Rock Band songs need more flexibility

By Peter Nowak, CBCnews.ca

A number of news stories have popped up over recent weeks telling of how bands are making good money off selling songs through the Rock Band and Guitar Hero video games. To the uninitiated, here's how those games work: players use plastic instruments to play along with songs on screen. To keep the games fresh and players interested, their makers have been offering up new songs for paid download on a continuing basis.

Guitar Hero has been somewhat sporadic in its offerings, but the makers of Rock Band - Harmonix - have been putting out new songs on a weekly basis and have even begun serving up full albums, including the Cars' self-titled nine-track album this week.

A couple of bands, including Motley Crue and Def Leppard, have taken to experimenting with releasing singles through the games rather than through traditional channels. According to this Reuters story, it's working out well for them - the Crue sold more copies of their single Saints of Los Angeles through Rock Band on the Xbox 360 than they did on iTunes during its first week of release.

But there's a problem, as the Reuters story points out. The songs can only be used in-game, yet they are considerably more expensive - a typical Rock Band song in Canada costs about $2.50 on the Xbox 360, versus $1 on iTunes, which is significantly more useful since it can be played on a computer or iPod, burned to CD, and so on.

Granted, the video game version is playable in a game while a typical MP3 isn't, and there are doubtlessly some costs associated with programming what happens on screen (although that process is probably largely automated). Still, would it kill the makers to throw in a free MP3 copy of the song that players can use as they see fit when they download the game version?