MTV owner Viacom is going is asking Harmonix for a refund on some of the $150 million it has paid the Rock Band developer in bonuses, reports Gamasutra.
MTV bought Harmonix in late 2006 and Viacom paid out the huge sum after the release of the first Rock Band game in 2007. It sold a million copies in its first month on sale.
But now Viacom wants some of that money back. "In 2008, we paid $150 million, subject to adjustment, under this earn-out agreement related to 2007 performance," said Viacom in a new Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
"At December 31, 2009, we believe that we are entitled to a refund of a substantial portion of amounts previously paid, but the final amount of the earn-out has not yet been determined."
Viacom's president blamed the company's falling sales on the music franchise earlier last week, calling 2009 "challenging" for the game industry in general and Rock Band in particular.
The news comes after the music game bubble burst last year, with sales falling by as much as a half while unsold instrument bundles of The Beatles: Rock Band, as well as Activision's DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5, clogged the aisles at retailers.
Activision has reduced its slate to two music titles in 2010 - new DJ and Guitar Hero games. Rock Band has an edition devoted to the band Green Day in store.
While some argue that music games have gone out of fashion, others claim that it's market saturation of the instrument peripherals that has hurt sales, and revenue will now move to software and downloadable content.