Rock Band is a series of music video games developed by Harmonix and MTV Games, and distributed by Electronic Arts for the Nintendo DS, iOS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, Xbox One and Xbox 360 game systems. The series, inspired by Harmonix’s previous efforts on the Guitar Hero series, allows up to four players to simulate the performance of popular rock music songs by playing with controllers modeled after musical instruments. Players can play the lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, and drums parts to songs, as well as sing into a USB microphone. Players are scored on their ability to match scrolling musical notes while playing instruments, and by their ability to match the singer’s pitch on vocals.
The concept for Rock Band was formed while Harmonix was working on the Guitar Hero series, with the idea to expand the note-matching gameplay into multiple instruments. When their Guitar Hero partner, RedOctane, was acquired by Activision, Harmonix was acquired by MTV Games, a division of Viacom, allowing them to pursue the title. The first game in the series, Rock Band, was released in 2007 and its sequel Rock Band 2 was released in 2008. As the rhythm game market began to flounder in 2009, Viacom put Harmonix up for sale, but investors were able to buy the company, making it an independent studio. Harmonix would go on to expand the series, including obtaining the lucrative licensing needed for The Beatles: Rock Band in 2009.
Rock Band 3 was released in 2010 as an expandable platform for that console generation, expanding the game’s realism by introducing critically praised “Pro” features; which allow for connecting and playing real world MIDI keyboards, guitars, and electronic drum kits simultaneously with legacy (button) controllers locally and through Rock Band Network online.
Following saturation of the rhythm game market, Harmonix opted to wait on releasing another main title for several years, and development of Rock Band 3 as a platform stopped prematurely several months after release. Rock Band 3 remained the current title in the franchise for nearly five years.
Upon the release of the next generation of consoles, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Harmonix released Rock Band 4 in October 6, 2015; the company does not plan to release further versions of the game for these consoles but instead sees the reformulated Rock Band 4 as a “back to basics” platform they can continue to expand on through game patches, slowly re-adding selected previous features over time.
Each Rock Band game comes with approximately 40 to 80 licensed songs from across all ranges of rock music and spanning from the 1960s to present day. Up until the release of Rock Band 4, in nearly all cases, songs released for one game could be exported to be used in future games in the series. Harmonix provided 275 consecutive weeks (between 2007 and 2013) of regular downloadable content, in the form of additional downloadable songs including 300 songs charted note-for-note for “Pro” guitar/bass and over 600 charted for “Pro” keys; with the release of Rock Band 4, Harmonix has restarted regular content releases, with the exception of “Pro” upgrades for real instruments. Harmonix has also created standalone Track Packs that contain either a selection of downloadable content, or a selection of band-specific songs.
The company also designed the Rock Band Network to allow bands and labels to publish their songs as Rock Band tracks that can be purchased by players; the service was discontinued in September 2014 to allow Harmonix to focus on other projects, but has not returned with Rock Band 4.
To date, over 13 million copies of Rock Band titles have been sold netting more than $1 billion in total sales. Over 4,000 songs representing more than 1,200 different artists are available in the franchise library, and over 130 million downloadable song purchases have been made.