EA Games is officially dropping developer Harmonix's two iOS iterations of their popular Rock Band series from the app store, the publisher announced Tuesday on their website. The statement explained that EA's licensing agreement with Harmonix is ending and as a result, EA is discontinuing downloads of Rock Band iOS and Rock Band Reloaded iOS on the App Store after July 31. Harmonix Music Systems, the developers behind all of the Rock Band titles as well as Dance Central, has not made any formal comment to the public yet regarding the shift.
While initially sources such as Eurogamer reported that the Rock Band titles will no longer be playable after May 31st when the contract officially ends, EA confirmed in today's statement that pre-existing customers will continue to have access to the game, but they will only be able to re-install purchases if they are synched to [a user's] iCloud backup. The initial warning that the game would simply disappear completely, which seemed particularly convincing giving that it was delivered to users through an in-app message reading, Dear Rockers, On May 31st, ROCK BAND will no longer be playable on your device. Thanks for rocking out with us! was quickly dismissed by EA as an error and corrected with a follow-up in-app notification.
It's tempting to see any story of a company vetting intellectual property as a sign of its inevitable decline, but the situation at EA and Harmonix may be dramatically different. While Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos maintained in a late 2011 interview with Gamasutra that Rock Band remains a meaningful source of profitability for the company, he admitted to planning substantial reworkings of the Rock Band franchise even while there's still a dedicated core of Rock Band fans that come in week after week to buy new releases of this content. A report from Bloomberg in November of 2011 projected that the company would make $100 million based on its renewed success with the Dance Central franchise.
This comes after Harmonix's well-publicized fallout with Viacom, the media company that bought Harmonix for $175 million in 2006, shortly before Rock Band was first released in 2007, peaking in commercial performance just a year later. By 2009, Joystiq was reporting Harmonix being hit with restructuring layoffs.
Dance Central was first released in 2010. And by the time Rigopulos spoke to Gamasutra in 2011, the company was signing a very different tune-We're working on a lot of new IP, on many different platforms. We're hiring and growing again. It seems the company, like the music industry itself, is simply channeling more of its energy into digital space and downloadable content. As if to presage the shift away from Rock Band, in an early 2012 interview with Kill Screen Magazine, Dance Central's Designer and Franchise Director said that Physicality is becoming less important to music. Instead, bands themselves may very well begin seeking interactive opportunities to complement their work.