started as an argument for why he got into video games in the first place, but he spent several minutes addressing various mistakes he's made at the company, including the decision to not purchase Harmonix.
"When we were buying Guitar Hero and buying RedOctane, the makers of Guitar Hero, we knew about Harmonix," said Kotick. "We had always known them as sort of a somewhat failed developer of music games. They always had really good ideas, but nothing that was really commercially viable until Guitar Hero and at first we thought, 'okay, it's a good piece of software, but if we gave it to Neversoft, they're going to knock the ball out of the park with this.'"
Neversoft ended up developing Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which catapulted the Guitar Hero franchise into the stratosphere, while Harmonix went on to produce Rock Band.
"We really didn't even think 'hey, we should go to Boston and meet these Harmonix guys and see what they're up to," said Kotick. "And of course, had we gone, I think the world of Guitar Hero would have been rewritten and it would be a lot different today and probably a profitable opportunity for both of us and an opportunity where you'd have even more innovation in the category."
Kotick's reflection almost came across as an apology to Harmonix (and perhaps dismissive of what Neversoft ultimately did with the Guitar Hero franchise). It's very likely Harmonix founder Alex Rigopulos was in the audience here at DICE. The financials of the music games business have fallen substantially following the Rock Band and Guitar Hero explosion a few years back.
"A lot of times when you get caught up in a lot of the financial details of the business," admitted Kotick, "it sometimes makes you overlook what's really important, which is who's passionate, who's committed, who's inspired, where's the next great idea going to come from."
It's almost like an episode of Lost. What would have happened if Harmonix stayed on Guitar Hero?