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Harmonix's Rob Kay

On the price, DLC and more. But mainly the price.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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.

EurogamerSo, 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.

EurogamerLet'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.

EurogamerHow 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?
Scowling, spiky accessories - both pretty rock.
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.

EurogamerWhat 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.