Neversoft lost its soul and spark in the pursuit of chart success, according to one of its senior staff.
Guitar Hero project director Brian Bright (pictured) described the mood at Neversoft in the last two years – a period which saw the team chase fame in the face of Rock Band, its nearest competitor, as well as ensure the release of four Guitar Hero games in the space of a year.
“With Guitar Hero World Tour  we kind of lost our souls a bit,” he tells Develop.
“We lost that spark by trying to cater to everyone. We were in this arms race with our competitor [Rock Band 2], and in the end I felt like we sold a bit of our souls”.
After the success of Guitar Hero World Tour, Neversoft was told to finish work on three other games in the next year – Band Hero, Guitar Hero Metallica, and Guitar Hero 5. At the same time, the group also had to support two other studios that were working on various Guitar Hero spin-offs with older technology.
“That definitely took our focus, everyone had split,” Bright said.
“We did make quite a few games last year, and if you count up the sales of all of them it was close to how well World Tour sold. But the release of all those games split the marketing team’s focus, it split our studio’s focus”.
Soon after the work was completed, and faced with clear signals of market saturation, Activision reportedly made 50 of its staff redundant. The publisher never confirmed the number of layoffs.
Several months have passed since, and Bright is unmistakably speaking in tones kindred to interviews with musicians after splitting up with their band. He was candid, showed regret on some issues, and was excited by what lies ahead.
Having survived two tumultuous years, Bright is excited again by creating a unique experience with Neversoft.
“We did put out quite a few games last year, and we wanted to make a game that stood out and had its own identity,” he said.
“Rather than go head-to-head with our own games and our competitors, we decided we wanted to make something different”.
Warriors of Rock is the latest, and reportedly final, Guitar Hero project at Neversoft. Set for release in September, the title returns to its roots and is clearly targeting fans who fell in love with the first Guitar Hero games before the series went supernova.
“In the latest game we have shifted back to the core audience,” he says. “We have punk, alternative rock, and classic rock. All that we have now fits the tone”.
And, he said with a mockingly iniquitous smile, the game will be difficult for even the most distinguished masters of plastic guitar.
“When I completed Guitar Hero 3 for the first time, I really felt like I accomplished something. When I got to the end of Guitar Hero 5, I may have had a lot of fun but I didn’t feel that personal accomplishment.
“What we saw at the end of Guitar Hero 5 is that, after a month of release, about 40 per cent of the audience were playing on expert. The core has got to a pretty high level, so we really want to up the challenge”.
Looking to the future, Bright was philosophical about the current state of affairs in the games market, and Neversoft’s future within it. Music game sales have, as was inevitable, fallen off a cliff. According to some analysts, the freefall in music game sales is the reason why NPD figures are routinely dampening spirits.
“Is there a danger that the music genre will become saturated? Most certainly,” said Bright. “But I think it’s a given that there will be a Guitar Hero game every year.
“It’s just that there were so many last year”.
Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock is set for worldwide release in September. Neversoft is thought will no longer be working on Guitar Hero games after its release.