One of the things I like about Rock Band is that the DLC is regular, reasonably priced and à la carte - you can pick just the tracks you want and it doesn’t break the bank. Guitar Hero conversely has so far not released very much DLC, generally charges more for it (500 points for a 3-song pack compared to 80-120 points per track in Rock Band), and doesn’t give you the option of just purchasing the tracks you want - it’s the whole pack or nothing, making it much less convenient.
Worse are the ‘band branded’ retail supplements like GH: Aerosmith which are the ultimate in forced bulk purchasing, and something I’ve always looked on with derision. They’re chronically expensive, they’re all-or-nothing, you’re no doubt paying for stuff you don’t really want or need (like the modelling of Steve Tyler’s frankly shocking visage, which I imagine took every ounce of normal mapping skill on the part of the artist to capture its craggy terrain) - they’re the antethesis of the self-service, customer-pleasing DLC that Rock Band offers. You could say that Rock Band 2 is the same, but there’s 2 differences: 1) you’re getting a refined play experience, and 2) you get 106 varied tracks for your money, a massive saving over regular DLC. Together those are enough to justify it, so long as it’s a rare occurrence.
All was well until this week, when MTV announced that they would be releasing Rock Band : AC/DC (exclusively through Wal-Mart in the US) - a band-branded physical media add-on precisely in the vein of GH: Aerosmith, and that it wouldn’t be made available as DLC. Worse, it’s even more of a rip off than GH:A, costing a whopping £30 for a paltry 18 tracks. What the hell are they thinking?
If there’s a tissue-thin silver lining to this story, it’s that at least you can transfer all the songs from the disc into Rock Band 2 as pseudo-DLC, just like you can with the Rock Band 1 tracks; so at least you’re not condemned to disc-swapping. But still, you can’t buy it any other way than all in one shrink-wrapped package, and the price is daylight robbery - who forgot to tell them that when you bulk-buy, you should get goods at a lower price? Beyond the price, I fundamentally disagree with the forced packaging, and the exclusive arrangement they’re taking with this one, it’s an entirely retrograde step and entirely at odds with everything Harmonix have been doing so far.
Harmonix have stated that they don’t like exclusive content, that they dislike restricting music choice, and I completely agree with that. One of the reasons I like Rock Band is that you really do get the sense it’s made by people who know and love music more than anything else. My guess (hope?) is that it’s not them who made this call - maybe the business guys at MTV overruled them, seeing the dollar signs lighting up. Or, maybe it was AC/DC’s management who refused to allow the piecemeal DLC route; they’re one of the few remaining bands who don’t allow track downloads via iTunes (either because of greed, snobbery, luddite tendencies, who knows). Or maybe Wal-Mart dangled a fat juicy bribe in front of the MTV biz guys and led them down the dark path. I don’t know - but I’d really rather not believe that Harmonix have lost their way here, given how in touch with the customer they’ve been so far. I hope it’s a one-off special case; if MTV start doing this for other bands the way Activision has openly said it plans to, it will seriously erode my respect for the Rock Band franchise. Given the goodwill Harmonix have built up so far doing things the ‘right’ customer-friendly way with DLC, contrasting markedly with the way Activision have been doing things, the very last thing they should be doing is tossing all that down the crapper switching to an overtly corporate approach.
I don’t much care for AC / DC anyway so I can happily ignore this; had they released it via the normal DLC channels I might have purchased a couple of signature tracks, such as Back in Black, but there’s no way I’m going to buy an entire disc full; so they’ve lost a sale or two there, and I would expect that applies to others who have merely a passing acquaintance with the band. In essence, which band it is doesn’t matter; it’s the precedent that it sets which is very concerning.
Note to Baz: I wrote the majority of this post before you accused me of ignoring the story because of my raging Rock Band bias 😉