Thoughts from a tree

typed – 2527/19818
nanowrimo avg words needed – 1667/11667 – MET
personal goal – 2500/17500 – MET

I’ve always been a big supporter of Rock Band and Harmonix. The one time I made it to PAX, I spent almost all of my time waiting in line to play Rock Band over and over again (the other main place I went was the SingStar booth, if you were wondering). After having gone through several iterations of karaoke games (which I loved) and guitar games (which Gary loved), Rock Band seemed like the perfect solution to let both of us (and several friends) play a game we could all enjoy at the same time. I’ve lived with the fact that they are never going to have very many of my favorite songs (since I prefer songs that sound pretty as opposed to those that are just loud and/or have fancy instrumental sections); most of my favorite artists don’t even have a ‘band.’ I have gotten a ton of people hooked on it; I even have a wiki to keep track of which songs each of my friends has bought (so we can try to buy the same ones). To say I’m a ‘loyal fan,’ would be putting it mildly.

However, over the weekend an issue has come up which is making me both mad and disappointed in them. Let me try to summarize the details: Rock Band 3 added keyboards and harmonies, something I was initially very excited about. Apparently, in order to update previously released rock band songs to include these features, they have to reprogram the songs entirely. Any song that has these features is a “RB3 song” and will not be able to be played in RB1, RB2, or Lego. Another thing that RB3 added was the ability to do “pro” instruments; RB3 songs, not counting those on the game disc itself, do not have the pro abilities by default. Everyone wants the old songs to be updated so we can play them with the new features; we expected this to cost *something.* On Friday, they made an announcement (in an attempt to clear up a previous announcement) that seems to indicate this:

– RB3 songs, whether new or old, will cost $2
– If you want RB3 song features for a song you already own, you have to repurchase the song, for $2
– If you want pro features for either a RB3 song or a non-RB3 song (if you already own it and don’t get the upgrade), it will cost $1

This means that for every song I already own, I would end up paying a total of $4 for RB3 features, $5 if I also want pro. I currently own 173 DLC songs (I get to see the number every time I turn the game on); this does not include the songs that were imported from RB1, RB2, LegoRB, or GDRB (although I probably would not care about upgrading all of those). Songs I do not already own would only cost me $2 or $3 (pro). By the way, for anyone who was considering buying songs, this is pretty much a huge red flag that says “DON’T BUY ANY SONGS.” At least, not unless they are already updated to RB3 mode. An additional problem is that for any songs which are re-purchased, you will end up with two copies of that song in your RB library (and two copies taking up space on your drive).

I wrote a couple of posts on the forums about this, but as the thread is currently over 70 pages long, I somehow doubt anyone from Harmonix will ever see them. I don’t know why I bother; I think its the same reason why I continued to offer advice for AOL products long after it was clear that no one was actually interested in making things better. Here is the main one though, re-posted for your possible enjoyment:

I think the main problem comes to down to this: If they are offering the song to new people for $2, then that is how much they consider the track to be worth; taking into account whatever they have to do to upgrade, and any other licensing costs or negotiations. The old songs are worth $2; the new songs are worth $2; so why do I have to pay $4 for the full version, when they’ve already indicated it is only worth $2? Replacing the old songs with the updated versions in the store, and allowing people to re-download them is the most logical option, hands down, especially since it also eliminates the problem of duplicate songs in the library. We know they can do this; it is within the realm of abilities they have already shown us. So why aren’t they?

If it is about money, I think their plan is going to backfire. Consumers who already have the songs are unlikely to pay the extra $2 to upgrade them, unless the songs are their absolute favorites AND they regularly play with someone on keys or harmonies. In addition, both new and old consumers (once they all become aware of this situation) are not going to want to buy ANY of the old DLC, until it is updated, since there is nothing the American public hates more than feeling like they are getting ripped off. On the other hand, having us pay $1 to get pro modes, keys, and harmonies would have been considered reasonable. And if the extra $2 is supposed to cover the additional costs of upgrading the songs, they should simply not offer the songs in an updated version for $2 to people who do not already have the song. Leave the original song at $2, require it for the upgrade, price the upgrade at $1, and have a warning that upgrading/replacing will make that song no longer playable for old versions of the game. In this scenario, consumers will have no reason to feel reluctant to buy old DLC; yes it means that new users will have to pay $3 for an updated song instead of $2, but this is a lot more fair than requiring old users to pay $4 per song upgrade and makes it clear that the additional cost to consumers is to cover the additional cost that harmonix has to expend in order to upgrade the old songs; overall income received from old DLC will be substantially higher than it would be under the current pricing model (as we understand it).

One of the other main problems is that they didn’t warn *anyone.* Not only are people going to be upset over the music that was released immediately prior to RB3 (such as the Bob Marley album), but there are probably quite a few people who had not played Rock Band in some time, but got excited all over again because of RB3 and bought a whole bunch of songs immediately after getting the game. Even those who are buying Rock Band for the first time are going to feel jilted if they buy a bunch of songs right away (likely assuming that they will eventually be able to play keyboard on them; possibly not even realizing at first that they can’t yet, since that is also not obvious to unseasoned players).

One of the reasons people have been willing to spend so much money on DLC in the first place is that they have always had the expectation that once bought, the songs will carry forward in each Rock Band iteration; that the games will get gradually better, and the songs will go forward as well. Not very many people are going to spend $100s on DLC that will only be usable in one game, which will be outdated within a year or two. Forcing people to pay for their songs over again *and* the duplicate library issue it will cause sends a very dangerous precedent. No longer will we be able to assume that the songs we pay for today will still be valid tomorrow.

Comments on: "nanowrimo – day 7 & RB3 rant" (2)

  1. Barry Lukens said:

    I blame the record companies for this more than the game developers. After all they are the same ones who made us buy 8-tracks ( at least those of us old enough 😉 ) of LPs we already owned. Then cassettes. Then CDs. Then digital music files. They’d make us pay every time we listened to a song if they could figure out a way to do it. :\

    [ Oh, and “Hi, Evergreen!!!” 🙂 ]

    • hi 🙂

      I’d love to blame the record companies, who are certainly evil, but in this instance it seems more like they are telling us that we can play our old cd’s in a new cd player, but if we want to be able to skip songs, we have to buy new ones.

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