Rock Band

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This article is about the video game series. For the first video game of the series, see Rock Band (video game). For the type of musical group, see Rock band.
Rock Band
Rock Band logo.svg
Genres Rhythm game
Developers Harmonix, MTV Games
Publishers Electronic Arts
First release Rock Band
November 20, 2007
Latest release Rock Band Blitz
August 28, 2012
Official website Official Rock Band website

Rock Band is a series of music video games developed by Harmonix and MTV Games, and distributed by Electronic Arts for the Nintendo DS, iOS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360 game systems. The series, inspired by Harmonix's previous efforts on the Guitar Hero series, allows up to four players to simulate the performance of popular rock music songs by playing with controllers modeled after musical instruments. Players can play the lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, and drums parts to songs, as well as sing into a USB microphone. Players are scored on their ability to match scrolling musical notes while playing instruments, and by their ability to match the singer's pitch on vocals.

The concept for Rock Band was formed while Harmonix was working on the Guitar Hero series, with the idea to expand the note-matching gameplay into multiple instruments. When their Guitar Hero partner, RedOctane, was acquired by Activision, Harmonix was acquired by MTV Games, a division of Viacom, allowing them to pursue the title. The first game in the series, Rock Band, was released in 2007 and its sequel Rock Band 2 was released in 2008. As the rhythm game market began to flounder in 2009, Viacom put Harmonix up for sale, but investors were able to buy the company, making it an independent studio. Harmonix would go on to expand the series, including obtaining the lucrative licensing needed for The Beatles: Rock Band in 2009. The last full title in the series, Rock Band 3, was released in 2010. As recent as July 2014, the studio has stated they have plans to bring Rock Band to eighth-generation consoles.

Each Rock Band game comes with approximately 20 to 40 licensed songs from across all ranges of rock music and spanning from the 1960s to present day. In nearly all cases, songs released for one game could be exported to be used in future games in the series. Further, Harmonix provided 275 consecutive weeks (between 2007 and 2013) of regular downloadable content, in the form of additional downloadable songs. As Harmonix moved on to other projects, the company announced the end of this regular content in April 2013, with the final song released being Don McLean's "American Pie". Harmonix has also created standalone Track Packs that contain either a selection of downloadable content, or a selection of band-specific songs. The company also designed the Rock Band Network to allow bands and labels to publish their songs as Rock Band tracks that can be purchased by players; the service was discontinued in September 2014 to allow Harmonix to focus on other projects.

To date, over 13 million copies of Rock Band titles have been sold[1][2] netting more than $1 billion in total sales.[3] Over 4,000 songs representing more than 1,200 different artists are available in the franchise library, and over 130 million downloadable song purchases have been made.[2][4][5][6][7][8][9]

History[edit]

Prior to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Harmonix had already established itself as a company that made game products that focused on music interactivity. Born out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, the first product made by Harmonix was The Axe: Titans of Classic Rock for DOS-based computers, challenging the player to use four keys on the keyboard to match notes in several songs.[10] Looking to find a place for this type of game, Harmonix' founders Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy looked to Japan where music games like PaRappa the Rapper were becoming popular. This led to the creation of Frequency and its sequel Amplitude for the PlayStation 2; both games featured the concept of matching notes for specific instrument tracks along lanes. However, in retrospect, Harmonix found that players had initially difficulty understanding the game, as the presentation was an abstract concept that did not immediately connect the gameplay to the music.[10] The idea of making an easy connection between the game and the music was used as a basis for their Karaoke Revolution games, which including using avatars singing and dancing in time to the music to strengthen the connection; this series was financially successful and helps to grow the company.[10]

Harmonix was approached by RedOctane to help develop the software for the first Guitar Hero game, itself based on Japanese games like Guitar Freaks. Harmonix used their previous experience in note-matching techniques from Frequency and Amplitude, as well as the lessons learned in developed Karaoke Revolution to create the Guitar Hero software. Harmonix was less concerned on developing gameplay, and instead more on connecting the player to the music, working to track the notes of the songs appropriately on the five-button controller as to make the player feel like they are playing the real instrument.[10] Guitar Hero would go on to be a major success and found the basis of the Guitar Hero series.[10]

As the success of the Guitar Hero series grew, Harmonix and RedOctane were purchased by MTV Games and Activision respectively, in 2006; MTV paid $175 million to acquire Harmonix.[11] RedOctane continued to publish the Guitar Hero series, bringing Neversoft on board for development duties. Harmonix was contractually committed to completing one final title, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, during and after the purchase negotiations.

With MTV Games, a subsidiary of Viacom, Harmonix took their experience from developing Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution to create the Rock Band series. According to Harmonix Vice President of Product Development, Greg LoPiccolo, the Harmonix team had already envisioned the possibility of different instruments before they were completed with the Guitar Hero series;[12] Rigopulos noted that the Guitar Hero work was only a partial approach to this, limited to what they could do on a "shoe-string budget".[10] Harmonix also embraced the idea of Rock Band as a platform rather than a software title, and took steps to incorporate downloadable content to extend players' music libraries without having them need to buy a new software disk. Rock Band was considered a success, leading to the development of sequels and spinoff titles. Viacom under the terms of the acquisition, paid out $150M in performance-based bonuses to Harmonix in early 2008 for their 2007 results, and were planning on a similar amount by the end of 2008.[13][14] The Rock Band series scored what was considered a major coup by journalists when it successfully negotiated the rights to use the music of The Beatles in a video game, long considered a "holy grail" for music games.[15][16]

By 2009, the market for rhythm games in general started to fall. The market had become saturated with titles, mostly from Activision's expansion of the Guitar Hero series, and consumers affected by the late-2000s recession were less likely to buy costly instrument controllers. Viacom had already reported significant losses on the Rock Band series, and sales of The Beatles: Rock Band did not meet their expectation.[17] Viacom sought a refund on the $150 million already paid for the 2007 bonuses following its reassessment of the series' 2009 performance.[18] Harmonix, anticipating the slowness of the market, developed Rock Band 3 with the introduction of several new features, including keyboards and Pro instruments, to create a "disruptive" game in the ailing rhythm game market.

