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More Activision Insanity

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I just wanted to post up another bit of absolute insanity regarding Activision and their asinine decisions with the Guitar Hero games and DLC.

According to this preview of Guitar Hero: Metallica by Destructoid, the game does not support any DLC, including the Death Magnetic album that was offered pre-World Tour. You know… the Metallica album DLC. That you would assume could be played in… oh, I dunno…  their own game featuring Metallica. Nope, instead you get a mere three of the album’s songs included in the new game on-disc.

For DLC that was actually for Guitar Hero III and forwards-compatible with World Tour, this is perhaps the most ridiculous decision yet I have seen out of them.

They Just Don’t Get It (Let Me Play My Music!)

IGN has put up an interview with Paul Gadbois, producer at Beedox, the company responsible for developing Guitar Hero Greatest Hits in conjunction with Activision. This “new” game is not really a “new” game; think of it as a compilation disc of songs from previous games. That sounds like a fantastic idea in theory, especially since they note that songs that were previously featured as cover versions will now be updated to their master tracks, and all of the songs will be playable as the full band (vocals, guitar, bass, drums). There were a lot of songs in the first two games that I would love to see come back in playable form in the updated game engine, so you can imagine my disappointment as I kept reading.

IGN: Will downloadable tracks purchased for Guitar Hero World Tour work with this disc? What about GHTunes songs?

Paul Gadbois: Guitar Hero Greatest Hits (working title on PS3/PS2) will support the entire library of downloadable user-created songs from GHTunes and players can once again create and publish their own songs from the Music Studio. Currently, downloadable songs for Guitar Hero World Tour will work with that title only.

And it only continues to get worse:

IGN: Will there be any way to purchase this disc and import the songs into Guitar Hero World Tour (or vice versa) to have all of the tracks accessible at once?

Paul Gadbois: The 48 songs in this game will all be instantly playable and are designed to be playable off the disc only.

Excuse me? It is clearly using the exact same game engine and infrastructure from World Tour if it will be fully interoperable with the “GHTunes” library and service, so why on Earth will downloadable content for that exact same game engine not be accessible in this new game…?! I gave the jump from II to III a free pass when the previous game’s DLC would not work with the newer game, since a new company was picking up the reigns and developing from scratch. I was slightly miffed that World Tour would not import (even as guitar-only) the DLC from III, but I got on with my life.

This, however, is just another concrete showcase of how Activision views you as a consumer, and how lost of a cause they are for progress.

Here comes the inevitable Rock Band comparison you were waiting for (ignoring the Wii version of the first game, and all PS2 versions due to technical limitations):

  1. DLC purchased during the time of the first Rock Band is fully usable in Rock Band 2 the same way as it was in the first game.
  2. All DLC, regardless of when it is purchased, works in both Rock Band and Rock Band 2.
  3. The (near) entirety of the first Rock Band can be exported to your console’s hard drive for play in Rock Band 2, without the need to switch discs.
  4. While AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack is a retail, disc-only game with its own gameplay, the music can be installed to your console’s hard drive and then used within the traditional Rock Band games.
  5. The upcoming Beatles game has just been given the name The Beatles: Rock Band, hinting at some type of interoperability with Rock Band games, and essentially confirms interoperability with instruments.

Sure, World Tour finally opened up interoperability with Rock Band instruments (and would even adapt the drum note-path from 6 to 5 notes when used with the Rock Band set), but that’s about the extent of the consideration I can speak to. There’s a reason why World Tour rarely gets popped into my 360. There are several reasons, actually, and I think you can infer anything I have not already touched up.

This lack of DLC interoperability is the modern example of what many of us were doing several years ago with Dance Dance Revolution simulators like DWI and Stepmania. Despite owning every single American PS1 & PS2 DDR game and a plethora of the Japanese releases, I found myself hooking up the pads to the computer to illegally play copies of songs that I otherwise would have to switch back and forth between two consoles and dozens of games to play. Want to do “Boom Boom Dollar” followed by “Cowboy“? Sorry! It would not surprise me one bit if some of the Harmonix folks went through this same process, because once you have all of your music at your fingertips (also see: having an iPod versus a portable CD player), you never want to go back, and it’s unfathomable to even consider going back to such an antiquated method.

At the end of the day, however, it all comes back to revenue for the game developers. Rock Band 2 did not quite hit sales expectations, while the Guitar Hero brand continues to perform incredibly well (especially on the Wii). Does this mean all that nonsense about interoperability, consumer consideration, games as a platform, etc. means absolutely nothing? Are they just the incoherent internet whines of a select few?

“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).

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