Yesterday, EA announced Rock Band will make its debut in Europe on 23rd May. Big news. It was also revealed the game will be exclusive to Xbox 360, at least for a few months. Again, big news. But these announcements were almost entirely forgotten as the Internet was too busy going, "WHAT? One HUNDRED and EIGHTY POUNDS?" Or, "Zut ALORS! DEUX-cent QUARANTE EURO?" etc.
So when we sat down for a chat with Rob Kay, design director at Harmonix and lead designer on Rock Band, it was obvious what our first question would be about. And our second, third and the next eight. Read on to see what he had to say.
Perhaps you don't care how much Rock Band costs. Maybe you've already imported it, or are willing to buy it at any price, or suffer from a bizarre medical condition which causes you to excrete gold. In which case, read on anyway - there's some stuff about downloadable tracks, the online Band World Tour patch and sombreros.
Eurogamer: So, details of the European release for Rock Band were announced this morning, and within a few hours there more than a hundred comments on Eurogamer about the price. Not one of those was going, "What marvellous value for money..."
Rob Kay: So not one of them was jumping for joy at the price. I understand that.
Eurogamer: Let's pretend this is Watchdog and I'm Nicky Campbell. We've had dozens of calls and texts, alright comments on the website, and I'd like to put some of them to you. One reader says, "If I wanted to spend EUR 240 I'd buy a real instrument and join a band."
Rob Kay: So they should. Go and do that, yeah... If someone wants to go out and buy a real guitar instead, that's awesome. More power to them.
Eurogamer: How do you respond to this: "I'm sick and tired of these companies screwing Europe over." What about the fact Rock Band will cost twice as much as it will in the US?
Rob Kay: I imagine the things people are probably a bit peeved about are a) the delay, and b) the cost. The two are linked.
We wanted to make sure that when we released Rock Band in the UK, we did it right. There's a few components to that. One is getting lots of UK-centric music on there, and I think we've done a good job of that.
We also wanted to make sure the hardware gave people choices. Something we weren't able to do for the US launch was let people choose how they buy and experience the game. So [in Europe], people can go and spend GBP 50 on the game, and maybe that's all they do - they can use a USB microphone, or the 360 headset, and they can have the whole singing Rock Band experience. Or they can buy the wireless Fender guitar, or just the drum set.
Or, if they want the full-on Rock Band experience, they can buy the instrument bundle. The combined price, if you add all that up and decide you want that full experience, is quite high. It's not something that is normal in videogames. But Rock Band isn't normal in videogames. This is an entirely new thing. What other game comes with three peripherals that are all different? It just makes sense for the experience we're trying to deliver.
I think people might be a little bit put off by the price they have to pay for it. But I firmly believe that if people do [buy it] they'll have an amazing experience they couldn't get anywhere else.
Eurogamer: What about this comment: "You could buy another console for that price." A Wii, for example, which comes with a game. A cynic might suggest you've looked at the Wii and seen that a lot of people are willing to pay GBP 180 for a party game experience, something they'll perhaps only get out every few weeks after a night in the pub. Are you copying that business model?
Rob Kay: That definitely wasn't our process for coming up with a price for Rock Band. Genuinely, there is just choice. All we're trying to do with Rock Band is connect people to music and give them the opportunity to experience it in a totally different way. It's up to people if they want to buy into that... We're not trying to rip anybody off.
These are definitely not excuses so much as contributing reasons - the VAT in the UK, 17.5 per cent, is counted in with the price. In the US, tax isn't added to the price; what you pay at the cash register is more.
It's always annoying you look at the price of consumer electronics in the UK, and you look at the US price, and it's like the dollar and pound signs have been switched. I definitely feel the frustration with that.
Eurogamer: But we're talking about a price difference of nearly GBP 100. A mark-up of more than 100 per cent. VAT is only 17.5 per cent - how do you explain the rest?
Rob Kay: I can't talk to the explicit pricing - how it gets split down between retailers and distributors and the whole chain - because I don't actually know that much about it. But I can say for sure, we've tried to set up a situation where people can not feel ripped off playing the game, and actually feel like it's well worth their investment. I'm going to sit here and say I think it's well worth the money.
Eurogamer: So if you weren't working on it, if you were a plain old gamer, would you pay GBP 180 for Rock Band?
Rob Kay: Yeah. Maybe I'd try it over at a friend's first, to see if I liked it or not. Rock Band is a fantastic game for playing at a party, so lots of people will get that opportunity, and maybe they'll want to take that opportunity before they invest the money. I wouldn't blame them; it's not a cheap game, it really isn't. But it's a game that delivers that much more in terms of its fun factor and the experience it gives you.