Though Viacom continued to support the series throughout 2010, it announced that it was seeking a buyer for Harmonix, citing the series' continued profit losses and Viacom's inexperience at being a video game publisher.[19][20][21] Harmonix was eventually sold at the end of 2010 to Harmonix-SBE Holdings LLC, an affiliate of investment firm Columbus Nova, LLC that included Harmonix shareholders.[22] Though the net liability of the sale was valued at nearly $200 million, including existing unsold inventory and ongoing music license fees, analysts believe that Harmonix-SBE paid only $50 for the company, taking on the total financial liability that Viacom was able to write off in their books.[23] The MTV Games division at Viacom was later closed.[24]

As a shareholder-held company, Harmonix retained the rights to the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises, and continued to support and develop the games.[25][26] The company still faced some fallout from the sale, laying off about 15% of its staff in February 2011.[27] In the same month, Activision announced that it abandoned ongoing development of planned Guitar Hero titles, which many journalists considered to signal the end of peripheral-based rhythm games.[28] Though Harmonix considered the closure of Guitar Hero as "discouraging", they affirmed that they would continue to develop Rock Band and Dance Central and support their downloadable content for the immediate future.[29] Other journalists believed that without competition, Harmonix no longer needed to develop under the same pressure, allowing them to polish and innovate for future titles in the series, bringing a likely future resurgence of the market.[30]

In March 2012, Harmonix affirmed that it had no plans for a fourth major release title within the year, but was still strongly supporting the game through downloadable content through the year.[31] By early 2013, the company stated that while they may come back to Rock Band at a future time, they were shifting resources to develop new titles, and later announced that it would discontinue its regular downloadable content for the series after providing over 275 continuous weeks of such content.[32] Rigopulos stated at his keynote at the 2014 Penny Arcade Expo East that the studio has plans to bring Rock Band to eighth-generation consoles "at some point" and with "guns blazing".[33] Rigopulos states that the studio is "waiting for just the right moment in the new generation of consoles to bring it back".[34]

Games[edit]

Main games[edit]

Harmonix has released three main titles in the Rock Band series: Rock Band (2007), Rock Band 2 (2008), and Rock Band 3 (2010). Each game provides from 57 to 84 songs on-disc with support for additional songs to be purchased as downloadable content. The games feature a variety of modes, including single player career modes, offline and online cooperative modes as part of a band, and competitive modes. Most songs from earlier iterations can be exported for play in future versions for a small licensing fee.

Band-specific games[edit]

In October 2008, Harmonix, along with MTV Games, announced an exclusive agreement with Apple Corps, Ltd. to produce a standalone title, titled The Beatles: Rock Band, based on the Rock Band premise and featuring the music of The Beatles. The game was released on September 9, 2009, coinciding with the release of remastered collections of the Beatles' albums, and features a visual and musical history of the Beatles with United Kingdom-released versions of songs from their albums Please Please Me through Abbey Road. The game also has been supported by downloadable content, with three full albums, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Rubber Soul, available to purchase. Though branded as a Rock Band game, the title remains as a standalone game in the series. It includes a function to add new songs to the game disc.[35]

Following on the success of The Beatles: Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band was released in June 2010. It includes the band's songs, including full albums for Dookie, American Idiot, and 21st Century Breakdown, avatars of the band's members and venues after real-life performances of the group.[36] The track list is fully exportable to other Rock Band games.[37]

Several bands stated they were seeking to or working with Harmonix to develop band-specific content for the series. The band Pearl Jam worked with Harmonix and MTV Games along with Rhapsody on a Rock Band-related project that was to be released in 2010, allowing for users to vote for their favorite live versions of the band's music. In August 2011 it was rumoured that the Pearl Jam related project would be released as downloadable content,[38] but Harmonix spokesman John Drake later clarified that while a Pearl Jam-based game was deep in development, it was ultimately cancelled.[39]

The band U2, after declining an option to place themselves in a Rock Band game in 2008, were reconsidering their stance after seeing the success of The Beatles: Rock Band, according to bassist Adam Clayton.[40] Similarly, Queen were in behind-the-scenes talks about a possible title for their group within Rock Band, according to Brian May.[41] Even though no game based on the band was released, Lego avatars of the band members appeared in Lego Rock Band. Roger Daltrey of The Who had stated that a Rock Band-title based on his group's music would be available in 2010;[42] however, no such title was released in 2010, or after that year for that matter. Though Janie Hendrix had stated she allowed for Jimi Hendrix's works to be used for a Rock Band game to be released in 2010,[43][44] this was later clarified as licensing several full albums from Hendrix to be made as downloadable content.[45] Harmonix had also considered standalone band games for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but neither project proceeded past developing concept art and cinematics.[39]

Spin-offs[edit]

Lego Rock Band features Lego-style avatars with full customization along with a family-friendly soundtrack.

