But let me start by saying that most of the downloadable content for Rock Band sucks.
However, after stewing about it for a while, I’ve realized the problem (and yes, I’m probably about 6 months behind everyone else…)
At 3 songs per week, Harmonix can’t win. Even if they appease me by releasing nothing but my favorite songs for the next 10 years, a huge part of their (real and potential!) audience will be frustrated with what they consider crappy music. There are just too many genres, interests, passions, etc out there for a single company to nail them all.
The solution is to:
- Release a tool that lets everyday people create their own songs for Rock Band.
- Set up and promote a central community website that lets people reward each other for good work.
- Charge a subscription fee to access the site and download songs into your X360/PS3 etc (because MTV or whoever does need to make money.)
The owners must be so concerned that if they release a song-creation tool, they lose control of a property which has such huge potential and which they currently monopolize. The problem is that right now, despite selling however many tracks as DLC, Rock Band is just hinting at its amazing potential. To realize that potential, they need to let the teeming masses start producing content as well.
But MTV can still make money! If they control the community content site, and charge something like $10 a month to download the fan-made songs, they will make a lot of money. I guarantee you I’m not spending $10 a month right now on DLC! But the real difference wouldn't be the spend per customer (though it would probably increase); it's that the number of customers will skyrocket. Indie bands – and even record companies, superstars who own their own distribution rights, etc – could take on the burden of getting their songs converted into Rock Band format instead of Harmonix. Such bands would then encourage all their friends, family and fans to get Rock Band to access their newest tracks.
I'm sure it takes skill to make a song fun to play in Rock Band. Undoubtedly, there would be user-submitted tracks that suck. But by building a community, skilled creators would build a name for themselves, and eventually those folks would get paid by bands like Nine Inch Nails to convert their songs (guaranteeing that the resulting track is fun to play in-game.)
Instead of 3 songs a week, the floodgates would open and we'd have a new medium that’s better than radio or music videos or X for getting songs out to new demographics. And meanwhile, thanks to a monthly subscription with way more participants than they have buying DLC today, MTV collects waayyy more dough than they are today.
Rock Band Stakeholders: it’s not your fault you haven’t done this yet. It would be a huge and costly undertaking, with all sorts of risk (real and imagined.) But stop thinking of Rock Band like just another record store or radio station. Those distribution channels all work the same way, and I know it’s your bread-and-butter and what put you where you are today. But the infrastructure for what you could be doing wasn’t around even 5 years ago, which means that your marketing courses in school didn’t cover an appropriate business model. It just wasn’t there.
So MTV/Harmonix/etc, let me make you a deal: let us take on the burden of content creation for your amazing product, and you just sit back and ride the wave of profits all the way to the bank!