It wasn’t all that long ago that rhythm-based games were sweeping all before them and plastic guitar controllers and drum kits were popping up in living rooms and bedrooms around the world at an astonishing rate. It seems many of those controllers are now gathering dust, leading Activision to announce it will “disband” its Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011.

The Activision announcement comes on the heels of Viacom selling off Harmonix, which got the rhythm-based game ball rolling by launching Guitar Hero in 2005 before moving over to Viacom in 2006 to create Rock Band for Viacom’s MTV Games. It was reported that MTV Games was being dissolved but a spokesman says that is not the case but that it has ceased publishing operations.

Viacom sold Harmonix last December for just US$50 to Columbus Nova, a private investment firm based in New York with the low price tag due to the liabilities the company will also inherit. Viacom said it had failed to turn a profit on any of the three Rock Band games released between 2007 and 2009 and would reap tax benefits of around US$150 million through the sale.

The Activision and Viacom announcements are an indication of just how quickly things can change in the video game business and leaves Harmonix – now back to being an independent studio – the only likely source for new guitar controller strumming content. The company says it plans to release more DLC for Rock Band in the future and continue support for previously released titles.

Although guitar controller-based rhythm games still have their fans, it seems they’ve had their time at the top of the charts – at least for the time being. Maybe someone can get the band back together and we’ll see a reunion tour in a few years.