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Rock Band 4: So bad it got people fired from Harmonix and Mad Catz

Someone’s not happy with Rock Band 4, actually, a lot of people aren’t happy with it. Here’s a few reasons why…

Rock Band 4

No one wins in this situation, and both companies are worse off because of the combined failures. It’s a damn shame too.


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]kay, so maybe not really; but Rock Band 4’s issues did lead to Mad Catz losing their CEO and their company losing a bunch of value in their shares.

Rock Band 4‘s issues didn’t directly lead to anyone losing their job at Harmonix, but they did lose a few developers – and most notably for us as gaming writers, we’ve seen several members of their PR and community teams leave to take new opportunities. That seems a little weird given the impending release of the revival of one of their biggest franchises and a rebirth of a cult favorite – Amplitude.

However, none of these things mattered and people jumped ship like their lives depended on it. While not a direct sign of what was to come, it was a little too suspicious – especially for those who left right after Rock Band 4 hit store shelves.

Rock Band 4

For me, I’ve always looked at Harmonix’s projects with rose-colored glasses. They gave me Frequency and Amplitude which really hooked me on the music based games, but adding Guitar Hero and Rock Band, they were the go-to when I needed to combine music and gaming. Dance Central wasn’t really my thing, but they knocked it out of the park. After three successful Dance Central titles, they brought a shoddy framework version to the Xbox One under the “goal” of having less overhead and more ability to pump out DLC faster.

In truth: They didn’t have the resources to finish the project and that’s what happened to Rock Band 4.

[pullquote position=”right”]”The game was merely a playable shell of what it used to be.”[/pullquote]

Knowing that both Mad Catz and Harmonix desperately needed a smash hit, they teamed up to bring Rock Band 4 in to go up against Activision’s revival of Guitar Hero aptly named “Guitar Hero: Live“.

Unfortunately, what happened was immediate success followed by crippling disappointment. While Guitar Hero Live was mostly received warmly by critics, Rock Band 4 kind of floundered with mainstream American outlets and there was no doubting why: The game was merely a playable shell of what it used to be.

Rock Band 4

Not only did Rock Band 4 come with a soundtrack that was well over 50% forgettable, the artists people were familiar with had already contributed most of their bigger hits to the Rock Band Network’s DLC. This means there was really no appeal to upgrade unless you just absolutely had to play Rock Band on the new consoles. The instruments are mostly the same as they were in Rock Band 3, and the game itself had pretty much everything of interest removed in order to beat Guitar Hero to the punch.

[pullquote position=”right”]”It’s inexcusable and simply shows their lack of respect for customers of this franchise.”[/pullquote]

At launch Rock Band 4 had no sort of Multiplayer, no online interactions, and a generic, at best, tour mode. Mad Catz cheaped out and basically re-branded the left over Guitar Hero 3 stock, swapping out the old recognition chips for the new ones and maybe adding some very small visual tweaks. There’s absolutely no reason a new set of instruments shouldn’t have been researched and developed for this project – it’s inexcusable and simply shows their lack of respect for customers of this franchise.

Eventually there was a patch in December that brought a lot of content to Rock Band 4, but by that point, most of the interest had waned for newcomers and now those who were once clamoring adapters to make old Rock Band instruments function on the newer consoles had given up on the franchise because there weren’t enough products to meet the demand.

Rock band 4 playing

Yours truly even fell victim to the fear of manufacturing shortage as I, who had very little interest in the series since the original launched in 2007, bought the expensive as hell $300 version.  This was a really bad move as those were always easy to find, and on top of that, to even enjoy the game, I had to spend $25 on the Xbox Marketplace to buy some songs I didn’t hate just to get through the tour mode.

So, aside from releasing a barebones game and not making enough legacy adapters for the would be returning audience to return with, what happened? Why wasn’t Rock Band 4 a better success? I’d speculate that cost was a lot of the problem – and the game was starting to show up extremely cheap less than a month after release. Why didn’t the base Rock Band 4 disc come with the legacy wireless adapter? It did, but they made few of them thinking people would just buy the newer instruments since the Band-in-a-Box bundle was far easier to find. Overlooking the frugality of customers and the onslaught of Halo 5, Fallout 4, and other popular things that aren’t (but totally including) Call of Duty, Mad Catz made a bad decision and are being punished for it.

[pullquote position=”right”]”If you’re Mad Catz – maybe stop publishing software and stick to what you’re good at, yeah?”[/pullquote]

What do we learn from this story? Well, for Harmonix, it’s simply not to make other games while you’re working on the one that should help keep you afloat. While fans clamored for Amplitude and helped fund your Kickstarter, in the end we also got a fairly generic version of Amplitude that isn’t at all like the PS2 Cult Classic that we love and adore. Random songs made by Harmonix that aren’t nearly up to par with its predecessor makes this pill even harder to swallow as both games suffer from divided development teams and no clear focus – just a mad dash to the finish line with a promise to fix them later.

If you’re Mad Catz – maybe stop publishing software and stick to what you’re good at, yeah? I adore my ridiculously overpriced Fight Stick, but at least I got what I paid for there instead of some cheap plastic that sometimes works with a game that is barely a shell of its former self.

No one wins in this situation, and both companies are worse off because of the combined failures. It’s a damn shame too.

What’s your take on this mess? Do you agree or disagree? We would love to hear what you think in the comments below!

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