Rockin’ that DLC thang

I’m a little behind on this (I’ve been a bit busy at work lately, what with holiday backlogs and a new boss and all), but as the officially designated GameSpite guy who likes to blog about Rock Band digital distribution, I’m obligated to discuss the news that the franchise will be taking a break. That means we won’t see a Rock Band 3 in 2009. I, for one, am ecstatic about the news.

[[image: ar_012009_rockband_01.jpg:Only 9,000 more Rock Band-related posts left to fill this year’s quota.:center:0]]
As gaming enthusiasts, we’ve all seen franchises hit it big only to be run into the ground by the publisher’s mad rush to cash in while the money is good. It’s almost impossible to hear names like Madden, Tony Hawk, and — yes — Guitar Hero without thinking about franchise fatigue. This is something that one would assume could be easily avoided now that digital distribution is picking up steam, since new content could easily and cheaply be piped to players to keep their game fresh, while giving developers more time to really flesh out a proper sequel. Frankly, I was pretty disappointed that Rock Band had a sequel out less than a year later (even if 85+ songs and lots of nice tweaks for $60 made for a damn good deal).

Now, obviously the main reason behind this line of thinking is that Harmonix wants to throw its full resources into their Beatles game; it’s a huge license that they can’t afford to risk bungling. The optimist in me, though, likes to think that some small voice in the company whispered into the right ear that DLC could be the key to keeping a constant stream of money flowing with minimal development costs and with the added bonus of not tiring people out on the franchise. Again, it’s probably nothing more than a pipe dream, but I think in some ways Rock Band was EA’s way of testing the limits of how much money they can get from this newfangled “DLC” thing, and the company has a lot of franchises that could benefit from a two-year treadmill model in lieu of the standard annual upgrades we get now.

There’s always the risk that they’ll upset their market if they meddle too much — after all, my gut reaction is to say that a large chunk of the Madden crowd’s sales will be far more tempted to get the newest upgrade from store shelves than to pay $10 to download new team rosters — but Rock Band’s balance between (for lack of a better term) “casual” and “core” gamers, coupled with a tangentially-related guaranteed blockbuster that fills the missing sequel’s spot in the holiday line up, could afford it a unique chance to be the test bed for taking the downloadable content model as a viable alternative to churning out yearly updates. I have a feeling EA won’t be the only company watching how well Rock Band’s DLC performs over the next 12 months. 2009 is going to be an important year for video games, but maybe not for the same reasons previous years have been important.

12 thoughts on “Rockin’ that DLC thang

  1. I think retailers would be much more likely to have adverse reactions if the yearly upgrades for sports games became DLC.

  2. Umm, than players, I mean. I think you could convince a lot of those people to buy it, but the big chains sure seem to make a big deal out of each year’s Madden game.

  3. I would imagine the yearly upgrade to the sports franchises helps developers get the money that might otherwise go to the used game dealers. I haven’t dealt in sports games in a long long time, but I remember back in the day old releases were worth virtually nothing in trade-in value. Ignore me if I’m wrong.

  4. Anthony, your links in the first paragraph are broken, just FYI.

    I wonder if during this year-long break, the price of a full RB2 package will come down. Maybe it’ll be time for me to finally jump on the bandwagon.

  5. I was also disappointed with the announcement of Rock Band 2. I love it, the tweaks and Songs are great, but I really wished they would have made it a patch to Rock Band and not a sequel. They could have still sold new instruments but something about part 2 coming out so soon after the original left a bad taste in my mouth… especially since they said Rock Band is a platform… but now… Rock Band 2 is really the platform? Ah well, glad they aren’t like the other guys.

  6. I can’t really see why you would say “Rock Band 2 is really the platform” as though you couldn’t play all the DLC on both games. I didn’t really have a problem with it, it’s good that they’re taking a break though.

  7. Kirin – thanks, I think they’re fixed now.

    I always forget to think about how the big retailers get pissed off over stuff like this. As for TK Flash’s idea, well, if things are digitally distributed, there’s no used market AT ALL.

  8. Tangential question: Is EB/Gamestop going to start wringing their hands over DLC/digital distribution this year? They already seem to be having issues with Steam if the news about their handling of Dawn of War 2 is correct.

  9. The Beatles game is as big as a new Rock Band game. I don’t see many improvements they can make to the game anyway, it’s been the same thing since Guitar Hero except for DLC and more instruments.

  10. This is good news. Now I don’t feel so bad about letting my copy of RB2 collect dust because I’ve got another year to noodle around with it occasionally.

  11. A couple of points: EA just distributes Rock Band. They don’t develop or publish it. Harmonix and MTV pretty much were locked into putting out a new Rock Band since Guitar Hero was ramping up into a full band game. They had to keep their name out there as a viable platform in the face of the other game with better brand recognition. All that said, I’m also happy that they decided to take a break.

  12. I fail to see why releasing content through new standalone releases is so much more nefarious than releasing the same content a la carte online. If you look at the new Guitar Heros for what they are, essentially new track packs, the difficulty vanishes. It seems like a lot of the press is just oohing and ahhing over this because DLC is new. It’s worth noting that at 2 bucks a song DLC is a rip-off compared to the deal you get from a new standalone release, with, as you mentioned, 80+ songs for 60 bucks.

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