The Harmonix layoffs are a grim reminder of the nature of this industry
This should be a pleasant time at the Harmonix offices. They’re hard at work on Disney Fantastia: Music Evolved, leading up to the Electronic Entertainment Show. Chroma is a return to the developer’s roots, mixing up traditional gameplay with musical elements and rhythm. Amplitude HD was fully funded on Kickstarter and will actually be a thing.
Yet we’re talking about how the independent developer laid off 37 people earlier this week. As much as we hate to admit it, the video game industry is a business first and hobby second. Time hasn’t been so kind to Harmonix. Despite the runaway success they had with the Rock Band franchise, the music genre’s bubble has long burst. Viacom and Electronic Arts are no longer publishing their games; Harmonix is fending for their own, hence the eventual news of the end of Rock Band DLC, the need to Kickstart a dream project, and now the layoffs as the company trims the fat and refocuses on the future.
Sure, there was a possible bright light at the end of the tunnel with Disney Fantasia, but after the news of an Xbox One sold without Kinect, the plausibility of releasing Kinect games all but disappeared. While the company stated that the layoffs don’t affect Fantasia or Amplitude, things do appear to be grim for Chroma, which has reportedly gone back to the drawing board.
It feels just like yesterday when our living rooms were filled with plastic instruments and a party wasn’t complete without Rock Band sessions. Those days, however, are long gone, and we’re staring at a future that Harmonix hasn’t quite found a role in. The demand for their presence is still there, as evident by the Amplitude Kickstarter passing (albeit in the final hour). How big that demand is, though, remains to be seen.
We know that the studio has big plans for their premiere franchise, Rock Band, based off of the PAX East opening panel. Let’s hope we’ll get to see those plans. Let’s hope Harmonix can survive this momentary setback. Let’s also hope that those affected by the layoffs will bounce right back on their feet.