When Activision announced GH:WT would have authoring tools when Rock Band 2 would not, many reviewers and other industry sounding boards thought this was a critical error on the part of Harmonix. My reaction was “so what” – most gamers are idiots. Therefore I was uninterested in downloading their at best mediocre, but more likely putrid attempts to create music. Three hundred real songs (for Rock Band 2, which continues to focus on professional DLC) and 5,000 removed user made remixes of Zelda and Mario music (for GH:WT) later, it appears I was correct. Authoring tools for the common man are useless, particularly when the item authored is as complex as a four instrument track song.
Harmonix announced earlier this week they would be going in a different direction. Instead of catering to the casual gamer, who is likely an idiot, Harmonix is releasing an authoring tool system for small labels and musicians. Although these new targeted demographics are mostly made up of greedy idiots and drugged up idiots, respectively, the target audience has a tremendous amount of self interest working in its favor. Struggling musicians and small labels are infinitely more motivated to self promote (see: money, drugs, and women) than your casual fan.
Giving authoring tools to small labels and musicians creates an immediate filter to separate people with no vested interest in music from those with a vested interest in music, which will undeniably raise quality. Will there still be crap? Sure, but you’re much more likely to find a stream of decent new music from amongst musicians than regular gamers. With the financial and exposure opportunities Harmonix is offering, I think you will see any band or small label with half a brain jumping on board.
There is a secondary motive here: Harmonix makes a needed defensive move against the rest of the music industry, which is to show them they can (potentially) create content without big labels. This is likely an important pre-emptive strike against a goliath that enjoys bending people over legally and financially. The move may be more symbolic than real, but it is an important move nonetheless.
Harmonix is positioning to diversify their song sourcing at a critical time where Rock Band is going from an upstart to an intriguing part of the music and video game world. Typically, this is the time where the big music industry feels threatened and starts doing stupid things (as they did when illegal torrents began to devour their music stream in the late 90’s/early 00’s). Harmonix likely wants to start building some armor, even if it is symbolic, against the music industry juggernaut.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to brush my teeth after cheerfully swallowing another fanboy load from Harmonix.
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