Harmonix was founded in 1995 by Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy. They began the company on the idea that everyone should be able to experience the joy of performing music, even those who may have trouble learning a traditional instrument. They had moderate success with their first few titles, but really hit it big with the introduction of Guitar Hero, which eventually evolved into the Rock Band franchise.
On February 7th, 2011, Harmonix announced layoffs intended to bring the studio "into alignment with our current product development plans." Approximately 12-15% of the 240 employees were laid off.
FreQuency was released on November 20th, 2001 and was Harmonix's first game on the Playstation 2 console. The gameplay of FreQuency revolved around the player guiding a virtual avatar known as FreQ down a note highway in the shape of an octagonal tunnel. There would be musical tracks lining the walls of this tunnel. On these tracks were notes that if the player hit the corresponding key of on their Playstation 2 controller would emit a sound which would combine to form the track. If the player managed to correctly do this for up to two bars of the track, the game would tell the player the track had been captured. The game featured 27 tracks from various artists including some from in-house musician and musical director Kasson Crooker and his band Freezepop who have gone on to be featured in other Harmonix games. The game gave Harmonix critical acclaim and sold enough copies to warrant a sequel. The sequel, Amplitude, was released on March 24th, 2003.
Released on the back of FreQuency's success, Amplitude was released exclusively to the Playstation 2 in March 2003 a year and a half after FreQuency. Using FreQuency's successful formula it added new features and better graphics to make what many believe to be a legitimate update from FreQuency. It contained 26 songs which was actually 1 less than its predecessor. A rare occurrence in the music game genre nowadays as every game tries to add more songs than the one before. It included a remix mode in a similar style to the one featured in FreQuency giving the player the ability to customize songs to their own liking. The game was also well received by the gaming press getting high scores on websites such as Gamespot and IGN. The sucess of both Amplitude and FreQuency gave Harmonix the chance to team up with publisher Red Octane to create the Guitar Hero series.
Guitar Hero (series)
The Guitar Hero franchise first appeared on store shelves in 2005 with the release of the first game in the series, Guitar Hero for the Playstation 2. Guitar Hero took the ideas showed in FreQuency and Amplitude of a note highway, but reduced the number of tracks to just one and added the use of a guitar shaped controller that came bundled with the game. This controller had 5 colored buttons on the guitar in place of frets which acted like the buttons on a PlayStation 2 controller and a strum bar which was used like strings and that had to be strummed every time a note was played. Guitar Hero featured 47 songs on the disc. Most of which were cover versions of rock songs. Guitar Hero sold well. Eventually selling 1.53 million copies and making $45 million dollars. Its success led to the cultural phenomenon that Guitar Hero is today, as well as spawning many sequels. Sequels like Guitar Hero 3, which made $1 billion dollars being the first video game to ever do so. When their contract with Red Octane ended in 2006 they were purchased by Viacom, the parent company of MTV Games, as well as the MTV network channels, who would go on to publish Harmonix's future titles under their own MTV Games label with distribution & marketing being handled by EA. Red Octane was purchased by Activision at about the same time that Harmonix was sold to Viacom thereby severing all ties between the two companies. The Guitar Hero series was handed off to Activision subsidiary studio Neversoft for future development. Harmonix would go on to start an all new franchise that has arguably surpassed anything that has come before it in the music / rhythm category, Rock Band.
Rock Band (series)
Upon being acquired by MTV games they began work on a new muic game title known as Rock Band, which would take the primary gameplay from Guitar Hero and add two extra instruments to the game, a 4 pad drum kit and a microphone to give the full band feel. Released on November 20th, 2007 (the same day 6 years earlier that FreQuency was released) it was like its now rival creation Guitar Hero and had commercial and critical success selling over 4 million units and creating $600 million dollars in revenue. One of the key aspects of its success was its Music Store which was a feature on the menu of the game that took you to an iTunes like interface where you could purchase additional songs in either single form, a track pack or a whole album. This enabled some people to instead of having a setlist of 58 songs to grow their library into the hundreds. On September 14th, 2008, Rock Band 2 was released. The game sold more than 1.7 million copies before the end of the year. As of November 25th, 2009 there were over 1,000 songs available for download in the Rock Band Store. Harmonix also released two band-specific games, The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band. They also released Lego: Rock Band, a version of the game that featured more kid-friendly music. On October 26th 2010, Harmonix released Rock Band 3, which took the tried and true Rock Band formula and added support for a keyboard peripheral. As of February 2011, there are over 2,500 different songs available to play in Rock Band, with new tracks still being added every week.
Dance Central (series)
Harmonix moved on from the Rock Band franchise to develop a dancing game series for the Xbox 360, for use only with the Kinect peripheral. The game is able to scan your body and register the dance moves you are performing. The first game in the series was revealed at E3 2010 during the Microsoft press conference, and was released on November 4th, 2010 alongside the launch of the Kinect.