Harmonix and MTV Games have worked with TT Fusion and Traveller's Tales, developers of the various Lego-themed video game titles such as Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to create Lego Rock Band.[46] The game includes songs that are "suitable for younger audiences."[46] The game also includes the "fun, customization and humor of the Lego videogame franchise" by allowing players to create their own Lego-style avatars. The game added a new "super easy" gameplay mode in order to accommodate younger players. The game, which was released on November 3, 2009 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii consoles, supports all existing Rock Band instruments.[46] The game is able to utilize selected existing downloadable content for the other Rock Band games that have been deemed acceptable for the game's audience, except on the Nintendo Wii.

Harmonix had planned to release a spin-off of Rock Band for Japanese audiences in co-development with Q Entertainment. The title, initially announced in 2008, would have featured J-pop music, and would have been "the first US-originated rock music game to be heavily localized for the Japanese market".[47][48] Japanese artists had expressed interest in the venture, such as X Japan.[49] Harmonix has since stated that this project has been discontinued, but have considered the inclusion of popular Japanese music within Rock Band '​s regular downloadable content.[50] Alex Rigopulos later clarified that they found it difficult to license Japanese music for such a release, and had considered both the cost of manufacturing and shipping instrument controllers to Japan, and the limited space that many Japanese players would have in their homes.[39][51]

Rock Band Blitz is a downloadable title in the series released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in October 2012. It is similar to Rock Band Unplugged, using gameplay similar to Frequency and Amplitude. The game included 25 songs (23 new to the series, and two that were previously unavailable to export due to licensing issues), but can use any previously downloaded song in the player's library; the 25 songs were also available to be played within Rock Band 3. Unlike the previous games in the series, Blitz is designed for use with a standard console controller, using buttons on the controller to switch tracks and match notes. The single-player game is designed with numerous "arcade" elements including a number of power-ups that make it more a score attack game than previous titles. Released alongside the game was a Facebook application, Rock Band World, that connected to players' games, offering challenges and tracking players scores in both Blitz and Rock Band 3.

Portable games[edit]

Rock Band Unplugged was developed by Backbone Entertainment and was released for the PlayStation Portable in North America on June 9, 2009[52] and later that year in Europe. The game uses the PSP's Wi-Fi capabilities to provide an online store for additional downloadable content from music providers.[53] The gameplay is similar to the previous Harmonix games Frequency and Amplitude, with the player using the face buttons on the PSP to match notes; after completing a length of a phrase on a given instrument, that instrument will then play by itself for a while, allowing the player to switch to another instrument.[54] The DS versions of Lego Rock Band and Rock Band 3 use a similar gameplay system to Rock Band Unplugged.

A mobile phone version of Rock Band was developed by EA Mobile to work with various phones; the game was released to Verizon users on September 16, 2009. The game features many of the same modes as the main Rock Band series, including the ability to play with other users through the software. The game offers the ability to play any of the four instruments on 25 songs selected from the existing Rock Band library.[55] A version simply titled Rock Band for iOS was also released in October 2009, with gameplay described as similar to Tap Tap Revenge and allowing up to four people to play together with Bluetooth connections.[56] Rock Band Reloaded was released on December 2, 2010.

Gameplay[edit]

The Rock Band games are score-based music video games that combine elements of two of Harmonix' previous efforts: Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution, allowing up to four players to play on lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals. Rock Band 3 expands this number to seven, including a keyboardist and two harmony vocalists. Players use these instruments to play scrolling musical "notes" on-screen in time with music.

Rock Band titles' gameplay and on-screen interface use a combination of elements from Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution.[57] Rock Band has up to three tracks of vertically scrolling colored music notes, one section each for lead guitar, drums, and bass.[57] The colored notes on-screen correspond to buttons on the guitar and drum peripherals.[57] For lead and bass guitar, players play their notes by holding down colored fret buttons on the guitar peripheral and pushing the controller's strum bar; for drums, players must strike the matching colored drumhead, or step on the pedal to simulate playing bass drum notes. Along the top of the screen is the vocals display, which scrolls horizontally, similar to Karaoke Revolution. The lyrics display beneath green bars, which represent the pitch of the individual vocal elements.[57] When singing vocals, the player must sing in relative pitch to the original vocals. A pitch indicator displays the singer's accuracy relative to the original pitch by moving up or down to indicate high or low pitches, respectively. The Beatles: Rock Band introduces three-part harmonies using three separate microphones, a feature later carried over into Green Day: Rock Band and Rock Band 3.[58] If any part is not being played, its interface does not appear on-screen. The remainder of the screen is used to display the band's virtual characters as they perform in concert.

A screenshot of a full band playing Metallica's "Enter Sandman" in Rock Band: each instrument is represented by a different interface: lead guitar (left), drums (middle), bass guitar (right), vocals (top).

