Harmonix Finally Launching The “Real” Rock Band 4 This Month

I’m a huge fan of the Rock Band series and when Rock Band 4 was announced for this generation of consoles, I was screaming like a schoolgirl.

Almost all of the tracks for the previous games and DLC would be available and wouldn’t have to be repurchased – which amazed me since I’ve thrown around $600 towards DLC songs. I’m really not kidding either.

I blindly purchased the full band kit and came home to find a key staple of the game missing – ONLINE MULTIPLAYER!  So yes, while the game actually launched on 6 October, 2015, it’s not until nearly a year and four months have passed and I’ve made an additional financial outlay that I’ll be able to get my rocks off playing Rock Band 4 with my (geographically remote) bandmates.

Why was this feature omitted, and for so long? And why did Harmonix think asking us to pay twice was the right thing to do?

Well, Harmonix is finally giving us the online multiplayer option – currently set for 25 January, 2017.  Besides the fact that online multiplayer should have been included with the initial release, like every other Rock Band game, it’s a big slap in the face to find that you need to purchase the ‘Rivals’ expansion to play online.

This got me thinking… why are developers taking advantage of consumers like this?

Rock Band 4
Rock Band 4

There are still a ton of gamers who remember that when you purchased a game, you weren’t getting anything to expand upon that storyline or series unless a whole new game came out.  DLC didn’t exist, and what you saw was what you got.  These days, though, we purchase a game in the fear and expectation that we’re often only buying a shell of the promised experience.

We are tempted by season passes – often with promises of ‘exclusive’ content – sometimes even without knowing exactly what the pass will bring! Different retailers are given exclusive add-ons for pre-ordering, and consoles are given exclusive content on which others miss out – which is a whole different issue.

Destiny is a prime example of this concept.  For over a year leading to Destiny‘s release, there was so much hype surrounding the game, with billboards covering entire sides of buildings that promised a story unlike anything we’ve ever had.  The game launched and it felt empty and repetitive.  The season pass, which promised a year of content, gave you two expansions that consisted of minimal story, what is easily considered the worst raid in the game, and the Prison of Elders which just added to the repetition.

“Developers don’t really view DLC as the key source of revenue for their software because people just aren’t that dumb.”
Sure, you saved a little bit of money with the season pass but it still felt overpriced; when ultimately Bungie over-promised and under delivered, gamers were left feeling undervalued.  One year after release, The Taken King launched and Destiny finally started feeling like the game it should have been.  It was like Bungie had us pay for the beta, and then pay for more pieces to make a whole game (and don’t get us started on asking us to pay to NOT play Destiny).  This isn’t the only case either.  So many developers have been accused of selling “empty” games, but the trend is not slowing down.

Why do they do this though?  I like to think I have some awareness of how the industry works, from university studies in game development and design as well as talking with friends in the business. First, is the obvious reason (and believe me when I say the least common reason) – greed.  Developers don’t really view DLC as the key source of revenue for their software because people just aren’t that dumb.

Take Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare for example.  There was the normal hype train and build up but with the changes to core gameplay, map packs, and costly random supply drops, customers didn’t buy in on the initial release.  Numbers back this up; the Modern Warfare Remaster has had more players online than Infinite Warfare.  Sales for Infinite Warfare have only been one third of the previous game, Black Ops 3.

“We’re resigned to paying to own, then paying to play.”
Even more heinous is locking content that is already on the disc, and calling it DLC.  Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 offered characters Shuma Gorath and Jill Valentine as DLC, but both characters were included on the game disc that shipped from day one, just locked behind a pay wall.

The most common reason for a hollow experience fleshed out with DLC is simply a developer trying to meet a deadline. Sometimes, changes in company employees, or a shift in budget, can cause a developer to hurry and finish to push a product out by a deadline set by the money men. DLC then becomes a crutch that developers use to deliver a game that met their vision, not just a deadline.

This doesn’t just happen with software – thanks to deadlines (and manufacturing lead times) every console of this generation needed a day one firmware update just to play games. On Xbox One, for example, if you had no internet connection, you had a brand new console that couldn’t play games.

Plans change, but big business will rarely wait for a developer to be finished before releasing a game (on the flip side, without a deadline games would never be released; creators continuing to tinker until the money – and the publisher’s patience – runs out). Publishers know that, more often than not, a deadline pushed back will hurt profit margins – not so much greed as a business reality. However, when material cut to meet a publisher’s deadline is then sold on to consumers for a profit, that feels like greed.

Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare
Call of Duty®: Infinite Warfare

The obvious solution to this is stop buying their games, but that’s not as simple as it seems. So many games rely on DLC and digital content that you sometimes just have to buy into the whole thing. If you do enjoy Destiny, you’ll get left behind to the extent that even the free content can’t be enjoyed unless you purchase the most recent DLC.  Other games even take a “pay to win” approach – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare offered purchasable supply drops which could contain the best and most rare weapons.

Sometimes, people power wins. The Oblivion Horse Armour fiasco taught Bethesda and 2K a lesson about value, for example, and we can hope a similar backlash against the worst offenders will make developers wake up and realize that we will stand up against those who destroy our games and wallets.  For most of us, though, we’re resigned to paying to own, then paying to play.

As a collective we should be able to tell developers like Harmonix that not giving us online multiplayer in Rock Band 4 when every previous generation had it, and then charging us extra for it, is not okay.  You can’t put content on a disc we already purchased and ask us to pay more just to access it, Capcom.  And as for anyone else out there that wants to run their fans’ wallets dry, stop. These are your already loyal customers.  If you betray them, they might just leave you. Case in point: this is the first year in six that I don’t own the most recent Call of Duty game, and don’t plan on purchasing it.  How about you?  How will you make a statement?

What do you think of the practices of DLC by developers?  Let us know in the comments below!

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Robert Rodkey

A husband and father with a love for gaming and gaming industry. Got my Bachelors degree in Game Design and Simulation and play anything I can get my hands on but currently addicted to Destiny. Whatever else you heard about me, don't believe it... unless it's good. Gamertag: aCerealMurderer

One thought on “Harmonix Finally Launching The “Real” Rock Band 4 This Month

  • 15/01/2017 at 9:01 am

    Harmonix doesn’t actually make that much money – Rock Band 4 was a sales bust for them. I’m sure that monetizing the expansion was basically their only option, other than not making it and working on something else that would generate profit instead.

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