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Not so fast: Guitar Hero isn't dead yet

Activision's vice president of developer relations says the franchise is simply "on hiatus."

Don't say good-bye just yet.
Don't say good-bye just yet?

Guitar Hero fans, rejoice: the franchise apparently hasn't played its final note.

In a GamesIndustry.biz interview published today, Dan Winters, Activision vice president of developer relations, said that the Guitar Hero franchise is simply "on hiatus."

"Actually, just to clarify, we're just putting Guitar Hero on hiatus, we're not ending it," Winters told the gaming publication. "We're releasing products out of the vault--we'll continue to sustain the channel, the brand won't go away. We're just not making a new one for next year, that's all."

Winters' comments are quite the surprise. Back in February, Activision said in an quarterly earnings statement that it had buried the franchise due to poor sales among music games.

"Due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing's Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011," it said at the time.

That decision wasn't all that surprising. The music games sector has been performing poorly over the last couple years. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said in a January note to investors that the industry was experiencing a "virtual disintegration of interest in the music category." He pointed out that music game sales hit an all-time high in 2008 of $1.7 billion, but started to plummet after that. In 2009, sales were $900 million and in 2010, they had fallen to under $300 million.

"Over the period from 2005 to 2008, video game software sales grew by 81 percent, with the music genre accounting for one-third of the gain," Pachter wrote to investors. "From 2008 through 2010, software sales declined by 14.9 percent, and the music genre accounted for over 80 percent of the decline."

Activision's decision to keep the Guitar Hero brand in place might have something to do with the franchise's one-time success. Just last month, market researcher NPD reported that Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock was the bestselling game released in the U.S. since 1995, tallying gross sales of $831 million since its launch in 2007. It bested Call of Duty: Black Ops, which scored $787 million in revenue since its launch last year.

It might also have something to do with rival developer Ubisoft's announcement last month that it plans to launch a music game of its own later this year called Rocksmith. Unlike Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Rocksmith promises to put a real guitar in the hands of players. The upcoming title will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PCs.

Activision did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on its plans for Guitar Hero.