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Alright, Who Ordered The Rock Band 3? ... Nobody? Ian's avatar
So Harmonix announced Rock Band 3 last week, to be released Holiday 2010. No real details were given, but the entry on the Rock Band Facebook page promises that "[Rock Band 3] will revolutionize the music genre once again, just as Harmonix did with the original Rock Band, Rock Band 2 and The Beatles: Rock Band."

With no extra information apart from the instruction to stay tuned, let's switch over to opinion here for a bit.

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Ian's avatar

I had a conversation with Josh and Sam the other day about the inevitability of Guitar Hero 6 being a game that will exist this year. We ended up praising Harmonix for sticking to their established platform, though I was slightly bemused by the fact that Rock Band: Green Day might be the only Rock Band product released this year. Low and behold a few days later this happens.

I'm probably not the best person to talk about anything related to the subject of music, as I for some reason grew up in a mysterious musicless void so have no particular musical opinions or tastes. At the same time I don't really feel that enjoyment of music has anything to do with the music game genre, at this point it's all business. The over saturation of the overall Hero franchise is pretty well documented, and reached a crescendo of dumb last year with the release of Band Hero.

If any weird distinction needed to be made for that series, they should of made Guitar Hero a purely guitar driven 'hardcore' experience, and Band Hero could have been the 4 instrument series which would of made the names makes sense if nothing else. But no, they went in a direction that didn't make sense any way you looked at it. They also released DJ Hero which is something of a misnomer as while the image of a rock god being a hero works well, it doesn't quite fit the image of a DJ. Fiddling with dials and switches just doesn't look heroic. Sorry guys.

Seeing this bizarre corporate fumbling, I was always quite pleased how restrained MTV and Harmonix have been with their side of things, especially in 2009 with their sole release being Rock Band: Beatles. This was one single band game that was pretty easily able to justify it's existence as a stand alone game, rather than leaving you wondering why it wasn't just DLC like most of the times Guitar Hero games about a single band have. Thinking back prior to the release of Rock Band 2 there were a lot of people grumbling about that wishing simply for continued DLC support rather than a whole boxed product. I think in the end it did end up justifying itself by cleaning up a lot of dodgy UI design that would of been too extensive to fix via DLC, and really making the product more of a platform than a game. They also allowed the importing of the song list from the first Rock Band which was definitely nice of them.

I'm sitting here trying to think how Rock Band 3 could possibly 'revolutionize' anything. Analyzing marketing nonsense isn't a very good sport, so maybe I shouldn't bother. But the marketing people are going to have to justify why someone should buy this at some point without resorting to vagueness. A big problem as I see it is that the gameplay is getting a bit old hat, but there’s nothing obvious I could tell them to change without potentially ruining it. This is why I'm not a game designer I guess. They also can't really expect that anyone will want to buy a whole new set of hardware which they would need to support a new gameplay system, when everyone is already drowning in plastic instruments.

Rock Band sessions, while once a staple of an evening's entertainment are become quite rare amongst my friends these day. What usually happens now is most of the time is spent staring at the DLC store which will eventually result in about 10 tracks being download and played. No-one has any real drive to play on harder difficulty settings than the ones they are comfortable with any more, and they certainly don't want to play songs they don't like. The singer is often left wishing they could swap places with someone as yet another song they don't know off by heart comes up. The excitement and novelty of rock banding has sadly worn off.

This brings me to the biggest issue with just providing more tracks as the basis for a new boxed product. While it might technically be a better deal to buy 84 tracks for $59.99/£39.99 than how much their equivalent in DLC would cost, if they were released in DLC you wouldn't need to buy like 80%-90% of them as you probably don't like the songs enough to part with your cash for them. It's such a terrible deal any way you look at it. Also, you don't buy compilation albums do you? Of course not! They are made for idiots, or to be gifts for people you hate. I'd also care to wager that in finding 80 more songs to stuff into a game you are probably going to start scraping the bottom of the barrel of big important tracks that would work well in a four player rhythm game setting.

So what's my suggestion? While I don't think anyone wants to buy new instruments at this point, there is probably no way to revolutionize the music game genre without fundamentally changing how they work. Harmonix should either go whole hog and just do it, just change everything and live with the possibility that it won't take off, or just stick to releasing DLC forever. If Rock Band 3 is just 80 more songs and a slightly cleaner interface, why would anyone ever buy it?

Tags: harmonix, rock-band, rock-band-3