FreeStyle Games has defended its decision to integrate microtransactions into Guitar Hero Live, explaining that it simply wanted to "provide a lot of variety" and "give people choice" over the way they accessed new music.
The new game, which goes on sale in the UK this Friday, ships with 42 songs on-disc and a further 200+ through an online music network called Guitar Hero TV.
But players will never actually be able to own the additional songs available on GHTV, with FreeStyle abandoning Guitar Hero's traditional DLC model for a method that lets players stream tracks at random for free, or play individual tracks on-demand by spending an in-game currency known as 'Play' tokens. Players are also able to purchase a 'Party Pass' to gain unlimited access to all on-demand music for a limited period of time.
"We took a look at how people used their DLC in the past and how many times that a person who bought a song actually played that song," designer Jim Norris explained to VideoGamer.com yesterday while discussing the new model. "That's how we came up with this idea for the 'Plays'. And additionally, we're launching with more songs than have ever been available on a Guitar Hero ever. We've got 42 on-disc, 200+ on GHTV, we're going to have 70 more tracks by the end of the year, and we just wanted to provide a lot of variety for people.
"We didn't want to get the disc and have those songs and those are the songs that you get until we decide to release some DLC and maybe you'll like some of that, maybe you won't. We took a look at how people get music these days, too. I'm old so I've got vinyl, love my vinyl, but apart from that I'm online. That's where I get my music. And for the most part, maybe I'll seek out some bands I know and want to listen to but I just kind of let the internet tell me what to listen to."
Play tokens can be earned via gameplay or purchased with Coins or Hero Cash - the latter costing real world money. Play tokens cost 45 Hero Cash each, and while UK pricing has yet to be confirmed, prices in the US range from $2.99 for a pack of 900 Hero Cash, to $19.99 for a pack of 6900 Hero Cash. Essentially, then, by bypassing gameplay, a single Play token costs around $0.15 in the US.
Norris argues, however, that the service offers players access to new music without ever having to spend any more money on DLC - even if they will never actually own the extra tracks.
"The thing is, for all that music you never have to put any more money into GHTV," he continued. "There's nothing behind a magic curtain. You get all of this stuff right out of the box, you never have to spend another dime. But at the same time we wanted to give people choice. So if you want to play one song that you love 20 times in a row, you can do that by getting onto GHTV and earning in-game currency and then buying Plays with those. But if you don't want to do that you can just outright buy some Plays using real money currency. So we wanted to provide different ways for people to get access to music that they want."
But while players will likely never be able to purchase any extra tracks for Guitar Hero Live ("We have no plans to do any traditional DLC or another disc even any time soon," Norris says), the developer does have plans to continue expanding the online service with new channels and, potentially, new modes.
"We are planning on releasing a third channel actually pretty soon, and that will also be just a part of GHTV," he continued. "That's the glory of GHTV. It lives online. It's an always-online playable music video network. It's our new platform. We can make changes to it that the user will never see. It's easy for us to add a new song, it's easy for us to add a new customisable highway or player card, even new game modes or new channels. This is stuff that's going to be low-impact on the player and you're just going to get it. We're trying a new approach and we just hope that people enjoy it and people give us feedback."
Sadly, though, FreeStyle has no plans to create any additional first-person experiences beyond the ones currently found in the game's 'Live' mode.
"Well it certainly did take a lot of work," he said, discussing the effort involved in filming the first-person sequences. "I think that's one thing that not a lot of people realise. For some of these songs we hired 400 extras, we cast these different genre bands for months at a time to find the right mix and to fit the right mould that we wanted to. We had to rent out whole sound stages and convert them into these mega stages. So we don't plan on doing any of those. We have no plan to do another disc version or any more Live stuff.
"But on the other side of that, I will say that with GHTV, one of the ways that we introduce music is through GHTV Premium, and these are basically like concerts. So every week to two weeks, we're going to have a different Premium Show. Or sometimes there will be more than one available at the same time. Now, you have to earn a ticket to get into this show, and the way that you do that is by completing song challenges.
"When you get online you'll see that yours right now is the Avenged Sevenfold Premium Show. That's our first weekly Premium Show. And that's live concert footage from, I don't know if it's from their current DVD or if it's just live concert footage, but that's exclusive stuff, and we can do anything we want with GHTV Premium. So there's nothing to say that we couldn't create another little version of Live but put it in a Premium Show. That's certainly within the realms of possibility. We could debut music videos on here before anyone in the rest of the world gets to see them, so it's really kind of exciting. We can look and see what people are interested in and take it from there effectively."
Guitar Hero Live launches on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and iOS tomorrow, October 23.