Rock Band Four is hoping to be the best music simulation game to date. The official release date has yet to be revealed, other than that it will be in 2015. Rock Band Four is the first such game released for the new generation of consoles. Rock Band Four is the latest entry in the worldwide phenomenon of games which allow players to use plastic electronic instruments as game controllers to simulate playing the instruments in their favorite songs.
It has been five years since the last entry in the Rock Band series, Rock Band Three. According to co-founder and chief creative officer of Harmonix, Alex Rigopulos, the reason for such a long wait is that, “We have been waiting until the new generation of consoles reached a critical mass for it to make sense for us to bring the franchise back. It is a huge bet for us as a company.”
What Mr. Rigopulos is referring to with the “huge bet” statement is that due to the relatively small size of the game development company Harmonix, taking a chance on putting out a new Rock Band title is financially risky. Should Rock Band Four fail to re-invigorate the music simulation genre, Harmonix might not have the ability to stay afloat as a company. When the original titles of Guitar Hero and Rock Band were first released, they became overnight hits, and were the video game equivalent of a YouTube video or news story going viral.
With the instantaneous success of the music simulation genre came sequel after sequel and add-on after add-on. Five years ago, when Rock Band Three was released, the market was flooded with various incarnations of the music simulation genre. Apart from the Rock Band brand directly competing with the Guitar Hero brand, entire games were being released year after year focusing on one band per release. These band-specific games came in the form of titles like Beatles Rock Band and Metallica Guitar Hero.
The problem that occurred with these music games was that every year a new edition of the game would be released; yet so few changes to the game-play were included that each new title released was little more than a $60 update to the playable song selection. With a new generation of consoles comes the ability to push the Rock Band brand into a higher level of game development. More powerful consoles means games that can accomplish more goals in development. Mr. Rigopulos says that players who became used to yearly additions to the franchise will hopefully be more pleased than disappointed in the change. Players will still be able to purchase new playable songs as DLC (downloadable content) rather than waiting for another Rock Band game to be released in 2016 with a full game worth of new songs.
By discontinuing the yearly titles, Harmonix hopes to be able to have enough time in between the release of new titles to be able to improve on the game-play mechanics itself. In other words, they will have enough time to create new innovations in how the game can be played. Many players agree that, for the most part, playing Beatles Rock Band or Rock Band Three was pretty much the same as playing the original entry in the series upon the initial release a few years before. Having a longer duration between new games should allow Harmonix to add enough new features to keep the returning players satisfied.
An issue that has yet to be resolved is that currently, players will have to buy all new guitars, drums, keyboards and microphones when they purchase Rock Band Four. The reason for this possible hard hit to gamers wallets is that controllers from the previous generation of consoles do not work on the new generation of consoles. While there is a possibility that Harmonix can convince Sony and Microsoft to allow adapters for the specific purpose of being able to use the old instruments instead of forcing players to buy next-generation instruments, no deal has been made as of yet.
Look for the prices of the instruments to be a determining factor as to the success or failure of Rock Band Four. If one were to buy an all-new set of instruments (guitar, drums, keyboard, microphone) for Rock Band Three by going through Amazon.com, the purchaser will likely spend over $600. If previous generation controller adapters end up not being produced, many fans of the older-generation versions of Rock Band may very well decide that the money one would have to invest in new instruments just to be able to play Rock Band Four simply is not worth it. In these times of financial hardship, it is difficult for many to justify spending over $600 just for some controllers that will only work on a new console.
A new addition to the Rock Band franchise for a new generation of gaming consoles seems like a great way to please old fans as well as those who are new to the music simulation genre. Only time will tell if Rock Band and Harmonix can reclaim their former glory.
By Benjamin Johnson
Photo by Ernesto Peña – Flickr License