Rock Band screenshot
Rock Band screenshot

When the news broke that Rock Band would be coming to Europe on May 23 it was met with cheers... by Xbox 360 owners. A timed 360 exclusive, Rock Band on PS3, Wii and other platforms will follow in the summer. When publisher EA confirmed that Rock Band was going to cost a whopping £180 for the entire package, including game, drum kit, microphone and guitar, the Internet exploded, with thousands of gamers complaining that it was a rip-off. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that it's miles cheaper over in the US. Never let it be said that we here at don't listen to our readers. We immediately trotted over to a West End night club where Rob Kay, director of design at Rock Band developer Harmonix, was waiting for us to ask him why EU gamers have to fork out so much for one of 2008's most anticipated games. Read on for part one of our extensive interview with Rob, where you'll find his response to the price furore, his message to unhappy PS3 owners and his thoughts on why Guitar Hero guitars won't work with his game. You've worked on Guitar Hero as well as Rock Band. What makes Rock Band better?

Rob Kay: Rock Band is all about being in a band. We made a lot of these single instrument titles before people told us that the natural evolution of that step is to put it together in a band experience cooperatively, get your mates round and play together. So that's what we've done our best to deliver and that's why Rock Band is great. What's the core Rock Band audience?

RK: Right since the beginning of Rock Band we said that the target audience would be five to 50 fans of rock, so it's pretty broad. So people who like music! The UK edition has a number of exclusive tracks included. How do you decide on a suitable track?

RK: We wanted to make sure that the track listing for the UK release had some of the most awesome UK bands on there. The better the band is the better the experiences when you play it. We've got Oasis - Rock and Roll Star, Blur - Beetlebum, Muse - Hysteria, and then we're adding that stuff that we already had in there, like Police stuff, Rolling Stones, The Who, Clash, the Buzzcocks. We're trying to cover all the genres and all the decades of rock. We're pretty happy that we've got a good selection. What makes a rocking Rock Band track?

Rock Band screenshot

RK: We need something that's got four awesome parts, because obviously we don't want someone sat there doing nothing the whole time! That actually does weed out some songs. We just want the best songs and the best bands. Often there's a direct correlation between how awesome a band is and how enjoyable it is to play. The game is coming out on a number of formats. How will they differ?

RK: We've got the Xbox 360 version coming out May 23 and then the other versions are coming out in the summer. The 360 and PS3 versions are nigh no identical. The other versions we've got, we've had to change them a little bit just because of the platform limitations. But what we've tried to keep intact was the core gameplay. When you're actually on there, on stage, it feels the same, you're still using drum controller, two guitar controllers and a microphone to play. The sacrifices were outside of that scope. So the Wii version doesn't incorporate any of the motion sensing of the controllers?

RK: No, and we did consider that. You could imagine people using the controllers like air drums. But the awesome thing about drumming is you can feel it and it actually feels like you're playing a real drum kit. You're actually hitting it and getting physical feedback from playing with real drum sticks. We just didn't want to sacrifice the Wii version to be watered down in some way. That's why we've tried to keep this broad vision that you're playing with a drum kit rather than this thing in the air. So you didn't consider an Ocarina peripheral for the Wii version then?

RK: (Laughs) I think another videogame has that covered! But I think that's the awesome thing about this whole space. Musical gaming is exploding and there's tonnes of space that we haven't gone in to that other companies should go into. There's instruments, there's other types of music, there's 101 different ways to explore this space that we haven't done yet. We're just trying to deal with the myriad of possibilities and not get too defocused by thinking about so many. But music games are on the rise. You mentioned that Rock Band is coming to Xbox 360 first. Is there anything you want to say to PS3 owners who might feel upset by this?

RK: We want to say that while we've got this MS period of exclusivity on their platform just for a little while, when the PS3 version comes out it's identical. You're going to have exactly the same experience with all the downloadable content, the whole Rock Band experience is there and it's fully fleshed and fully blown. We've worked really closely with Sony to make sure that, you know we've been able to do that in the States, and we're working with them at the moment to try and make sure that in Europe we can make it sing on the PS3 as much as possible. We love all the platforms. This is not us having a beef with any platform, we just want to get the Rock Band experience out there so people can enjoy it. It's coming. Rock Band's pricing has caused quite a stir online - it's going to be quite expensive, and a lot more than in the US. What's your opinion on the matter?

