Harmonix Discusses Playlist Selection Process & Next-Gen Only for Rock Band 4
Manager of Community Development for Harmonix, Aaron Trites, and Community Manager Eric Pope recently sat down with me to discuss the state of our beloved Rock Band 4 today. For some, the announcement that the franchise is returning was a nostalgic power pellet of joy. Of course, being one of those many music/gaming fans, I was curious to know the thought pattern behind the decision to bring back the plastic instrument craze.
For a portion of the talk, we discussed how the two wound up working for Harmonix. While they both have been with the company for quite some time, neither were actually a part of the company during its genesis. Still, as their careers sidetracked enough for them to lean on their love of music, they both acknowledged that the decision to follow that passion was one that has led them to their dream jobs of today.
Once that was out of the way we discussed how difficult the process of selecting and clearing songs for use in Rock Band is. As usual for fans on the outside looking in, we don’t know all that goes on behind the scene to get a song into a Rock Band game. In office debates of what songs they want to use fall into a complex debate of decade of release, this number of genres represented, these types of singers, and much more. Almost like having an human-based algorithm of ‘maybes’ that they will approach artists for. Of course, they have already provided over 2,000 songs that will be available on the next gen version. The balance is most assuredly a nerve racking one that it seems Eric Pope is more than willing to take on as a challenge. There is a submission form to help him out in this task of course!
Acquiring the song rights for the game is not as easy as asking the band if Harmonix can use it though. Labels and music industry politics come into play and even then that isn’t the end all be all to IF they can use the song. Harmonix requires the actual masters of a song so that then they can mix the song to sound as needed for Rock Band. As vets of the game can attest, the songs in the game often sound different than the iTunes versions that we buy because the guitar or drum or bass track of a song often has to be elevated. Also, Harmonix can end up getting b-sides or live tracks due to the fact that a master of a particular song can’t be obtained.
Once all of that was out of the way, we discussed why Rock Band 4 was a next-gen only title. Many gamers out there still do have their previous gen PS3’s and Xbox 360’s, but Harmonix has done the math and more often than not, gamers are getting or have the next gen consoles. They’ve seen a trend in the sales and it points towards more sales on the next gen version of games now that we are settled into the 3rd year of the next gen cycle. Also, the development crew is spending a lot of time with the new game engine for the new consoles and they want to avoid duplication of work. Doing so often leads to problems as many developers are taking the same approach of ditching old gen for next gen consoles only. Harmonix apparently wants this edition of Rock Band to last for years so that it isn’t an annual delivery of blah. They like the capabilities of the always online consoles and look to fully utilize the flexibility to further add features and upgrade the title down the road. It will be interesting to see how this title evolves beyond the release.
This interview was great discussion and hopefully will lead into more in the future. If you want to hear more, go and check out the full video of the interview!