A bit of a shake-up this week with the announcement by Activision that it is putting the "Guitar Hero" franchise on hold indefinitely, and disbanding the business unit behind the games. The company is instead focusing on the success of the "Call of Duty" franchise, and highlighting the success "World of Warcraft: Cataclysm" saw with its release. Activision also shut down the continuation of the "Tony Hawk" games.
So let's break this down. Activision shuts down the team behind its most casual and gender-neutral games in order to redouble efforts into its first-person shooter and MMORPG. Perhaps this is indicative of a larger change in the industry?
The Wii had its worst year so far with 2010. Nintendo is trying to re-engage the core gamer with a return to titles like "Donkey Kong," "Metroid," and a new "Legend of Zelda." Viacom sells off Harmonix in December of last year, and now Activision completely shuts down the "Guitar Hero" team. What do all of these have in common? Well, they are all combinations of hardware (guitars, drums, and Wii-motes) and software that offered party gaming experiences that appealed across genders and offered accessible gameplay to casual audiences (and offered little incentive for purchasing additional software).
Is casual gameplay jumping ship from consoles? In 2007 through 2008, pretty much everyone in the video game industry was tripping over themselves to access the casual game audience that Nintendo was cashing in on. Clearly, this was the future. Recently though, we've seen mobile and social games dominate the headlines in regards to casual cash flow. We're presumably in an "Angry Birds" and "Farmville" world, not a "Wii Sports" one.
Microsoft's Kinect may be a stop-gap in the total evaporation of a casual audience on consoles, but I don't think it will actually reverse the flow. I'd even predict the release of a "Wii 2" will not see the success of its predecessor. The market has fragmented, and now the proverbial "casual game cat" can be skinned in so many ways. Conversely, the core audience still depends on consoles (and to a smaller extent, PCs) for the lifeblood of their pastime. Which is likely why Activision is planning to expand its "Call of Duty" franchise and offerings.