Harmonix Games Lays Off 37, CEO Steps Aside

Is it 'game over' for the company behind Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central?


Photograph by Scott M. Lacey for “Game Over?”

Big changes are coming to Cambridge-based game developer Harmonix. VentureBeat reports that the company behind such hits as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central is laying off 37 of its staff. In addition, CEO and cofounder Alex Rigopulos is switching roles to be the new chief creative officer, with head of publishing and business ops, Steve Janiak, taking over as CEO.

The changes are a bit surprising, as the company recently exceeded its goal in a crowdfunding campaign to re-create one of its classic games Amplitude. With a goal of $775,000, backers pledged nearly $850,000 on Kickstarter.

It’s hard to say what will happen to Harmonix after the staffing changes. According to VentureBeat, the company still has some big projects in the works, including Amplitude and an Xbox game based on Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

The company was founded by partners Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy, who met while studying at MIT. Rigopulos was a former music major pursuing a master’s degree in computer music; Egozy was a computer science and electrical engineering major who played classical clarinet.

After the overwhelming success of their games Guitar Hero and Rock Band in 2005 and 2007 respectively, the duo even made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

But after this meteoric rise came a hard-hitting fall. From our 2011 feature on Harmonix, “Game Over?”:

Then somebody sent the needle screeching across the turntable. Sales of music games tanked. … Whatever the cause, the bubble had burst, and in late 2010 Viacom recorded a $260 million write-down on Harmonix—the corporate accounting version of a bitch-slap. Just a few days before the year ended, Viacom sold Harmonix to a private equity firm for $50, plus the assumption of $100 million in liabilities. A disaster.

Harmonix is not the only gaming company in the area that has had its struggles—Zynga Boston closed its Boston office in late 2012, laying off 50 employees; Quincy-based Irrational Games, which created the popular BioShock series, scaled down in February; and let’s not forget the disaster that was Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios.