Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rock Band: The Possibilities

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about Rock Band and how it appears that it's changing the paradigm for music games--or, rather, how it could.

Guitar Hero appears to be traveling the annual sports game path, with a new release every year. And that's going to be very profitable for Activision, at least for a while.

Far more interesting, though, is what I believe Rock Band may be doing. I strongly believe that this is not going to be an annual release game

Instead, it will be a music MMO.

Don't call me crazy just yet. Let me explain.

Guitar Hero is incredibly popular. It would be suicide to compete with an established series on the same playing field. Sure, Harmonix took the code with them, but how many people know that besides us?

Almost no one. They're going to see "Guitar Hero" on a box and that's what they'll buy. And I fully expect Guitar Hero to outsell Rock Band this fall by 3-1 or even more.

Harmonix knows that. But if they're smart, it won't matter.

Rock Band, from everything Harmonix has said, is going to be a new way to experience music. It's a game, but the focus isn't on "game," it's on "music."

In other words, Rock Band is going to be a different experience than Guitar Hero, and I expect the Rock Band community to be more deeply involved with the game than the GH community.

Which brings us back to MMO.

Here's what I see Harmonix doing. First, they offer a monthly subscription fee for all downloadable content released that month. In addition, they'll have "special" tracks available only to subscribers.

I'd pay $19.95 a month to get a decent amount of downloadable content and some exclusive tracks. I know a ton of other people who would, too.

Two words: revenue stream. It's an MMO revenue model without having to maintain servers. Which, in a financial sense, is a beautiful, beautiful world.

With that revenue stream, do some easy expansion of the Rock Band world. Add some online lobbies with a few distinct subject areas, where people can meet and (if they choose) go play together. You can meet a session player there who will help you get past a particularly difficult song, and maybe in exchange you give them "status points" or something for their reputation.

For players who have a cumulative career score (all instrument scores combined) over a certain threshold, they might have an elite lobby available only to them.

The reason these lobbies could potentially work so well is that they're not random. People have a common interest and a common purpose. And the more time that people spend hanging out in the world of Rock Band, the more dedicated they become to the game. Time well-spent creates loyalty.

Oh, and if you're one of the top players based on your online scores, you could order official "elite" merchandise. It wouldn't look like a stupid-ass Madden ring, either.

I'm barely scratching the surface here, but the possibilities are almost endless. There are so many cool things you can do to make the game as much of a lifestyle as WOW seems to be. And if you get even 100,000 players into the subscription community (which I think is a very modest goal), with a $19.95 monthly subscription price, it's a revenue stream of almost two million dollars a month.

A la carte pricing would still be available for almost all of the downloadable content, for people who didn't want to subscribe. But it would be cheaper, obviously, to subscribe.

So you've got a two million dollar revenue stream plus all the revenue coming in from single download purchases. And that's with a subscriber base of only 100,000. Focus on the music experience and the future of the game would be very, very bright.

I've really done an inexact job of laying out my thoughts on this, but if I did it fully, it would be so long that no one would bother finishing (if, in fact, anyone bothered finishing this, either). So let me close with a few albums that would be my personal favorites to include as possible downloads:
1. Combat Rock, The Clash
2. Texas Flood, Stevie Ray Vaughn
3. Making Movies, Dire Straits
4. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones

Obviously, there are several thousand other choices, and I left off Dark Side of the Moon because I don't think it would really be playable, but those would be my top choices. And I'd add Revolver or Rubber Soul, but I don't think the Beatles will be "gettable."

I'm very much looking forward to November.

Site Meter