During cooperative play as a band, all players earn points towards a common score, though score multipliers and "Overdrive" (an accumulated bonus that is the equivalent of Guitar Hero's "Star Power") are tracked separately for each player.[57] The bass guitar player's multiplier can reach as high as 6x (compared to a 4x multiplier for the other players) and achieve "Bass Groove".[59] Overdrive is collected during select portions of a song by successfully playing all white notes within that section (guitar and bass players can also use the guitar controller's whammy bar to extract Overdrive from white sustained notes).[60] Once the Energy Meter is filled halfway, players can deploy their Overdrive, resulting in the "Band Meter" (which tracks how well each player is doing) changing more dramatically. This allows players to strategically use Overdrive to raise the Band Meter and pass portions of a song they otherwise might have failed. Overdrive can be used to activate score multipliers, which vary based on a player's note streak. In solo play, deploying Overdrive doubles the player's score multiplier. However, in band play, activating Overdrive instead increases the score multiplier of the entire band by two. Additionally, players can deploy Overdrive independently of each other (Guitar Hero games prior to World Tour require players in Co-Operative mode to deploy Star Power simultaneously), as well as collect additional Overdrive while it is deployed and draining.[60]

Each band member can choose the difficulty at which they play (spanning Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert; a "Super Easy" difficulty is also present in Lego Rock Band for younger players). Furthermore, with Rock Band 3, players can also select the Pro mode of their instrument if they have the appropriate controller for it; Pro mode challenges guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards to play their controllers closer to the real-life instrument. If a player does not play well enough and falls to the bottom of the Band Meter, they will fail out of the song and their instrument will be muted from the audio mix. However, any active player can activate their Overdrive to bring failed players back into the song,[57] "saving" the band member. However, a band member can only be saved twice; after the third failure, they cannot be brought back for that song. Failed players continuously drag the band's Band Meter down until they are saved. If the player is not saved before the Band Meter reaches the bottom, the band fails the song. Special portions of songs are labeled as "Unison Phrases," which reward the band with a score and Overdrive bonus if each player can play their parts perfectly during the phrase. Select songs end with a special "Big Rock Ending," which gives the players a chance to improvise and earn extra points. If each player successfully plays the final notes of the song following the freestyle portion of the "Big Rock Ending," the band earns all of the "Big Rock Ending" points. Otherwise, the bonus is lost.

As the song progresses, the screen shows a meter with the current accumulated score for the game, as well as the number of "stars" earned so far based on their score and the progress towards the next star indicated by a partially filled ring. Players can earn up to five stars, with the chance of getting 5 "gold stars" by getting a very high score with all players on the Expert difficulty. The performance's star rating will influence the monetary reward and number of fans for the song within the various game modes, or in the case of Rock Band 3, the amount of fans earned and speed progress towards the virtual band's Career Mode goals.

Instrument peripherals[edit]

Rock Band features instrument controllers designed for the game. However, Harmonix and other companies have attempted to provide compatibility between competing instrument controllers and music games, allowing Rock Band to be playable without use of specific controllers, and to reuse Rock Band controllers in other music games. Prior to Rock Band 3, most instrument controllers were made by MTV Games and Harmonix, with several third-party vendors supply alternate versions.[61] On January 4, 2008, video game peripherals manufacturer Mad Catz announced it had reached an agreement with MTV and Harmonix to produce peripherals for Rock Band.[62] This agreement also gives MadCatz the ability to bundle and sell their products with Rock Band game titles.

Guitar[edit]

The Fender Stratocaster Controller, which features 10 frets, a whammy bar, and an effects switch. The first generation model is pictured.

The guitar controller for Rock Band, modeled after a Fender Stratocaster, is used for lead guitar and bass guitar gameplay. It has several features akin to Guitar Hero '​s controller, as it features five colored fret buttons on the neck of the guitar (which correspond to on-screen notes), a strum bar, and a whammy bar. To use the guitar controller, players must hold the fret button that corresponds to the scrolling colored note on-screen while simultaneously pushing the strum bar. In addition, five smaller fret buttons are located further down on the neck. These buttons can be used to play all notes in guitar solos (denoted by the note track turning blue) as hammer-ons and pull-offs, without the need to strum.[57] The whammy bar can be used to distort the sound of held notes. A special effects switch can be used to toggle between five different guitar effects during solos and Overdrive periods (ranging from wah-wah, flange, chorus, echo, distortion, doubler, slap back echo, medium echo, and long echo), however, this switch was removed from the Rock Band 3 edition of the guitar. Overdrive for guitarists can be deployed by holding the controller in a vertical position or pressing the "Select/Back/-" button. The controller is offered in both wired and wireless versions. Rock Band games allow players to apply a "Lefty Flip" setting, supporting left-handed guitar players. The second version of the controller, distributed with Rock Band 2, introduced quieter fret buttons, a more reliable strum bar, and optical sensor and microphone to help the player calibrate the video and audio output from their television/stereo system's setup.

Rock Band 3 introduces a Pro mode for both guitar and bass players where players are required to finger specific strings and frets instead of just colored buttons. Completely new guitar controllers are being developed specifically for this mode. Two official controllers have been announced for Rock Band, a MadCatz version of the Fender Mustang that features 6 buttons on each 17 frets, and Fender has produced an authentic Squier Stratocaster unit, complete with strings and 22 frets, that is able to sense the player's fingers on the strings. Both of these instruments are compatible with the game's "Pro mode" allowing for accurate fingering while playing and the potential for the game to be an effective learning tool for a true guitar. Of the two Pro guitar units, only the MadCatz Mustang model will be capable of playing "legacy" (5-lane) guitar or bass charts. The Mustang was the first available unit, with the Squier becoming available in March 2011.