RK: As a Brit who's grown up playing games in the UK I completely know what it's like. I ordered Starfox on import for £90 back in the day! I've spent ridiculous sums of money on gaming. It can be annoying with consumer electronics in the UK. It's a bit of a downer. We actually got a similar reaction in the US with the price. There's no existing model to compare Rock Band to with other games. It's not like other games where you pay your £50 and you get your disc and that's all you get. So what we've tried to do is put a pricing structure in place where people can chose how much they want to invest in the game. Maybe if they want to just sing, they just squash £50 and that's it. And they can get the disc, put it in, they can grab any USB microphone and play, or they can use the 360 headset to sing. So if they just want to pay £50 then they can get that portion of Rock Band and play that portion. Or they might decide they want to pay a little but more to get into the guitar side of it because they like playing guitar, and that's £70. Or you can do £80 for the drum set, so you can just get into it with drums because you've not had a drumming experience before. And you can take that online and play against other people. And then of course there's the headline, and the whole reason why Rockband exists is to have the whole thing together. That's why we've created the instrument bundle where people can buy the three instruments in one pack and play it. We really wanted to just give people the choice about how they go at the game.

It is more expensive, when you just straight to straight convert the prices you see on the website for the US version but there's a myriad of these little differences that all add up. One thing is VAT, which is included in all the UK prices, 17.5%. There's no tax included in the US price because tax is different per state. There's a bunch of little reasons that add up to the price difference. We're not trying to screw people. We want to give people the chance to get into Rock Band and embrace it. We think that when they do play it then they'll be like then this is worth the money.

This is a different experience. You cannot have a multi-player, multi-peripheral game be in the same price point as a regular game. What it delivers is so much bigger and so much better. We understand that people are going to feel a little bit aggrieved about it but we hope that playing the game will override that feeling. Do you think the initial fierce reaction to the pricing will calm down in time?

RK: It comes down to playing the game. You can't really make that much of an informed judgement on whether the system is worth it until you play it. So people shouldn't make that judgement. If one of your friends buys it, go and play it and decide if you want it. When we first designed the game we knew it was going to be more expensive game than most. We imagined a scenario where there's a bunch of friends and one of them buys the drum kit, one buys the guitar and they go round their friends' house every Saturday night and play. Those kinds of things. We didn't want to compromise on the experience of playing in a band. We were like if it's going to cost more money for people but it's going to be worth it because they're going to get that experience that otherwise would have taken years and years of training and you would have to find other people who play these instruments. It's more accessible than doing a band for real. It gives people a route into that satisfaction and enjoyment from being in a band. Can you clear up the dispute with Activision over the use of Guitar Hero guitars with Rock Band?

RK: Our goal since the beginning, because we want music gaming to become huge, we've said to anyone who's manufacturing hardware, we will make your hardware work with our game. Work with us and we'll help you do that. In our ideal world all of the instruments across the computer games work with each other, and there's no people going "oh, my controller's for this game not this game!" and "why can it work for this game and not this game?". We really try and embrace that and there are occasions where other companies don't want to embrace that and all we can do is hold our hand up and say you should probably ask those other companies the same question. So as it stands at the moment if you want to play guitar on Rock Band you need to buy a Rock Band guitar?

RK: No. There are other guitars out there that you can use with Rock Band. Our intention is that any guitar that comes out you could use on Rock Band. It's one of those unfortunate situations where a quick bit of research on the web will show up which ones are compatible. Basically you can use a Guitar Hero 2 360 guitar no problem. And on PS3 you can't. It's so stupid. We really should be in a world where all music games work with each other. That's our goal. That's what we want.

Check elsewhere on the site for the second part of our interview with Rob Kay, where he talks about how Harmonix will take the series forward and what we can expect from future DLC.

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User Comments

Janemba126's Avatar
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I have a ps2 and I would love to play Rockband, but for that price i'd rather keep playing gh 3!
Posted 00:19 on 03 July 2008
TomCat's Avatar
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Bless my PS3 for being Region Free...
I bought Rockband from the states (160 dollars + 40 dollars shipping) for £100 pounds.... YES!!!!! ONE HUNDRED POUNDS!!!!
I had to pay 17.5% VAT = £17.50 and £11 extra postage...

TOTAL cost LESS THAN £130!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now will somebody tell me how it costs £180????????????????????

