Rock Band for Wii

Rock Band will finally be out for the Wii on June 22. That’s the good news. The big question is whether or not the game will support the ability to download new songs. No Wii game yet has featured major downloadable content. The Wii itself has a small hard drive that’s not really suited to adding much stuff to it, but it also has a SD Card expansion slots, so files could go on there. From the Rock Band forums:

The feature-set is a lot closer to the PS2 version of Rock Band which was also developed by Pi Studios. We’ve decided to focus on getting the core gameplay on to the Wii and focus on making that awesome.

This almost certainly means that it won’t feature downloadable content. It was recently reported that Harmonix had sold six million songs for Rock Band. Being that the Wii is the top-selling video console now, it seems strange that they don’t want a piece of that pie. I have two guesses here:

  1. They phoned in the Wii version. Clearly they didn’t consider it enough of a cash cow to justify developing for the game’s launch. I’m assuming that, once the Wii turned out to be a huge hit, they reversed course and threw some resources at it to get it out onto another platform. Either they just want the quick sell and don’t care about making money via downloads to Wii owners (unlikely), or they didn’t put the resources into developing downloadable content for the Wii because no other Wii game has it; or
  2. Nintendo’s not cooperating, or hasn’t made it easy to offer downloadable content. I can see it being possible that Nintendo has a rule in place prohibiting third party companies from taking microtransactions, but doesn’t yet have their own first-party payment service set up yet. Or maybe the Wii’s file system can’t read that sort of stuff off of the SD cards. Harmonix may well have tried to offer downloadable content on the Wii and been stopped by Nintendo.

I’m a Wii owner and fan, but I’m also a Wii skeptic. Frankly, Nintendo has botched a lot of stuff with this system and ceded a lot of features to Microsoft, especially in the online arena. If it does indeed turn out that Rock Band won’t let you download new songs on the Wii, it’ll be easy to blame Harmonix, but it could well be Nintendo’s fault. Question is, is the game even worth owning if you can’t add new songs to it? To me, that’s the attractive part. No matter what, you’ll get sick of the songs that come with the game, and with a $170 investment to play, it needs to be able to justify that it has longer legs than the stock configuration.

Another tidbit:

The instruments don’t use the Wiimote. They function the same as our peripherals on the other platforms.

This likely means that you won’t be able to use the Guitar Hero III guitar, as it does use the Wii Remote.

Game companies tend to send out PR guys to do their press, and frank interviews with the right people are hard to come by. Video game “journalists” often agree not to talk about a game until it comes out for fear of losing access, stories of people getting fired for writing bad reviews are common, and game companies usually spit out only talking points, but it would be very nice for someone to get in there and find out why such half-assed products make it to market.

Update: Kotaku follows up with a response from Harmonix that sound a lot like my #2 above:

Regarding downloadable content: During Rock Band for the Wii development Harmonix focused on making the core gameplay experience as solid and enjoyable as possible while tailoring it specifically to the strengths of the platform. The Wii version still contains the robust four-player band experience and all the fun at the core of other versions of Rock Band. However, because the Wii’s online capabilities and potential have yet to be fully realized, we wanted to wait before we explored online functionality for Rock Band to ensure that players get the high-quality of online performance they’ve come to expect.

It may well have been a question of shipping the game in the summer or waiting until the fall or later for Nintendo to get its act together and release programming hooks for their online stuff.