Rock Band publisher MTV Games confirmed to Gamasutra that Boston-based Harmonix laid off 39 workers, or 13 percent of total staff on Thursday, a move "unrelated" to any supposed lagging sales of the studio's product line, a representative for the company said.
The rep for Harmonix and its owner MTV Games said that Harmonix's most recent release in association with EA Partners, The Beatles: Rock Band in particular is doing just fine at retail, with sales of "over 1 million units worldwide to date." The title launched on 9/9/09.
"We can confirm that 39 positions were eliminated today at Harmonix as part of re-structuring to better align our staffing to best suit our product development plans and schedules moving forward," the MTV Games rep told Gamasutra. "Those affected were primarily in QA. The others affected ranged from administrative to other various roles within the company."
The Cambridge, Mass.-based game developer is also the same company behind Rock Band and Rock Band 2. Before MTV purchased Harmonix in 2006 for $175 million, the studio created the rhythm games Frequency and Amplitude.
But it wasn't until it worked with Red Octane on Guitar Hero that the company found itself at the center of the music game genre boom. After Harmonix joined MTV, Activision retained rights to the popular Guitar Hero franchise.
However, music game sales have declined in popularity during 2009, despite new major entries from both Activision and MTV Games. Even The Beatles: Rock Band, while not a sales bust by any stretch, didn't light up the charts as previous instrument-based music games, as competition from other titles has proven strong.
But the rep flatly denied to Gamasutra that sales performance was a factor behind today's move. "This was a process and business decision unrelated to the performance of any MTV Games/Harmonix product," he said. "MTV Games and Harmonix are very pleased with the sales of our Rock Band titles and we expect to continue to see strong sales throughout the holidays across all of our titles."
"Additionally, those 39 affected (which roughly represented about 13 percent of the staff) were primarily from the QA dept," the rep explained. "Harmonix is making a structural and strategic change in how it handles QA."
"Harmonix staffed up its QA department and support positions based on the 2009 worldwide release schedule," he continued. "At this time, Harmonix will shift to a combination of temporary/part time help, outsourcing and support from external partners (which is in line with how other game developers manage their QA departments)."
He added that although Rock Band is associated with EA Partners, Electronic Arts' recent layoffs were unrelated to Harmonix's cuts.