It’s odd to see a game gain so much buzz at a community event without actually physically being at the event. But that’s exactly what happened at the Penny Arcade Expo East get-together in Boston this weekend, as there was one game that was consistently being talked about – Harmonix’s Rock Band 4.
The game, which was announced this past Thursday by the publisher in conjunction with game peripheral maker Mad Catz, is the long-awaited sequel to the popular music/rhythm series, where players can simulate playing along to a number of their favorite songs using a guitar, bass, drum set or microphone, or, in some instances, other music instruments, like Rock Band 3‘s keyboard.
For years, the Rock Band franchise has been dormant, but hints at its revival popped up earlier this year, with the release of new songs for Rock Band 3 and a questionnaire asking fans if they were interested in seeing a sequel.
This is savvy marketing at work, as Harmonix managed to dominate PAX East without physically bringing the game to the show. It did have a booth, of course, and it was selling Rock Band related goods, including a limited edition t-shirt, collectible pin and a Penny Arcade themed guitar peripheral, set to ship alongside the game. But as far as playable content is concerned, the company only had its upcoming Amplitude HD on the show floor, along with a musically powered Oculus Rift demo.
So how did it do it Well, to be honest, Harmonix knew exactly what the fans wanted. Many were clamoring for Rock Band 4 for years now, despite the fact that Electronic Arts and MTV Games were no longer involved with the franchise (probably due to the high costs associated with Harmonix’s innovative The Beatles Rock Band, which required a lot of cash for licensing). So, with the timing just right for the show (its studio is based in Massachusetts), it made the news official, and the event became abuzz with the news of its return.
The return of Rock Band could easily fuel a new lease on life for the music/rhythm genre in the video game industry. At one time, both Rock Band and Activision’s Guitar Hero sold millions of copies, generating tons of interest with party-based players and casual fans alike. However, fans grew a bit tired of the oversaturation of the series, with such bands as Green Day and Van Halen getting separate releases. In addition, lawsuits from bands for bad use of imagery (like using No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani as a playable character) eventually led to both of them fading out.
However, this time around, it appears that Harmonix knows what it’s doing, and will be sticking with a “back to basics” approach for the series, focusing more on the soundtrack – both in the original game and through its coordinating downloadable content – than the fancy features or licensed artists surrounding it. As a result, its core gameplay should be more than enough to bring players back and make it a success again.
For good measure, it could also open the door to a potential return of Activision’s Guitar Hero, which has been long-rumored as well. The company hasn’t officially said anything, but with the Electronic Entertainment Expo happening in just over three months, it’s likely we could see an announcement – and its release could counter Rock Band 4‘s, leaving the music/rhythm part of the gaming world rocking once more.
Whatever the case, it’s good to see Harmonix has the rock party back on track – and its buzz is bigger than ever. As The Cars once sang, “let the good times roll.”