The Pricing Structure for Guitar Hero II's DLC Needs to Change

Earlier this week, we here at GamerNode reported on the Guitar Hero II Xbox 360 downloadable content pricing structure with a great deal of resentment and irritation. We stand behind our words — they were my own, actually — and feel that many angles to consider couldn’t be explored in a targeted news piece. We also feel, as a website that prides itself in looking out for the consumers that fuel the industry we love, that Activision/Microsoft has crossed a line, infringing upon the trust instilled in people that support their products.

Consider this, then, as a more comprehensive aside to that news piece.

If you don’t already know, here’s the skinny:

– Three "track packs" were released for GHII, all priced at the shoot-me-in-the-face-and-get-away-with-it rate of $6.25, or 500 Microsoft Points, which comes to about $19 altogether. Assuming they release the entire back catalog from the first game — trust me, it’s in the pipeline — the total amount will exceed $68, about $30 more than the retail version on PS2.

– All of these songs are oldies from the first Guitar Hero.

– Only three songs per pack. No picking and choosing. If you just so happen to be the type of music lover that has an eclectic enough taste to enjoy all three of the songs in any particular pack, you’re either in luck — or already own Guitar Hero on PS2.

– Guitar Hero II for Xbox 360 costs $90.

Let’s get it out of the way that we feel that paying $2 a song — which is how the current shakeup breaks down — isn’t insane, absurd, or deplorable. In fact, we think it’s more than fair. After all, we’re all used to the 99 cent standard over at iTunes, which seems to be a fair price. It’s brought Apple a lot of business. Considering that you not only get the song, but also get to play it, adding an extra bill doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The gripe rests elsewhere. By clustering them into groups of three, users are forced into a sale that’s designed to maximize profit by limiting choices. Larry Hryb — aka Major Nelson, aka Microsoft’s Xbox Live Director of Programming — defends the decision in an interview with Joystiq, saying: "Is it easier to process one song and release it and would have it [be] more expensive? Or can you take some of that development, bundle it together, and drop the price down. All those songs have to go through that process. If you have three songs entering the approval process, individually, that’s three times more problems–and there’s more probability for error." So, basically, he blames it on his own company’s approval process. And his company’s ability to somehow "error" said process, making no substantial argument against the legion of fans in an uproar over the greedy decisions made concerning the pricing. I don’t buy it. Strike one.

But then he continues on, saying: "We worked with Red Octane to work on prices that make sense, and they clearly can’t sell it at a loss. They have to pay the rights licensing." Ummm…but they already sold at a loss when pushing all of the three versions available (GH I and II, as well as GH II 360) through the retail channel. Hell, they swallowed more losses when you consider they had to pay for packaging, a plastic guitar, advertising, and shelf space, still somehow managing to bang out a profit due to popularity of the title and the critical acclaim it garnered (and it was a real slam dunk too, as the guitar packed-in version of the PS2 sequel sold over a million copies six months after its release). And now, all of a sudden, they can’t sell at a loss, because of, umm, licensing fees. Strike Two.

Concerning the year-and-a-half-old nature of the songs: "People like to say [they’re] the same, but the licensing is not the same. You have to re-license it. It’s a different platform. Once again, it’s not old content. The contracts have to be renegotiated on a new platform, and it’s also involving digital distribution, so there’s a lot of things involved." OK. Considering the anal nature of the music industry, I’ll give Mr. Hryb a pass on the digital distribution comment. I’ll buy that. But are we really led to believe that we should be paying RedOctane/Activision/Microsoft/Whoever more than $68 for all of the songs from GH because they had to pay more for licensing fees? I don’t care what these companies are paying for them; they knew the risks involved before they entered into development on the first game. They shouldn’t expect to hide behind such weak excuses. We’re gamers, and as such, have always expected to pay a consistent price for our software. Period. Big music companies feed their audiences similar excuses in thinly veiled, greedy attempts to drive costs up to the damn moon. You know what? Big music companies are dying.

Moreover, let’s not forget that Activision bought RedOctane, the first game’s publisher. Presumably, this was done as a result of the first games commercial success and appeal. This adds a great deal more money to the collective. You really think that a big company like Activision didn’t see this opportunity a long, long time ago? You really think that anyone ever intended to sell these songs cheap, or in a singular, affordable nature? No way. Taking advantage of the games popularity to force unwanted offers unto its audience was in the pipeline from the very beginning. All this weak language about "re-licensing" and "approval processes" amounts to excuse-making.

Also, if they’re going to complain about how much it costs to license songs, why aren’t they then paying the big bucks to give us the stuff we’ve been clamoring for from the beginning? You know, the Led Zepplin’s? The AC/DC’s? The Metallica’s? The real Van Halen’s? You know, the stuff we’d be willing to pay an arm and a leg for? Well, then they’d complain about, you know, actually having to develop new stuff. And certifying it. You know what? Nevermind.

I’ll close this by saying that game companies still have a lot to live up to in the digital marketplace. After horse armor, EA Sports, Lumines Live, and that Japanese fishtank sim, it’s really, really sad to have to add Guitar Hero to that list. The potential still exists, but a lot needs to change first. I’d clamor for Microsoft to work harder to set more consistency within the Live Marketplace, but I fear it’s only going to get worse going forward. People, don’t forget that your wallet holds the final say in these kinds of matters. Don’t pay for anything you don’t believe in paying for. With that, I’ll give Mr. Hryb his third, and final, strike.

You’re out.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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