Export: What the Industry Can Learn from Rock Band

I’ve been playing Rock Band since late 2007, and one of the remarkable things about these games is that I can still play songs from the very first game in the latest release.  I can create a setlist that includes tracks from five different retail discs, then mix in a few downloaded tracks for good measure.  I’m always excited about a new release because I know that I’ll lose little to nothing while I gain so much more.

I think this could be a very powerful tool for games in general, especially the really long running franchises.  We’ve already seen a few similar cases, such as Gears of War 2’s Flashback Map Pack and Castlevania Harmony of Despair’s retro maps, but I think this could amount to so much more.  Don’t pick and choose for us which things get re-released.  Just make it all available for a reasonable fee.  How many Call of Duty fans do you think would like to bring maps from one game to the next?  They pay $60 each year for the new game and $30 for new maps.  Why not charge them $10 to keep it all?  After a few games players would be swimming in a sea of content.

Similar gameplay across two games? Merging the two is a great way to keep people from going back to the original.

It wouldn’t work for every game.  Most single player games would have no context for it and some sequels are simply too different to allow the reuse of old maps, but why not use this where it can be used?  It would sure be hard to complain about Left 4 Dead 2 if you could use Left 4 Dead’s characters, campaigns, and survival mode levels in it.  I would love to be able to choose from a dozen campaigns from a single lobby.

Why do I think this is plausible? Competition.  Developers are putting out similar games every year and they need something to give them an edge.  Guitar Hero III vastly outsold the original Rock Band, and then Guitar Hero World Tour threatened to take away one of the things that made Rock Band different.  I’m definitely willing to assume that had a lot to do with the push to have an export.  It was something that Guitar Hero wouldn’t be able to try until they put out another game, so it was something that helped consolidate the Rock Band fan base.  When Guitar Hero finally had their own export but it only included a small portion of each setlist that proved to only be more fuel for the fire.

Castlevania HoD recently added DLC maps that were abridged versions of previous games.

Treyarch definitely knew that they needed something special to set their Call of Duty games apart, so they added a zombie mode.  This seemed to be met with split reviews because it was only tangentially related to the game players had paid for.  I enjoyed the campaign of World at War, but I found zombies to be tedious and boring.  If you’re going to add new features to a game it helps to focus on things that you know your players would want.  More maps?  They obviously want those because they pay for them every year.  A way to keep their old maps? It seems like the next logical step.

Exports are more than a feature, they’re an investment.  When a player has accumulated $30 in exports, that’s a collection that they’ve taken an active part in creating.  They feel more of an attachment to that game over the competition as the player tries to validate their purchasing decision through extended play.

Is this unrealistic?  Sure, it would take some work to figure out how to do this all efficiently, but can developers (and their publishers) really resist an opportunity to make a little more money off of content they’ve already made?  Will players of yearly sequels be doomed forever to leave all of their content behind when they move on to the new game?


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