I had to spend a fortune to get my PS3 on launch day... but to keep on ripping people off with these crazy prices is "exrtracting the urine" BIG TIME !!!!
Posted 21:42 on 11 April 2008
AkumaUk's Avatar
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I've been looking forward to this game for 12 months now... I'm gutted it's going to cost so much.. I could probably afford it, but is it value for money? No, probably not.. If you take something like COD4 which I bought on release day, I paid £40 and have played it almost every day for 5 months, thats value for money.. Would I play Rock Band that often? definately not..

So sorry EA/Harmonix, but you've just priced it out of the market for me.. which also means I wont be spending £10 a month on extra DLC either.. your loss, I'll just stick to playing my GH2 & GH3.
Posted 10:47 on 10 April 2008
Machetazo's Avatar


Would have been better had you asked Rob why it is that the instrument pack doesn't contain a copy of the game necessary to play it.
Posted 09:57 on 10 April 2008
James hanify's Avatar
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James hanify

"not trying to screw us"

you are with EA after all - i don't believe it one bit

Peace out
Posted 23:45 on 09 April 2008
Pete AKA s6yka's Avatar
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Pete AKA s6yka

Rubbish..... Make us wait, build anticipation & then charge extortionately more. Were talking double the US price for the same package. I have a PS3 so also have to wait until later this year for a UK version. This has sealed the nail in the coffin for me. I shall be importing a copy from the U.S. (as PS3 isn't region encoded for games) and not only saving myself cash but playing it before it's even released in the UK. There will still be enough cash spare to buy a copy of the UK Version of the game when it's released as well in case they make the song packs compatible with one version and not the other. What's the purpose of not selling the game with the instruments as well. I see no reasonable explanation for that either? Worth mentionin for UK XBOX 360 owners that it is already available to pre-order on for £99.99 for the instruments and £39.99 for the game so you don't "have" to pay £180 for everything but even a total of £140 is £10-£20 over what the RRP should have been on the set up. Saying that "Rock Band" isn't a normal video game doesn't cut it I'm afraid. It's an acculmination of Guitar Hero and Singstar games which have been around for a while. As consumers we don't expect to get things for free and most UK consumers know that many things are cheaper in the States because of the high taxes applicable over here. Never the less they've overshot the mark on this one. Sales will more than likely be just as good as they're expecting or higher because it is so anticipated but I'm sorry Harmonix, you're decision is not fair on EU consumers.
Posted 18:43 on 09 April 2008
Richie's Avatar
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Honestly, the next part of the interview is irrelevant - I don't care about the DLC if I don't own the game cos the initial cost is so ridiculous. That's why EA & Harmonix have made such a colossal mistake. Make the initial cost lower and people will get sucked into buying the game, and more DLC. If no-one buys your game, no-one buys your DLC.

I don't think the reaction online will actually subside. Yeah, you'll get some people who are loaded buying the game, but it won't be enough to get any kind of 'buzz' about the game going.

Rock band - Dead on Arrival in Europe.
Posted 18:07 on 09 April 2008
corum's Avatar
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I mean, come on, this guy never really answered the question! Tell us why it costs THAT high, and piss off if you can't.
Posted 16:34 on 09 April 2008
Stu's Avatar
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Plain and simple - I'm not buying a game I can purchase a Wii for, I'll make do with Guitar Hero thanks.
Posted 15:53 on 09 April 2008
Ave's Avatar
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Is this the "honest" interview we were promised yesterday? Why didn't you press on and kept asking the real question: What costs are there other than VAT to make this retarded price fair? Saying "a hundred small things" is crap, and you should have kept on asking until he said something reasonable, or at least declined to answer.
Posted 14:31 on 09 April 2008
Kif's Avatar
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OK, that's great and all. My question is why are they selling the game with everything but the game! If you can sell it in America with the instruments and the game, then why not here. Oh wait, EA has to make back the money from instrument repairs somewhere, right?
Posted 14:05 on 09 April 2008
Bird's Avatar
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Nice dodging of the real issue.

As pretty much most of the "internet" already noticed, it's not the 17.5% that p*sses people of, it's the 120+% that hits the spot.

Right about now would be a great time to either modify that price or give the PAL region some very good figures to whose new car we are buying when striking on this wonderful "BUY 2, GET 1" offer.
Posted 13:26 on 09 April 2008

Game Stats

Release Date: 23/05/2008
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games
Genre: Music
No. Players: 1-4
Rating: PEGI 12+
Site Rank: 13,783 155
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