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.