MTV and Harmonix are set to revolutionise the Rock Band games with a groundbreaking initiative that will allow all bands and musicians submit their own music for download.
But the move won’t just dramatically shift Rock Band’s relationship with the music industry, it will also mark a turning point for Microsoft’s XNA development service.
Aspiring unsigned bands, world-conquering superstars and retired artists will all have the opportunity to see their work displayed in coloured keys on Rock Band’s looping highway.
However, according to a report from music industry site Billboard.biz, the service will only launch on the Xbox 360 edition of Rock Band games.
MTV said it is pursuing ways in which tracks can be available on Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii, but currently they are being exclusively developed through Microsoft’s XNA Creators Club programme.
Despite the substantial commercial success of Rock Band, the number of Harmonix staff working on DLC is surprisingly small. The Rock Band store typically sees only a handful of DLC tracks added each week.
The developer simply doesn’t have the workforce to significantly expand the amount of titles available on the Rock Band Store, and at the same time isn’t appearing to commit full-time staff to what could be an exhaustive process.
MTV has circumvented this problem with XNA; Microsoft’s developer toolset that will now allow freelance and hobbyist programmers to take musicians’ submitted songs and turn them into levels on a case-by-case basis.
As well as for Harmonix and MTV, this marks an unprecedented move for Microsoft; it is the first time XNA has been used solely for the development of game’s expansion.
The Creators Club rarely review more than 50 XNA games each month. But with all companies involved expecting a considerable jump in submissions, Microsoft has built a custom version of the Creators Club for the game. It will be tied to a unique set of review procedures that will scrutinise possible bugs, any copyright infringement, as well as particularly offensive language.
Once approved, the tracks will be sent to an in-game download store – entitled the Rock Band Network. Artists can set the price of each track, from 50c to $3, and will receive a 30 per cent cut of sales.
MTV says that the Rock Band Network will remain separate from the Rock Band Store. It was at first designed for unsigned artists, yet during the service’s 16 months of development, it was decided that the Network would open the floodgates for major labels and blockbuster artists.
"We’ve figured out how to make it so anybody who owns and controls masters and publishing can put music into ["Rock Band"] at their own pace," said Paul DeGooyer, MTV Games VP of electronic games and music.
"We’re talking about a set of serious professional tools to allow people on the front line of writing and recording songs to completely control their destiny with respect to interactive products and then giving them direct access to the download store."
The Rock Band Network has launched in a closed beta trial. It is set to expand to a public beta test by August, with the store finally opening before Christmas.