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Editorial - Is Europe Ready To Rock?

by Alan Martin on June 24, 2008 @ 4:27 a.m. PDT

Rock Band allows you to perform music from the world's biggest rock artists with your friends as a virtual band using drum, bass/lead guitar and microphone peripherals, in addition to offering online connectivity. For those who haven't been following, we European consumers have finally been treated to the unbridled joy that is Rock Band — six months late and at twice the price of the U.S. version.

Is Europe Ready to Rock?

For those who haven't been following, we European consumers have finally been treated to the package of unbridled joy that is Rock Band — but boy, have we been punished. Six months late and twice the price of the U.S. version, in the UK, you have to buy both the game for £50 ($100) and the instruments for £130 ($260). The reason that we're so riled up by this storm in a British teacup is that to get the full experience of an admittedly brilliant game, we have to fork over a whopping £180 ($360) — over double the price than the U.S. We're used to some degree of markup, but no other piece of consumer electronics has seen this kind of price hike, so rebuttals such as, "The US price doesn't include tax," and "Exporting the kit costs a fortune," hold less water than a particularly leaky colander that's just developed a massive crack in it.

Of course, you don't have to buy the instruments. If you have a Guitar Hero controller and a USB microphone, you're halfway there, and this is the solution I've chosen (partly as a protest against the price, and partly because there are only so many small plastic instruments you can fill your house with before it begins to resemble an ever-so-slightly creepy doll's house). But nonetheless, to get the "full" gaming experience, you need to make a significant outlay. Even assuming you have the guitar and a USB mic lying around, the drums are an entirely new accessory costing £70 ($140). It's no wonder we were more than a little peeved when the announcement was first made.

Despite the uproar at European gamers getting screwed over yet again and various people promising to boycott the game and flooding Amazon with one-star reviews, Rock Band had no trouble entering the top 10, and apparently a quarter of these folks bought it with the instruments. By buying an overpriced product so freely, we really have set a dangerous precedent for ourselves. There was once a time when games with an additional pack-in had to be the same price as a normal game — see SingStar and Donkey Konga for details of that — but it has been slowly creeping up, first with Guitar Hero and Wii Fit charging an additional £30-£40 ($60-$80) and now by Rock Band requiring you to put down a small mortgage to play at being a rock-and-roll star. I suppose this is in part down to games becoming mainstream — Donkey Konga and SingStar were still niche, despite their early attempts at getting the family involved, and as such could not afford to put off people with a higher price. Now that gaming has become a viable recreational activity, game companies have found they can charge whatever the hell they like.

Now the sensible response with this would be to vote with our wallets, but we really are our own worst enemies sometimes. We love complaining, but will we actually resist the new and the shiny? Of course not. If only the game weren't so damn good! I hate Rock Band for what it has made me become: an idiot consumer with more money than sense. There is no way on God's green Earth that the game is worth £180 ($360) — the same price as a Wii — no matter what an amazing experience it offers. Yet I seriously find myself actively considering dropping an extra £70 ($140) on the drum kit to give me the full experience — the same full, life changing experience that the marketing people make me certain that my neighbors and contemporaries are having while I pluck away at my inferior plastic guitar.

I'd love to support Neversoft and Activision's Guitar Hero IV instead, which is due to be imitating the Rock Band formula — they're innocent until proven guilty, price-wise — but annoyingly, Rock Band simply urinates on Guitar Hero 3 from a great height, which instills no confidence for the next installment. There's something indefinably right about the notation charts in Rock Band and Guitar Hero 2 that felt missing after Harmonix abandoned ship in the soulless Guitar Hero 3. From the perfect notation, to the "right" song list, to the excellent use of downloadable content right down to the fans singing along when you're doing well, Rock Band is objectively a far better product than Guitar Hero 3 — even if you discount the other instruments and compare like for like.

Anyone hoping for the title to be dubbed Flop Band in Europe (I thank you!) will be disappointed. It may be hideously overpriced, but Rock Band is proof that you can't put a price on good fun — or that a fool and his money are easily parted, but for the sake of my ego, I shall back the former. Being just another idiot consumer, I won't be able to complain when EA publishes Command and Conquer 6 in PAL format and requires you to shell out £250 ($500) for a cheap plastic tank to sit in.

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