Drum kit[edit]

The first generation Rock Band drum controller, featuring four pads and a bass pedal.

The drum set for Rock Band features four rubber drum pads and a bass pedal. The pads have colored rings around the edges that correspond to the notes on-screen. These pads generally represent a snare drum (red), ride cymbal/tom (blue), crash cymbals/floor tom (green), and hi-hat/tom tom (yellow), though some songs may use the pads for other percussion instruments. The pedal represents the bass drum (orange), with on-screen notes represented as orange horizontal lines across the drum highway. To use the drum controller, players must strike the pads with drum sticks and press the bass pedal to match the scrolling notes on-screen. Drummers can improvise in special "freestyle drum fill" sections of songs, indicated by the columns for each note turning a solid color. The four pads will commonly change functionality to represent other drums, depending on the requirements of a song. The default pad order can be reversed using the "Lefty Mode" option in the game. The legs of the drum peripheral can adjust in height or be detached if the player wishes to place it on a table-top.[63] The drum controller also features standard controller buttons in the middle of the peripheral for navigating in-game menus. Overdrive for drummers can be deployed by hitting the crash cymbal (green note for right-handed configuration) that appears directly after a freestyle drum fill. The second version of the controller, distributed with Rock Band 2, introduced quieter, "velocity sensitive" drum pads, a reinforced bass pedal, wireless capabilities, and compatibility with separately sold cymbals. ION Audio has also produced a premium drum kit that includes cymbals and can be upgraded with a drum brain to be used as an electronic drum kit.

Pro mode for drums was introduced in Rock Band 3, requiring players to equip the existing drum set with up to three cymbal units. The game marks cymbal notes differently from regular pad notes, and the drum player is required to hit the cymbals instead of the pads for these notes when they occur.

Microphone[edit]

The microphone is a standard USB microphone. Players can use most other USB microphones, while Xbox 360 users can substitute their console's headset if they wish, though the option to use a headset over a microphone is absent in Rock Band 3 and The Beatles: Rock Band. For the most part, singers are judged on how closely they match the relative pitch of the song's vocalist. During "talking parts" that do not judge pitch, a phoneme detector picks up individual vowels and consonants of the spoken lyrics, songs that contain unclean vocals (growled or screamed vocals) are also judged in this way.[57][64] Some sections without vocals will display circle notes, allowing for the microphone to be used as a tambourine and cowbell by tapping it or making vocal cues. Overdrive for singers can be deployed by making a brief sound through the microphone during sections of songs, denoted by yellow artwork in the background of the vocals interface.

Keyboard[edit]

A keyboard instrument was introduced with Rock Band 3. Using a special adapter, players can use any MIDI-compatible keyboard to play such parts with the game. A special MIDI-compatible 25-key keyboard is manufactured by Mad Catz and is bundled with sales of the new game. This unit is shaped like a keytar and is possible to play both sitting down or standing up. The unit's neck contains the Overdrive activation button, and a touchstrip that acts as an effects bar to alter the tone of the instrument. The keyboard unit is not necessary to play non-Pro keyboard parts in Rock Band 3 as any compatible guitar controller can also be used; similarly, the keyboard can be used to play any non-Pro guitar or bass parts. However, a keyboard unit is required for the Pro versions of keyboard parts.

Game modes[edit]

An on-the-spot group plays Rock Band 2 during the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo.

The primary mode of play in both games is a "Band World Tour" mode (renamed "Tour" for Rock Band 2); in the first Rock Band, this was limited to a band of two or more players playing locally, but Rock Band 2 expanded this to any number of players, locally or online. After choosing a band name and hometown city, the band members can create their own rock characters, as well as a band logo. Once setup is complete, the band can begin playing concerts in small venues in their hometown until they unlock vans, tour buses and private jets, which unlock more cities and different continents. Unlocking and completing new gigs unlocks additional songs for play across all game modes. Successful performances also earn the band fans (used as a metric of measuring the band's popularity), stars (which accumulate based on the success of each individual song performed), and in-game cash (which each player can spend at the "Rock Shop").[65] Most cities and larger venues require the band to achieve a certain number of fans and stars before they are unlocked. In the process, bands can loop through cities multiple times, eventually playing larger venues in cities they have already visited.[65] In-game venues are inspired by real-life venues and often display local art styles from each of the represented cities.[65]

Players complete unique sets of activities at each venue. Performances consist of single songs, multiple song sets, "make your own" setlists, and mystery setlists.[66] Players are also faced with decisions that Harmonix refers to as "risk-versus-reward."[66] Bands need to choose which sized venue they perform at carefully, as a poor performance at a larger venue poses a greater threat of the band losing fans.[66] For certain performances, bands are faced with an optional challenge that requires the band to average a certain amount of stars for their gig in order to reap the rewards.[66] Bands can also choose to perform a benefit concert (earning no in-game money but gaining more fans) or "sell-out" (earning more in-game money but losing fans).[66] Additionally, for certain gigs, bands can compete for band managers, roadies, security personnel, and sound guys, as well as a recording deal with a record label.[66] The "Endless Setlist" allows players to experience an all-day concert atmosphere, as the setlist requires playing the entire game disc's setlist from beginning to end.[67]

A group plays The Beatles: Rock Band at PAX 2009.

