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Music-game developer Harmonix lays off 37 and replaces CEO

Rock Band from Hamonix.

Above: Rock Band from Hamonix.

Image Credit: Harmonix

Rock Band developer Harmonix is cutting staff and getting a new chief executive.

The music-game company is laying off 37 employees as it restructures for future development. The developer also confirmed today that chief executive officer and cofounder Alex Rigopulos will step aside into a new role as chief creative officer. The team’s head of publishing and business operations, Steve Janiak, will take over as CEO. This comes only six days after the company raised $850,000 in crowdfunding to remake one of its original classics, the rhythm game Amplitude.

“Harmonix is in the process of restructuring our organization to bring it into alignment with our current and future product development plans,” a Harmonix spokesperson said in a statement provided to GamesBeat. “Unfortunately, this means making the difficult decision to reduce the number of full-time staff. We sincerely appreciate the work of each and every one of these employees. Harmonix is working to ensure that those affected are well taken care of as we make this change.”

While Harmonix is reducing its staff, the company is still working on a number of upcoming games for console, mobile, and PC. These include the Kinect-controlled Fantasia: Music Evolved for Xbox 360 and Xbox One based on the Walt Disney classic, along with Amplitude. The company also has a music-based shooter called Chroma that is in the early-testing stage for PC. For mobile, the company recently released the music-based running game Record Run, which has players dodging obstacles while listening to their own music.

These moves may come as something of a surprise considering the company recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a remake of its PlayStation 2 game Amplitude. Harmonix set a $775,000 goal, and it managed to raise $844,000 thanks to contributions from more than 14,000 backers.

Rigopulos founded Harmonix is 1995 with Eran Egozy. While attending MIT, the two co-developed an algorithm that could generate music on the fly and started considering how they could use that for games. In 2001, the company teamed up with Sony Computer Entertainment to create Frequency, a rhythm game that has players traveling down an octagonal highway of musical notes. The studio followed up Frequency with 2003’s Amplitude.

Over the next several years, the company released more music-based hits like Karaoke Revolution before breaking out with the novel smash hit Guitar Hero. That game came with a plastic guitar controller that required players to strum and hit buttons along the neck in time with onscreen prompts. It caught on with a huge audience well beyond typical gamers.

Harmonix went on to developer two more Guitar Hero games before publisher Activision moved development to its Neversoft and Vicarious Visions studios. That prompted Harmonix’s most ambitious release, Rock Band, which took the idea of Guitar Hero and turned it into a local multiplayer game with multiple people on different instruments and vocals.

Rock Band became a hit party game. Harmonix developed and released multiple sequels and sold hundreds of different songs as downloadable content. After Rock Band 3 in 2010, however, the market for music games with plastic instruments dried up. The studio moved on to Kinect-controlled motion games like Dance Central, which performed well for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

The company is now attempting to bring music concepts into several different genres as it looks for ways to remain relevant on consoles as well as PC, smartphones, and tablets.


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