Rock Band 4 hasn't been officially confirmed yet. We know that, we're not delusional. That said, the random resurrection of Rock Band 3 DLC packs has reminded us just how much we loved Rock Band while the franchise was at its best. Harmonix hasn't been shy about dropping hints that a current-gen sequel is right around the corner and hopeful fans are already crossing their fingers for an announcement at this year's PAX East or E3.
With that possible announcement in mind, we've been thinking a lot about what it would take to get new fans and Rock Band veterans to shell out the cash for a new Rock Band tour. The plastic instrument genre has seen a steady decline in popularity in the last few years and Harmonix will need to offer up new, fresh features and really harness the power of the current-gen consoles to get the attention of shoppers. Here are the five features we think would help Rock Band 4 become a major hit...
5. Smartphone/Tablet Instruments
In the five years since the release of Rock Band 3 cell phone technology has come a long way and so has the way video game developers utilize the tool. From controlling your Black Flag fleet in Assassin's Creed 4 to managing your World of Warcraft equipment in the Battle.net Armory, some of the most addicting games of the last few years have successfully motivated players to stay connected to the game world with their mobile devices. In the current console generation Harmonix will need to capitalize on that new technology as much as possible.
One of Rock Band's greatest strengths is that it's a party game. Much like the appeal of the original Wii, consumers like to bust out the plastic guitars and drums when they have friends or family over to visit. Unfortunately, this usually leaves all but five people standing around watching, while a core group rocks out. Allowing additional players to join in on mobile devices similar to how Jackbox Party Pack implements them would help give everyone in the room a chance to rock out. Third-party rhythm-based apps have been proving for years that touch screen phones offer everything needed to simulate musical instruments. By allowing extra guitars, drums, vocals, or even tambourines to join the jam session via smartphones and tablets, Rock Band could increase the party size exponentially and add new gameplay mechanics.
4. Instrument Backwards Compatibility
As much as we'd be excited to see Harmonix capitalize on touch screens to help make music, there's no denying that there is something special about playing the trademark plastic instruments. With three full-length games in the franchise's history, many fans have already sunk quite a bit of dough into the game's required hardware.
Although it should be expected that a new-gen sequel would require all new peripherals, there's a good chance that the old school Rock Band tech may be able to make the jump to Xbox One and PS4. If you've owned any of the recent Rock Band titles, then you're probably aware that the instruments connect to the console via a USB hub. The use of that universal connection has led many gamers to speculate that the old instruments could easily be used in the next installment in the series. Time will tell if that's the case, but it seems clear that lowering the cost of entry for gamers will help Harmonix move more copies of Rock Band 4 off the shelves.
3. Access To Previous Song Libraries
Speaking of lowering the cost of entry, the existing games' arsenal of songs offers a great opportunity to give longtime fans an instant song library, and reward them for their support of the franchise to date. While Harmonix was releasing packs of songs every week for nearly three years, some hardcore fans dropped quite a bit of money building massive libraries of songs.
Offering those loyal fans the chance to access and play those songs when they purchase the next installment in the franchise will definitely offer a little extra incentive to invest $60 in a new game. Since in-game purchases are linked to Xbox Live and PlayStation accounts, carrying the library of songs over seems like a real possibility.
2. Make The Core Game Free To Download
One of our more radical ideas for an improvement to the Rock Band model would be to offer the core game for free. Imagine something like Killer Instinct, but instead of rotating seasonal fighters, the game offered rotating seasonal songs as a base with the rest available for purchase. Harmonix could offer players the chance to purchase season passes or buy songs a la carte, to build up and customize their own libraries.
In addition to season passes, the game could also offer subscription options that give players the opportunity to rent or borrow songs. If there was a Netflix for Rock Band sort of option, players would be able to access all the songs they could need during parties, without actually purchasing hundreds of older songs from the original game catalogues.
1. Companion Apps
We mentioned smartphone incorporation earlier, but the development of an out-of-game companion app seems like a no-brainer. Giving players the opportunity to play mini-games and unlock extra songs by checking in and rocking out while they are away from their consoles is a great way to engage the community.
A companion app could offer both single player mini-games and competitive multiplayer challenges. The opportunity to play a mini-version of Rock Band and unlock achievements while commuting to work or waiting for class to start seems like a step above most of the ad-filled free apps that offer similar rhythm challenges.
Honorable mentions for our wish list of Rock Band 4 features and incentives include Kinect/PlayStation Eye incorporation and a Taylor Swift DLC pack. The idea of utilizing the current-gen consoles' motion sensors is interesting at first, but with the mess of people crowded around a console to play Rock Band, it seems like it would be more of a headache than a bonus.
As for T. Swift, we've seen how much the Rock Band community went nuts for pop tunes during the 'Call Me Maybe' petition era, so it seems like a no-brainer to cash in on the popularity of Swift's latest album. To really strike with the iron is hot, Harmonix will likely want to get that DLC pack out this winter for Rock Band 3... We hope the team is listening.
When Harmonix (hopefully) gets around to announcing Rock Band 4, what features and incentives do you hope to see? Let us know in the comments.