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 VideoGamer.com 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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!
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: What makes a rocking Rock Band track?
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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.
VideoGamer.com: 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.