Viacom’s announcement to sell Harmonix today is no surprise to anyone who follows the video game industry. The company mentioned last August that soft sales of disc-based media threatened to hurt Harmonix’s goodwill, and to date the developer’s biggest contribution to Viacom’s bottom line has been to cut Rock Band’s losses last quarter.
So the real question is, who are the potential buyers of Harmonix?
Electronic Arts (ERTS) – EA’s has acted as distributor for the Rock Band franchise since its creation and this year extended that deal for Rock Band 3. It’s not clear if the distribution deal that they struck with Viacom was to extend past Rock Band 3, but EA didn’t act all that concerned when they casually announced that the original deal was set to expire last March. Given the poor sales performance of Rock Band, and the slowing music genre in general, it’s not likely that EA will throw their hat into the ring to pick up Harmonix.
Microsoft (MSFT) – If the Dance Central IP is on the table in the Harmonix deal you can bet that Microsoft is interested. I can’t see Microsoft having much use for Rock Band, but when you take into consideration that Harmonix’s dance title is the most compelling reason to pick up Kinect (aside from a fancy new way to navigate menus and the ability to vocally order your Xbox to do things) it’s likely Microsoft would be willing to strike a deal. They may make an offer if for no other reason than to stop the next contender from making Dance Central a multiplatform affair.
Activision Blizzard (ATVI) – Not only has Bobby Kotick expressed regret for not looking into picking up Harmonix after they bought Red Octane, but a deal now would allow them acquire their biggest competitor in the music genre. More importantly than Rock Band however is Dance Central. Activision hasn’t expressed any interest in dance titles publicly, but the success of Ubiosoft’s Just Dance has surely caught their eye. Once again, if the Dance Central IP is on the table it would allow Activision to take over Kinect’s top game so far, and possibly expand some version of it to the PlayStation 3 and Wii.