Rock Band 2 introduced two new modes. "Challenges" allow a band to play through pre-determined setlists, arranged via difficulty, to earn in-game money. These "Challenges" include those based on songs on-disc, as well as through additional songs from the first Rock Band or from downloadable content. A "Battle of the Bands" mode consists of limited-time online tournaments updated on a daily basis. Each specific "Battle of the Band" challenge will have a number of songs and may have specific requirements or limitations; for example, a challenge may require a vocalist, or that the band cannot use Overdrive for the challenge. The goal in these challenges is to achieve the best "score", which may be the numerical score, the number of stars earned, or the longest streak of consecutive notes played correctly. This score is tracked on global leaderboards, and allow the players to compare their performance to their friends and others. "Battle of the Bands" challenges utilize both on-disc content and other songs the players may have available.

The first Rock Band features a more traditional "Career" mode for a single player on either lead guitar, drums, or vocals, dividing the on-disk songs into nine tiers arranged by difficulty of the song for that instrument. Each subsequent tier would only be unlocked after completing the songs in the previous tier. The player would earn in-game money based on their performance. This was removed in Rock Band 2 for the improved "Tour" mode.

"Quickplay" mode allows up to four players to play any song that has been unlocked. Single players may play head-to-head with another player on the same instrument either through "Score Battles" (both playing at the same time to earn the highest score) or "Tug of War" (each trading off sections of a song, trying to outplay the other). Also included are "Tutorial Mode", which allows players to learn how to play each instrument, and "Practice Mode" which allows players to practice songs for each instrument. A more complete "Drum Trainer" mode was added to Rock Band 2 to help players learn basic drum patterns and drum fills at various speeds.

Customization[edit]

Players can create and customize their own in-game character, complete with adjustable hair, body physique, clothing, tattoos, onstage movements, and instruments. (The PlayStation 2 versions and the Wii version of the original Rock Band do not have this feature.) Using cash earned within the game, the player may purchase items at the in-game "Rock Shop," with which they can customize their rock star. The game features an art maker where players can combine different clip art elements to create custom face paint, tattoos, clothing designs, instrument artwork, and band logos. Bands themselves can create their own logo, and in Rock Band 2, players can assign any generated character to "stand in" for parts that are not presently being played.

With the release of Rock Band 2, players are able to use the official Rock Band website to create physical merchandise of their characters and band, including posters, t-shirts, as well as six-inch tall figurines. The official website was well-received, receiving 2 Webby Award nominations for Best Games-Related website, and winning the 2010 Webby in this category for TheBeatlesRockBand.com. The custom merchandise service ended on March 31, 2010.

The Customization features were overhauled for the release of Rock Band 3, adding additional details to facial customization as opposed to having access only to the game's previous small selection of preset head models, and changing the method of unlocking clothing, instruments, and other accessories to the completion of several Career Goals which are typically score-based and range across the variety of instruments (including Pro Mode), game play modes, and songs from the RB3 release, previous titles, and downloadable content. There is no monetary system in RB3, however the players still earn fans as in the previous installments.

Soundtracks[edit]

Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Rock Band 3 featured soundtracks containing 58, 84, and 83 songs, respectively, spanning many genres of rock music from the 1960s to 2000s, and including licensed music from both well-known artists, as well as independent groups. The majority of songs for Rock Band are master recordings, with a handful of cover versions (mainly used in Rock Band's early stages), while all of Rock Band 2 '​s songs are master recordings.

Rock Band also supports migration of content across games. This enables players to access music that was featured in other Rock Band titles within a single game. Rock Band 2 currently supports content imported from the original Rock Band, Lego Rock Band,[68] and Green Day: Rock Band. Rock Band 3 allows players to not only access these songs but content exported from Rock Band 2 as well. While Lego Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band allow players to export the full soundtrack from each game, Rock Band loses three songs from its soundtrack (four in the European version) during the export process due to licensing restrictions. Rock Band 2, likewise, will not allow players to export fourteen of the eighty-four songs offered on the disc (however nine of these missing songs were offered as a free download following the release of Rock Band 3). Two additional songs from the original Rock Band export were previously unavailable within Rock Band 3, however they have since been returned to availability through a patch. Two further songs which were released on-disc in the European version are unavailable in Rock Band 3, regardless of whether the songs were obtained through a disc export or through purchase as DLC (for the North American region). Due to the licensing agreement with Apple Corps, The Beatles: Rock Band does not allow any exporting of its content whatsoever. Rock Band Blitz shipped with twenty-five songs on its soundtrack (twenty-three of which are new, two of which were offered in Rock Band 2 but not exportable to 3) and all twenty-five songs are cross-compatible with Rock Band 3. Blitz itself is also able to use the full range of content offered on the Rock Band downloadable content catalog (including future content, previous imports, and RBN songs), integrating the existing charts into its own gameplay system.

Downloadable songs[edit]

Harmonix aimed to provide a wide range of music to players through additional content, stating that Rock Band is a music platform for discovering music.[69] The developer released new songs, compatible with both games, through regular weekly downloadable content (DLC).[3][70] including various singles, artist packs featuring three or more songs from the artists, and full albums. Downloadable songs are compatible with Rock Band and Rock Band 2. A portion of the downloadable song catalog is also compatible with Lego Rock Band, based on the songs' appropriateness for the game's family-friendly content rating. While The Beatles: Rock Band also supports downloadable content, the game does not share such content with the other Rock Band games, nor can it use content from the other Rock Band games. Green Day: Rock Band does not have its own catalog of downloadable content but a select number of songs from the 21st Century Breakdown album were released to the Music Store prior to the game's release. These songs integrate with Green Day: Rock Band, enabling the player to play the complete 21st Century Breakdown album in the game. With the release of Rock Band 3, any new downloadable content released on or after October 26, 2010 is restricted for use with Rock Band 3 only and is no longer compatible with earlier Rock Band titles.

