We have a situation where nobody can win. Which is weird, because this is a game where it originally seemed like everybody was going to come out ahead. I’m talking about Harmonix’s Rock Band 4 , which is turning out to be quite the trouble maker.
Rock Band 4 initially seemed to have a lot of potential. Harmonix was doing everything right. The developer assured people that all of their old DLC from previous installments would transfer over to the new game, ensuring a robust tracklist at launch. It’s making sure instruments from the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation will work with the PS4 and Xbox One iterations.
That’s when the DLC news hit, and now all we have is a disappointing situation.
In case you missed it, which is kind of impossible, Rock Band 4 now has three pre-order promotions. The first is a GameStop Band-in-a-Box bundle that costs $249.99 and includes 30 extra songs for the game. The second is Amazon’s offer, which is basically identical to GameStop’s, only with 4 extra “Amazon exclusive” songs. Most recently, the PlayStation Store offered a digital pre-order option for PlayStation Plus members that guarantees 10 “PlayStation Plus exclusive” songs. In case you weren’t keeping count, that means there will be a total of 44 Rock Band 4 pre-order tracks out there.
The problem with all this is that nobody wins. Not really. The 10 PlayStation Plus songs have been tagged with an “exclusive” label. The 4 Amazon songs? They’re exclusive too. Harmonix hasn’t said whether the 30 songs that GameStop and Amazon share as their pre-order incentives will be locked to that offer. The people who don’t opt in early will be left behind.
The people who do pre-order aren’t really winning either. Yes, they will be getting extra songs, but look at the versions they’re attached to. One requires a PlayStation Plus subscription and only works if you have instrument peripherals. The other requires people to spend $249.99 on the Band-in-a-Box bundle that includes all the peripherals. In each case, there’s a heavy admission price, be it the $50 cost of PlayStation Plus or $250 bundle, for a little extra music.
Pre-order promotions can help sell games, it’s true. Special offers for specific retailers are nothing new. But usually the resulting items are frivilous, physical tokens or DLC that ends up being largely cosmetic or optional. With a music game, the tracks you have access to are critical to the gameplay experience. Completely locking people out of some of them isn’t right, and Harmonix would have been wiser to go with pre-order incentives like special guitar straps or drum sticks instead.