The lights are on
Update: Mad Catz has replied to our request for comment on the change in co-publishers. While the company couldn't tell us much due to contractual obligations, we did find out one piece of interesting news.
The peripheral manufacturer tells us it is still the Rock Band 4 co-publisher for "the current version of the software." As we indicated earlier, PDP won't be releasing new instruments until the fall.
This means one of two things. Either Harmonix is releasing another Rock Band 4 product on its own alongside PDP, or it is so certain that its Fig funding campaign will succeed that it has struck a deal and announced it prior to reaching its goal.
Since the developer isn't saying much, we don't know which of these it is. However, we'll update should we discover anything new.
Original Story (March 7, 2016 @ 3:56 p.m.):
Harmonix has a new partner in Rock Band 4 publishing. The company has announced that it is now co-publishing the game with Performance Digital Products (PDP), a company that makes third-party controllers and PC peripherals. While these sorts of announcements happen every day, the implications of this one could be severe for Harmonix’s old partner.
Mad Catz was the other half of the Rock Band dynamic duo when the latest game shipped for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One during fall 2015. The run-up to release saw Mad Catz nearly defaulting on a loan with lender Wells Fargo and refinancing an even greater amount in both the United States and Europe.
The bet didn’t pay off for the company, which dismissed three of its top executives last month and will lay off approximately 37 percent of its staff. During its most recent earnings call, new Mad Catz CEO Karen McGinnis expressed optimism about the company’s potential with regard to its instrument peripherals.
“Unfortunately retail sales through bundles, particularly that guitar bundle, was lower than we forecasted partly due to an aggressively priced competitor product,” McGinnis said. “This forced us to be more aggressive with price promotions throughout the holiday season, significantly lowering our margins. However, our strategy in concert with Harmonix, the game developer, is to position Rock Band 4 as the platform production for this generation of consoles adding new features and new gameplay over time. We’re intent on playing the long game with Rock Band 4 and making these exciting products a long-term sales opportunity. Our retail partners were pleased with Rock Band 4 and our planning to continue to carry the product throughout 2016 as well as the 2016 holiday season, and we continue to work with retailers on promotional and marketing programs to drive sales.”
While the press release from Harmonix announcing the PDP partnership indicates the first retail products won’t hit stores until fall, the implication for Mad Catz could be dire. The company took out loans to ramp up production, and if those costs were in part longer-term investments in warehouse leasing or research and development costs that would be defrayed over an extended product cycle, the company could be left holding the bag.
The flip side of the potential impact to Mad Catz is that depending on the terms of the relationship, Harmonix may have bought out the contract. If so, this would give the peripheral manufacturer a bit of a safety net and a sudden influx of cash.
On Harmonix’s site, the company voices its support for Mad Catz. Peripherals will continue to be sold and supported. News about PDP-made peripherals will come at PAX East and E3, according to the FAQ.
Also of note, those hoping to play on PC (a version is currently being crowd-funded on Fig) with Xbox One-specific gear may be out of luck. Harmonix says those instruments will “likely work,” but the company needs to work with Microsoft to ensure full functionality.
We’ve reached out to both Harmonix and Mad Catz for more information. Harmonix declined to comment further. We’ll update should we receive a response from Mad Catz.
Our TakeOn the surface, this looks bad for Mad Catz, which was banking part of its future on Rock Band 4. The specifics of how the relationship ended with Harmonix will foretell whether the company that also owns the Tritton and Saitek brands will fare financially.
Email the author Mike Futter, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.