The standard price for individual song downloads is $1.99 (160 Microsoft Points/200 Nintendo Points) per song, while some songs cost $0.99 (80 Microsoft Points/100 Nintendo Points), and some even for free. Downloads are available through PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Nintendo WFC. Song packs and certain singles are available at discounted prices. The price for downloadable albums varies, according to how many songs are on the album.[71] The music can be purchased either directly from the console's online store, or through the Rock Band games directly via its own "Music Store", which allows users to preview the music prior to purchase. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of both games support downloading; the Wii version of Rock Band 2 also has this feature, and Harmonix has re-released existing downloaded content on the Wii over time. Wii users are only able to purchase songs through the game's Music Store, and not through the Wii Shop Channel.

With the introduction of new features in Rock Band 3, DLC includes support, where appropriate, for vocal harmonies, keyboards, and Pro drums and Pro keyboards, and remain at the same price. Additional support for Pro guitar and bass depends on the band or song; according to MTV's Paul DeGooyer, "[many bands'] guitar parts wouldn't rise to the level that they would need to have pro mode authoring associated with them".[72] Furthermore, the Pro guitar portion of DLC costs extra, due to the complexity of charting, which Harmonix has said takes as long as authoring the rest of the song. Older DLC can be upgraded by Harmonix to include newer features, but which songs will be a function of licensing, band cooperation, and players' preferences.[72]

By the release of Rock Band 3, there were over 2,000 songs from over 250 different artists available for the Rock Band series through on-disc songs, imported track packs, the Rock Band Network and downloadable content, including 21 complete albums.[6][70][72][73] The song "Are You Experienced?" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, released as part of the release of the album of the same name, is credited by Harmonix as the 2,000th song for the series.[70] Over 100 million downloadable song purchases have been made through the Rock Band music store service through May 2011.[6][8][70][74]

On April 26, 2011, Harmonix released a list of the top ten selling downloadable artists. The list included The Beatles, The Who and Red Hot Chili Peppers.[75] Other popular fan-requested bands, including Guns 'N' Roses and Muse, were difficult to obtain the proper licensing for and could not get additional songs into downloadable content.[39]

Harmonix announced that the last regular DLC release would be on April 2, 2013, as the company began to transition to other projects for next-generation consoles.[76] The final song released for download was the Don McLean song "American Pie".[77] While Harmonix has not committed to a future Rock Band title, Rigopoulos has stated that reuse of existing downloadable content on future titles for next-generation consoles will be a priority, stating "that investment that players have made over the years in those libraries is something that we would want to take great pains to protect".[78]

Track packs[edit]

Harmonix has created a series of Track Packs that contain up to twenty songs previously featured as downloadable content that can be played as a standalone title with reduced features (such as no character customization and limited game modes). These titles were initially intended for users of Rock Band on platforms that lacked network capabilities, specifically the PlayStation 2 and the Wii. However, the second Track Pack was made available for all four console systems, and allows users on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to download these songs for use in the main games. A third Track Pack provides all the tracks from AC/DC's Live at Donington album in a similar manner to the second Track Pack, including exporting them to the main games. More recent Track Packs have been genre-specific such as classic rock, country, and metal. Some Track Packs have included songs not yet available through downloadable content, though Harmonix has released the exclusive tracks from the Country Track Pack and the Metal Track Pack in Music Store for purchase.

Rock Band Network[edit]

Main article: Rock Band Network

The Rock Band Network is a downloadable content service designed by Harmonix and Microsoft to allow artists and labels to author ("chart") their own songs for play in Rock Band. Using special software provided by Harmonix, these songs are peer-reviewed for content before being put on the Network, and users will be able to browse through the available songs by several means. The Network will augment the songs added by Harmonix as downloadable content for the game. The Network became publicly available to Xbox 360 players on March 4, 2010, with all of the songs immediately available to the Network Store for Xbox 360, and certain selections of songs available to the PlayStation 3 and Wii.[79] A major update of the Network was released early in 2011, after Rock Band 3 '​s release, to including authoring tools for normal and Pro keyboards and vocal harmonies, but will not initially support Pro guitar/bass authoring until Harmonix is able to judge the support required for these tools. Harmonix also plans to better support the PlayStation 3 through this iteration. Due to lack of interest and difficulties with Nintendo's Wii storefront, Harmonix has discontinued making Network songs available for the Wii. Xbox 360 players will still be able to create and add songs to the Rock Band Network following the April 2, 2013 end of regular DLC, but Harmonix has stated that while these mechanisms are generally automated, they are based on third-party technology like Microsoft XNA, and should those services cease, so will the functionality of the Network. As release of Network songs for the PlayStation 3 require Harmonix to be fully involved, no further Network songs will be available for the PlayStation 3 after April 2, 2013.[76] The Network was fully shuttered in September 2014 to allow Harmonix to move forward on other projects.[80]

Cultural impact[edit]

