Watching row after row of vertically scrolling notes in Guitar Hero can, for the uninitiated, cause a disorientating illusion that the world is sliding into the ground in front of your eyes.

Activision has presumably grown weary of watching the sales from its formerly billion-dollar franchise perform the same disappearing trick, and finally pulled the plug. Guitar Hero—surely the most successful game-and-hardware-peripheral title of all time—is no more.

Yet the cries of a million disgruntled gamers were wholly absent when this news dropped. The series that was once popular enough to have an entire South Park episode dedicated to it has faded from public consciousness without so much as a eulogy.

This was the inevitable result of Activision's efforts to strip-mine Guitar Hero. The five versions released in 2009 only just managed to reach combined sales equalling that of Guitar Hero World Tour in 2008, which to the casual observer would seem to indicate that there's a finite market for such products.

By the time Activision reined in their development plans to one title in 2010, the market was already saturated and the damage done. Add to this the ignominy of charging full price for retail disks that could have been released as downloadable content, and it's clear that short term profit gouging rated higher than brand longevity in the minds of Activision's financial team.

Profitability is obviously necessary for the continued development of any game series. The real issue is how the development is managed in such a way as to produce worthwhile, quality titles that will build a respected brand for long term benefit—or if a franchise is milked as hard and fast as possible until it dries up and has to have its throat slit.

At some point in the proceedings, Activision must have come to the conclusion that the rhythm genre had a limited lifespan, and therefore the rapid realisation of profits followed by a swift exit was the most prudent use of the franchise.

It's not just the burning wreck of Guitar Hero that so accurately demonstrates this brutal scorched earth policy. Call of Duty, the behemoth of the first-person shooter market, has singularly failed to deliver any meaningful innovation or real advancement since 2007's Modern Warfare, and yet continues to sell in volumes that are entirely disproportionate to the quality of the content produced. This can only continue for so long before players reconsider their loyalties.

The vultures are circling. Electronic Arts is positioning Battlefield 3 to compete head-to-head with the annual Call of Duty release expected around November this year. Together with the Bad Company franchise, the Medal of Honor franchise, and the ex-Infinity Ward team at Respawn working on an unannounced title, Electronic Arts potentially has four strong challengers vying for Call of Duty's crown. In what will undoubtedly be a difficult battle to wrestle market supremacy away from Activision, Electronic Arts is unlikely to tread softly, particularly with the ongoing legal action following the Infinity Ward fallout.

With Guitar Hero dead and Call of Duty at risk of the same fate, Activision shares start to look like a bleak investment. One of Activision's most well-respected studios, Blur and Project Gotham Racing developer Bizarre Creations, has just been killed, and examining the back-catalogue fails to buoy spirits either—with the utter demise of the Tony Hawk franchise, it seems that a dragon, an eponymous cliché, a feral marsupial and a shapeshifter could be the only ones left to prop up one of the most recognisable names in the publishing industry.

It's entirely possible that the publishing agreement signed with Halo creator Bungie could produce a compelling new franchise, but the contract allows the developer to retain full control of its intellectual property, suggesting that the publisher will have very little control over production. It could still be lucrative, but it's unlikely to become the annual cash cow that Activision wants its franchises to be and which the company's business model now relies upon.

Should Call of Duty follow the same path as Guitar Hero, Activision will have no "blockbuster" franchises left, and will be in the difficult position of requiring an immediate injection of new intellectual property. Rumours have already begun swirling that Activision could be in talks to acquire Take-Two, a publisher with a wealth of strong intellectual property—but such a merger would face enormous obstacles. Without successful new franchises, however, Activision will become nothing but a clumsy sidekick in the shadow of its corporate sibling, the massively successful Blizzard Entertainment.

Should Activision look to begin acquiring new studios with compelling production potential, there would surely not be many who would voluntarily stand next to Activision's blood-spattered guillotine. Accepting funds in exchange for a near total stranglehold on their internal development by a publisher with a reputation for attaching a vice-like death grip to every title in their portfolio is not an attractive prospect. Nor is it as necessary as it once was, given the overwhelming success of digital distribution and the rise of social gaming in recent years.

Activision is undeniably aware of how important Call of Duty is to its ongoing success. Project Beachhead, their inevitable attempt to segue Call of Duty into an online monetised model by utilising the talents of a hitherto unknown studio, smacks of desperation and again can do little to reassure gamers that the franchise is in good hands. Unless the benefits of this model are espoused at every opportunity, and the benefits prove to be more than mere marketing hype, there's little doubt that the natural order of development will prevail and a rival publisher will come up with something better.

In an axiomatic world where skating on thin ice can land you in hot water, Activision appears to be lacing up its boots for another grandstand performance. Only this time, all bets are off.