I couldn’t have been more pleased by yesterday’s announcement of the release date and, especially, the price for Harmonix’s Rock Band Blitz. When it arrives in late August, Blitz will feature the most substantial single batch of new Rock Band content since the release of Rock Band 3 nearly two years ago — and at just $15 for more than twenty songs, that content is cheap (normally, a single track from the Rock Band Music Store costs $2, plus another $1 for players who want Pro bass and guitar tracks).
Like a lot of Rock Band fans, I have purchased literally hundreds of DLC songs for the game. I’ve exported the contents of the first two Rock Band games, in addition to LEGO Rock Band, to my Xbox 360’s hard drive. It’s no overstatement to say that I’ve invested more time and money in Rock Band than in any other game, and I don’t regret it one bit — but I’m starting to worry about what will happen to my Rock Band library when the next-generation consoles arrive.
When Rock Band made its much heralded debut in the Fall of 2007, the very notion that it would be the beneficiary of weekly DLC for years to come bordered on the unbelievable. No developer had ever tried such a thing before, so who knew how it would pan out? Yet here we are, nearly five years later, and the total number of songs available for the game has surged to a staggering 3,827!
In 2007, there was no cloud save support on consoles. For that matter, most console hard drives were nowhere near the size they are today (I can’t help but wonder how many 20GB Xbox 360 hard drives were dedicated almost exclusively to Rock Band DLC). At its inception, the Rock Band DLC model — like all DLC models — relied on users downloading content to their console’s hard drive, from which it could then be accessed in-game. It still functions that way (and it’s still a pain to transfer all those licences for users who have to replace an Xbox 360). But this isn’t 2007, and in my opinion, it’s time for a change.
We live in a world that is more about access to content than it is about storing content locally, particularly where entertainment is concerned. I listen to music and comedy on Spotify, watch shows on Netflix and Hulu Plus, and stream podcasts from iTunes. All of those services, and many more like them, are available to me no matter where I am. I can access them from my phone, or my PC, or my game consoles. Sony’s $380 million purchase of games service Gaikai only underlines the growing importance of streaming content.
Harmonix does a fantastic job of engaging the Rock Band community, and players who register at the Rock Band website can view and track all kinds of things there: Rock Band 3 career progress and goals, custom setlists, even pictures of their in-game bands. So, why not include access to a player’s Rock Band library as part of the package?
To date, Rock Band iterations have appeared on home consoles, handhelds, even mobile phones and tablets, and each of them have required their own library of songs. That was simply the practical approach, and it probably didn’t hurt Harmonix’s bottom-line any, either — but it makes less and less sense for consumers as time goes on. Rock Band Blitz, which requires no plastic instruments to play, could conceivably be ported (in one form or another) to iOS and Android, or 3DS and Vita. How much more likely would you be to buy one of those versions if it allowed access to your entire library of Rock Band songs? Mark me down for “much.”
Then there are the next-gen consoles to consider. There is no telling, at this point, how thoroughly the next Xbox and PlayStation will support backwards compatibility — if they do at all. For that matter, there is no hard and fast guarantee that Harmonix will develop next-gen Rock Band games. That said, it’s nearly inconceivable that the developer would turn its back on half a decade of goodwill from Rock Band fans (to say nothing of the revenue that weekly DLC generates). The question is, how will Harmonix help those Rock Band fans, and their attendant song libraries, transition to the next generation? I contend that, for consumers, access to those libraries — from any Rock Band game, on any platform — is the only elegant solution, and the best way to guarantee that fans continue to support Rock Band for years to come.
Ranters, do you agree? Disagree? Have a better idea? Let us know in the comments below.
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