Is There Life Left in Rock Band?

Is There Life Left in Rock Band?

Is the instrument-based music and rhythm game genre dead and stone-cold stiff?

“Yes!” cries the Internet collective.

“No!” says Harmonix, who recently revealed that although there would be no Rock Band 4 in 2011, the series had generated 100 million song downloads, and still attracts one million online shoppers to play and buy downloadable songs each month.

Though Activision put down the Guitar Hero franchise for a long nap last fall, Harmonix is not about to euthanize its own contribution to music games, Rock Band. Whereas Guitar Hero is sleeping, Rock Band is watching and waiting in hopes that it will someday return to better industry conditions, and in fact ramping up efforts at producing DLC from May onward.

“We think there’s a lot of life left in the Rock Band franchise and there’s a lot of creative directions to take that,” Harmonix’s VP of Product Development, Greg LoPiccolo, told Industry Gamers. “We certainly remain committed to that. But then beyond that, we would love to make games that are new musical experiences to throw them out there and have people accept them and get inspired by them.”

LoPiccolo also pointed out that while the popularity of instrument-based music games has taken a significant dive, music games in general remain very popular. He’s right: Ubisoft’s Let’s Dance series and Harmonix’s own Dance Central are big sellers for the Wii and Kinect respectively. But dancing and rocking out on a wicked guitar are two different activities: How can Harmonix zap Rock Band back to life? Can it even be done?

It can definitely be done, if it’s done slowly. Rock Band 3 demonstrated that the franchise has potential as a fun and engaging learning tool. Music lessons are normally associated with plinking away on an acoustic guitar, but Rock Band 3‘s Pro mode offered up some normally-dreaded “edutainment” that appealed to kids instead of making them switch out to a Sonic game. Unfortunately, though Rock Band 3 received critical acclaim–Pro mode included–it simply had the misfortune of being released at a time when gamers just never wanted to see another plastic guitar, ever.

LoPiccolo understands Rock Band‘s strengths, and assured Industry Gamers that future installments from Harmonix will capitalize on them. “[E]ven in Rock Band 3 we were exploring some new ideas, some new directions, and we’re very pleased with how the Pro stuff came out,” he said. “The Fender Squire Guitar… we’re incredibly proud of how that came out and the way it kind of conceptually pushes music gaming in a new space where you can pick this thing up and learn to play guitar, or keys, or drums.”

“I think from our perspective we want to keep creating things that we think are cool and compelling and push the envelope in new directions, and then the market will pronounce its judgment on our efforts. But that’s, to some degree, out of our hands. It’s our job to make good stuff.”

In his interview with Industry Gamers, LoPiccolo hints that the Rock Band franchise is currently undergoing major renovations, but nothing that can be spoken of just yet because, for now, ideas are simply being roughed out and tossed around. However, he does admit that future games will allow for more creative control from the player, something more than just standing around and playing other people’s music.

LoPiccolo’s declaration is indicative that Harmonix has taken the first step to reviving Rock Band: The company is taking its time doing so. Interest in game genres tends to be cyclical: After a few years without a solid pixel-based side-scrolling game, people tend to look around and say, “Hey, you know what would be cool to see again?” When Rock Band comes back, it’ll probably be at a point in time when gamers get nostalgic for the fun they had rocking out with family and friends, and they’ll be happy enough to pull their plastic instruments out of storage–or buy new ones.

Harmonix admits it will have at least one major announcement at E3 2011. Will we learn even a little bit about Harmonix’s plans to jump-start the Rock Band franchise? We’ll find out this summer. In the meantime, for a fascinating look at the series’ current and future strategies, check out this interview with Game Informer.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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