Eurogamer: Perhaps Eurogamer readers could pop round yours to have a little go and see if it's worth it?
Rob Kay: [Laughing] Yeah, give me a call...
Eurogamer: So what about the downloadable content? The Internet's been saying tracks will cost twice as much in Europe as they do in the US. Is that true?
Rob Kay: No. It's the same pricing, the exact same model as we have in the States. Most songs are 160 Microsoft Points, and some of them are 80 Points - generally if they're more like indie songs or something, we'll put them in at 80 Points. So you'll be paying the exact same price for DLC. There are two price brackets that we use globally, and the DLC will cost the same globally.
Eurogamer: Will the same DLC be available in the US and UK?
Rob Kay: Yes. On Friday May 23rd, the game will launch in the UK. We launch all our music weekly on Tuesdays so on the first Tuesday after that, you can go on there and have access to all 70-plus songs that are on there at the moment.
There are more songs coming in every week, so you've got this way of accessing new music if you want to. With 66 songs on the disc there's a lot to play with, and you'll probably be occupied for months just with those.
Eurogamer: How many new songs will be added each week?
Rob Kay: Typically, we've been adding three songs per week. That's only going to increase over time. I can't say for sure what the number will be in the future but it's definitely not going to go down.
We listen to what people are telling us about their experiences with the game on the Rock Band forums. We want to make people feel like they can get the songs they really love, because you emotionally connect so much better with music when you love it already.
Eurogamer: Which reminds me, are there plans to release any Steps tracks for Rock Band?
Rob Kay: Ah, no, not at the moment.
Rob Kay: We have a thread on our website where you can put your song requests...
Eurogamer: Count me in. I'd pay GBP 180 to play the drums to Better Best Forgotten any day.
Rob Kay: Well, that's it. People have their own tastes. Sheer volume is one way of us attacking that, trying to get people's tastes catered to. In the future, we'd love there to be a situation where any band in the world can get their song into Rock Band. That's not going to come any time soon, but it's something we're thinking about.
When people buy into Rock Band, I think they should know we're in it for the long term. We're not just going to short change them, they won't have to reset everything in a year. We really want to support this in such a way that the investment you're making isn't just in one game.
Eurogamer: DLC has been appearing on PlayStation Network later than on Xbox Live in many cases. Are you confident you'll be able to release these songs for 360 and PS3 at the same time?
Rob Kay: I hope so. That's what we've managed to do in the States, and that's worked out. We have to work closely with both Microsoft and Sony, because some of the things we want to do are pushing at the boundaries of what they're capable of doing. I don't think they really expected the volume of DLC we're putting into Rock Band.
So we're having to collaborate with them to ensure their systems are able to cope with the amount of music we're pushing through, and so far that's worked really well in the US. Every sign so far is it'll work in the UK and Europe as well.
Eurogamer: What happened to the online Band World Tour mode? Back in December, we heard a patch would be released to introduce this. Where is it?
Rob Kay: Band World Tour is the headline mode for Rock Band. It's the most awesome way to experience it, because you can customise your own band and live the rock and roll lifestyle, touring the world.
The character creation tool is incredibly fully-featured. You can choose movement sets, you can change the faces, the hairstyles, the height and build of characters, add different pants and shoes, design tattoos, put facepaint on, select different instruments...
Eurogamer: Can you wear sombreros?
Rob Kay: I don't think there are sombreros in there. I don't think they made it past the rock filter.
Eurogamer: That is very disappointing.
Rob Kay: So we tried to get that mode supported online, so you could have this persistent experience. We didn't get it in in time. We considered it for a patch, but we just couldn't do it justice in the time we've got. It's still something we want to do and down the line we're going to deliver it.
Eurogamer: When you think about the future of Rock Band, do you envision adding modes such as that via patches, building on the basic game - or producing a series of iterations, as with the Guitar Hero franchise?
Rob Kay: It's tough to say. We're at this interesting point where both online and retail are good ways of distributing games, and there's a crossfade going on where things are gradually going over towards the download side.
We're totally embracing that, 100 per cent, because it's the future, while also trying not to shoot ourselves in the foot with regard to retail. I don't think it will ever get to a point where it's all digital - your Gran will always want to go down the shops and buy you a game for Christmas.
Eurogamer: Finally, then - let's get back to where you started. What makes Rock Band worth the money? Why should I spend GBP 180 on your game rather than a Wii? Or a pair of chopsticks, some upturned saucepans and a crate of delicious vodka?
Rob Kay: It gives you the awesome experience of making music with your friends. It is astonishing, the feeling you get. You genuinely cannot get that experience for that price point any other way.
Rock Band is due out on 23rd May for Xbox 360.