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“Rock Band” or “Guitar Hero”: A Platform For Investment

Harmonix has done a great job of promoting Rock Band as a “platform”. DLC is backwards/forwards compatible (meaning it works in either the first or second game), and the same goes for the fake plastic instruments. You can even export the majority of songs from the first game right into the second game, something Bemani fans have wanted forever (helping contribute to projects like Stepmania and pirated collections of hundreds of step and song files from all DDR games).

That is exactly why the game has become such an investment. With everything working together so beautifully, it makes complete sense to say “Money be damned!” and go ahead and spend lots of virtual space money on the game, racking up a collection of dozens upon dozens of downloaded songs to play.

I actually briefly brought up this idea with my wife (hehe! fun to say!) earlier. She thought that maybe the term “investment” wasn’t really accurate, since you’re not, for example, making any money off of it. I think it really is accurate, though. For me, that return on investment is the fun that you get from having all of it in such a convenient mass (my time and effort is worth money, I say). There’s nothing more enjoyable in gaming to me, right now, than having a bunch of people over and having the awesome ability to scroll and scroll and scroll to whatever type of song any particular person wants to play.

Anyway, those decisions just got a lot more interesting with the release of Guitar Hero: World Tour. Suddenly you have two completely separate “platforms” that both work in the exact same way and perform the exact same function(s).

What is a music fan to do?

Unfortunately for Activision, I’ve already made a decision on what my platform is going to be… and it’s Rock Band. Why is this? Quite frankly, it’s because Rock Band was there first.

I am currently up to 247 songs available in the game, including 108 downloaded songs (which itself includes those 20 free downloads with a new purchase of Rock Band 2). With such a huge amount of entertainment at my disposal in that game, it makes little sense for me to start doing the same thing in a separate game that (like I just mentioned) works and performs in the exact same way.

This feeling is further heightened when you consider just how much overlap already exists between the games. In terms of straight-up on-disc songs, there are 13 overlaps between the two latest games. When you count DLC as-of this writing, you’re up to 19 songs. There has been very little pure exclusivity announced, so there is always a possibility that a song that shows up as DLC in one game could show up weeks (or even months) later in the other. Again, Blink-182’s “Dammit” was an on-disc song for Guitar Hero: World Tour, and even though Travis Barker was involved with that game, it didn’t stop the song from appearing as DLC for Rock Band just one week before their competitor’s launch. Billy Corgan has the exact same role in Guitar Hero: World Tour, yet “Today” appears on-disc in both games, and Rock Band already has “Siva” and “Zero” as DLC (in addition to “Cherub Rock” being on-disc in the first game). Guitar Hero: World Tour launched with Hayley Williams and “Misery Business“, but Rock Band was there first with Paramore’s “crushcrushcrush” and “That’s What You Get“.

This is why I am so frightened to purchase any DLC within Guitar Hero: World Tour. Why purchase it for that game if there’s even the slightest possibility that I can purchase it for Rock Band and add it to the larger, pre-existing collection of music?

If Activision wants to compete on this level with this information and these situations in mind, they’re going to have to do something that is horribly anti-consumer-friendly… bring in the exclusivity.

There are already confirmations of this with Metallica, and they’ve even noted that Rock Band getting an Aerosmith song took place before they grabbed the band for Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. The consumer (read: ME) would need this knowledge that there is absolutely no chance of them getting a band’s music in the other game (in this case Rock Band) before they would consider purchasing it for the new game (in this case Guitar Hero).

So what is the point to this tirade? Is it just more pro-Rock Band shenanigans from me? Possibly; I certainly wouldn’t deny that. If nothing else, it proves that Harmonix was the one with the foresight to plan for all of this and get there first.

Finally, as a brief follow-up to yesterday’s “Subtle Harmonix Genius” post (and pretty much falling in line with the above conclusion), they’ve announced that next week’s Rock Band DLC is going to be the entire Foo Fighters album The Colour and the Shape. It’s not the No Doubt pack I was expecting, but it *is* a giant pack of music from yet another artist that is also featured in Guitar Hero: World Tour, and that’s more or less exactly what I expected them to do (I just predicted the wrong artist :P).

EDIT: In thinking about this a little more this morning, I realized that I’ve basically described a typical video game console war… except the games, themselves, are acting as the consoles. Sure, we’ve always had this type of competition (especially in things like yearly sports games; EA vs 2K for example), but never has it reached the $200-to-entry threshold level between competitors (for the full experience, anyway).

2 Comments

  1. For a similar reason, my brother and I have decided to stick with Rock Band. We’ve already downloaded a chunk of songs for it, and I find it to be more aesthetically pleasing. The art style of GHIII really turned me off. I also prefer the initial song selection in either of the Rock Band discs when compared to Guitar Hero.

    However, my brother did get the chance to play Guitar Hero IV last weekend. My brother has been a big Guitar Hero fan since the beginning, and he actually got me into the genre, but he came away less than ecstatic about the direction the series has taken.

    It’s something that I’ve played around with in my mind a little bit, but he finally more or less came out and said it: Activison is whoring Guitar Hero out, and killing it. My brother is big into Aerosmith, but is utterly apathetic about their Guitar Hero spinoff. (And for the record, I can’t stand Aerosmith or Metallica, so their exclusivity is more of a Godsend than anything).

    I can see why Activision would try to mimic Harmonix, but, really, there isn’t any room for another music game “platform” (be it in our homes or our wallets). They would’ve been better off continuing to be a more “hardcore” guitar-based game, in my opinion.

    And now I’m rambling… Woo.

  2. The one thing Guitar Hero has going for it is the user generated content. My brother was playing Spark Mandrill’s theme from Mega Man X the other day. I’ll just leave it at that.

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