It has been just over a week since it was announced that Harmonix are getting the band back together for a Rock Band come back. Fans everywhere are digging out their old plastic guitars and are dusting off their old electric drum kits. The last Rock Band game may have been released way back in 2010 but in an interview, Harmonix Music Systems Chief Creative Officer and co-founder Alex Rigopulos, gave the impression that this would be a comeback tour worth waiting for.
“We’ve been waiting until the new generation of consoles reached a critical mass for it to make sense for us to bring the franchise back,” said Rigopulos. “It’s a huge bet for us as a company.”
Rogopolus also explained that creatively speaking this was the right time for Harmonix to bring the series back.
“When we stopped developing Rock Band 3, clearly the market needed a break. [And] we wanted to wait until a clear and compelling creative vision for the next Rock Band title coalesced. We needed a break from the franchise.”
With Rock Band 4, it seems Harmonix are going back to basics and shedding some of the extra weight the series gained over the course of the 00’s. Rock Band 4 will be a more streamlined game with Harmonix publishing the game themselves with some distribution assistance from their hardware partner MadCatz, explained Rogopolus:
“We actually are in ongoing discussions with a couple of larger distributors about potential partnerships of various sorts, but we’ve always been intrigued by the prospect of bringing the franchise back to market ourselves as an independent studio, and we have a plan to do so that we feel pretty great about.”
When asked whether this meant that the team and budget would be smaller than past Rock Band games, Rogopolus replied:
“It’s a substantial undertaking for a studio our size. It’s probably not as big a production as Beatles Rock Band. [But] this is the big bet that the studio is placing.”
When asked whether the smaller budget will be enough to fill the game with songs from big artists, Rogopolus said players should expect the same great songs we’ve played along to in previous Rock Band games. A key concern regarding Rock Band 4 is whether Harmonix can convince Sony and Microsoft to allow adapters that will allow players to use their old Rock Band instruments. When asked what fans could do to help this come to fruition, Rogopolus jokingly said:
“They should doxx Microsoft executives and threaten them with violence. And just to be clear, I’m using sarcasm. Nobody should do that!” He then went on to say: “To the degree that people have channels of communication directly with Sony and Microsoft to politely express their views as a community, obviously we would welcome that support. But both have been very supportive and have been working with us on technology and policy issues that make this difficult. It is a challenge but it’s something that they’re working actively with us on. I am confident that we’ll be able to find workable solutions.”
When asked about DLC plans, Rogopolus explained that they don’t have a specific plan laid out right now, but that we should expect new songs to be released after the core game has launched. Rogopolus then went on to discuss how Rock Band 4 has no intentions of actually teaching you to really play guitar like Ubisoft’s Rocksmith does.
“Rocksmith is serving the audience that wants actual guitar instrumental instruction very well,” he said. “I also think that in retrospect, Rock Band had become very sprawling. It was trying to be everything to everyone in a way that was somewhat defocusing. Philosophically in Rock Band 4, we’re trying to go back to the core of what made Rock Band Rock Band and just go much deeper on that as opposed to adding all this extra functionality around the edges.”
In the past, a new Rock Band game was released at least once a year, sometimes with other spin-off titles like The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band. Rogopolus made it clear that Rock Band 4 will be the only game for some time and that there are no plans to start releasing a new game annually.
“Going forward, our goal is to view it as more of a live service where we can gradually and incrementally append new functionality to the core experience rather than having $60 annual title updates. My point is, you shouldn’t expect a Rock Band 5 in 2016.”
Before the interview ended, Rogopolus was asked one last burning question. What was biggest lesson he learned from the crazy days of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
“There are so many lessons,” he said with a laugh. “When a huge market appears overnight, it can disappear just as quickly. So this time around we’re not trying to recreate that crazy phenomenon. It was amazing of course, but it’s an incredibly risky and volatile approach to managing a franchise. There was a lot of bloodlet at the tail end of that phenomenon. This time around we’re really focusing on serving a smaller, dedicated core of Rock Band enthusiasts and hoping to create a sustainable business that way, rather than trying to create the crazy rollercoaster ride that we were on last time around.”
Many gamers have fond memories of getting together with some friends, plugging in their plastic instruments, and getting a taste of what it would be like to be a rock God. We hope Rock Band 4 recaptures this spirit and we look forward to rocking out when the game is released later this year.