Like Guitar Hero, Rock Band has influenced the music culture. Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy, the founders of Harmonix, were together named in Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of 2008 for their creation of Rock Band. In the article, guitarist Steven Van Zandt claims, "in the history of rock 'n' roll, Rock Band may just turn out to be up there with the rise of FM radio, CDs or MTV."[81] Both were awarded the 2009 Game Developers Choice Pioneer Award for their influence on music video games culminating with Rock Band,[82] and the 2010 USA Network's "Character Approved" Award for New Media in 2010 for the impact that their vision and leadership for Rock Band has had on the social nature of the game.[83] A reality television show, Rock Band 2: The Stars, was created by VH1, featuring several players performing and being eliminated by judges Alice Cooper and Sebastian Bach.[84] The Pennsylvania-based band, The Jellybricks, released a viral video of their song "Ruin Us" which is overplayed on footage from Rock Band 2 using avatars resembling the band members.[85] Rock Band appeared briefly in the "Whale Whores" episode of South Park, where Cartman, along with Kyle and Kenny, sang to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face";[86] about 5 months after the airing, Harmonix announced "Poker Face" with vocals by Cartman would be available as downloadable content for the game, along with other Lady Gaga songs featuring her vocals.[87] An episode of the sitcom The Office, "The Chump", alluded to Rock Band: Billy Joel, to which Entertainment Weekly '​s Darren Franich commented that "let’s hope never actually exists ever".[88] Billy Joel, on reading this review, contacted his agents and authorized his songs to be used within the game as a means to snub Franich.[89] The Los Angeles Times suggests that Rock Band, particularly The Beatles: Rock Band, has influenced many of the contestants in the preliminaries for the 9th season of American Idol to use songs that have appeared in these games for their auditions.[90]

In terms of sales, Rock Band trails the Guitar Hero series, selling only 4 million units in 2007 compared to Guitar Hero '​s 11.8 million.[35] In 2008, Rock Band was the third highest brand, trailing Guitar Hero and the Mario series, with $662M in total sales for the year.[91] Over 5.3 million copies of the games were sold in 2008, with 3.8 million of those in instrument-bundled packages.[92] Wedbush Securities gaming analyst Michael Pachter believes that both game series will sell another 3 million units each by early 2009.[35] Regardless, Rock Band has not generated profits for Viacom due to the cost of developing and selling the instrument peripherals. As a result, Viacom, MTV Games, and Harmonix are shifting the Rock Band series into one that focuses on selling songs through additional software discs and downloadable content, letting others, such as Activision, handle the creation of the game controllers.[93]

Sales of downloadable songs have been in favor of hard rock bands; Mötley Crüe '​s single "Saints of Los Angeles", debuting as a Rock Band track at the same time as the release of the album of the same name, saw 48,000 Rock Band downloads and 14,000 iTunes downloads during its first week of release.[94] The popularity of some tracks have also led to groups considering releasing more material for the game. Rush '​s alternate version of "Working Man" released only for Rock Band was met with so much praise from players of Rock Band that the group released the song for download through iTunes, as well as considered making full albums available,[94] which they in turn did when they released their album Moving Pictures in full on the platform soon after. Guns N' Roses had delayed their long-awaited album Chinese Democracy so often, many doubted it would ever be released; however, the Rock Band 2 debut of the song "Shackler's Revenge" was thought to be the precursor to the release of Chinese Democracy; the album was indeed released in November 2008 and was later made available as a downloadable album for the Rock Band games.

Rock Band's downloadable content has been given away as part of promotions tied in with the game. Playable tracks from Disturbed and Pearl Jam were given to customers that had purchased new albums from the respective bands in certain stores.[95][96] During the summer of 2009, customers of specially marked Pepsi products had a chance to win a token to select one downloadable track out of about 300 for Rock Band in addition to other Rock Band related-prizes.[97]

Rock Band and Guitar Hero have been stated to provide significant benefits for music labels and artists through exposure to new audiences.[98] However, not all record labels believe there are benefits; Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman and chief executive for Warner Music Group, stated that "The amount being paid to the industry, even though their games are entirely dependent on the content that we own and control, is far too small."[99] While industry rumors stated that MTV Games was boycotting artists under the Warner Music label over the music company's stance on licensing[100] the issue has been stated by both MTV Games and Warner Music Group to be a present dispute over increased costs of licensed music as the two companies seek a new deal.[101] Since then, MTV Games and Warner Music Group have entered into licensing agreements allowing music from the label, such as the band Green Day, to be used within the game.[102]

List of games[edit]

Released Year Title Platform
360 PS3 PS2 Wii PSP NDS iOS Mobile
Main Games
2007 Rock Band Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2008 Rock Band 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2010 Rock Band 3 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Band-Centric Games
2009 The Beatles: Rock Band Yes Yes No Yes No No No No
2010 Green Day: Rock Band Yes Yes No Yes No No No No
Spin-offs
2009 Lego Rock Band Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
2012 Rock Band Blitz Yes Yes No No No No No No
Portable Games
2009 Rock Band Unplugged No No No No Yes No No No
2009 Rock Band Mobile No No No No No No No Yes
2009 Rock Band (iOS) No No No No No No Yes No
2010 Rock Band Reloaded No No No No No No Yes Yes
Rock Band Track Packs
2008 Vol. 1 No No Yes Yes No No No No
2008 AC/DC Live Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2008 Vol. 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2009 Classic Rock Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2009 Country Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2009 Metal Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2011 Country 2 Yes Yes No Yes No No No No

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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