A few weeks ago I had a super time with Rock Band 4's new soloing mode – only for my heart to sink when I looked up pre-order prices for the game and saw that it was £219.99 for the game, a guitar and a drum kit (or £109.99 for a guitar and the game). For reference, the American price for the full kit is $249.99, or £160.
Rock Band 4's publisher Mad Catz has since been in touch to give its perspective on Rock Band 4's pricing. The publisher, which also manufactures all of the Rock Band instruments, is "operating on very low margins", according to Alex Verrey, global communications director for the company.
"Our aim is to deliver the best quality music game controllers the world has ever seen, but it’s in our interest for the purchase price to be fair and keen for the gamer," he said in an email to Kotaku UK. "We’re a global company with warehouse operations in Europe, UK and throughout much of the world. It is not in our interests to have disparate pricing in a global economy. Consumers are well informed and know how to order from different territories if they can make a considerable saving. For this reason we seek to keep our costs to retail the same across all regions. We’re not out to fleece the gamer and not out to make more money out of any particular territory."
Rock Band's UK pre-order pricing.
Verrey points to factors beyond Mad Catz's control as the reason for the discrepancy between UK and US pricing. "Several external forces come in to play which are often overlooked by both the media and the gamer. The most obvious example is that of VAT (which is included in the total price here in the UK) versus sales tax which is added on to the total purchase after point of sale in regions such as the US. Shipping is also costly, especially with big-box items like Rock Band, and if product needs to travel further from point of manufacture, this can also add to the overall cost. Exchange rates also fluctuate daily and can often have an impact on pricing. As you can see, there are several external forces which come in to play, all of which impact costs.
"Crucially however, let me state again that it’s in Mad Catz interest to make pricing broadly similar wherever possible. Mad Catz distribute throughout Europe, North America and beyond, however, there are a few territories where we are not selling direct and leave the responsibility to our distribution partners."
From our understanding, Australia is one of those external territories: Rock Band 4 is selling there for $499.95, or £235.
We've run a full comparison of US and UK pricing as it stands, using the pre-order bundles for sale at GAME in the UK and Gamestop in the US. GAME's bundle includes free delivery and VAT is included, so the total price is £219.99. Once shipping and sales tax had been added to the US bundle from Gamestop, for delivery to New York, it came out at $285.25 – or £182. That's still a £38 discrepancy, but it's closer than the apparent £60 difference if you just look at the retail price.
Total US price, based on Gamestop's RRP in the US.
This is, of course, not the first time that there has been an apparent discrepancy between Rock Band pricing in the US and Europe and elsewhere in the world. The original Rock Band, for instance, was vastly cheaper in the States. Verrey claims that things are "greatly simplified" this time around.
"I can’t comment on price discrepancies with previous Rock Band games as Mad Catz had no part to play with pricing," he says. "With Rock Band 3, Harmonix developed the game, Mad Catz manufactured the hardware, EA published the game and that’s before you bring MTV Games into the mix! This time around, Harmonix are co-publishing with Mad Catz and this makes life very much easier for everyone. Mad Catz have a lot of experience in shipping big boxes around the world and we know how to manufacture speciality hardware. We think this can only make life easier for retail and gamer alike."
Verrey was also keen to emphasise that the actual instruments this time around are vastly better quality than the original Rock Band instruments, something that I can confirm having played with them – and it is true that there has not been a corresponding increase in price. Original Rock Band cost £180 in 2008, which is close to £200 in today's money after you account for inflation.
"Harmonix develop the game and our job is to ensure that the new features (such as the ‘Freestyle Guitar Solos’) are brought to life by the new hardware in a way that does justice to the game," he says. "The controllers need to sell the fantasy element to the player and a large part of that is believing you are using a real guitar. The controllers therefore need to be built with exceptional quality and reliability and we believe we’ve delivered that... I can’t disclose costs but trust me when I say it’s very, very expensive [to develop]."
One other question I had was why there is currently no option to pre-order the Rock Band 4 game on its own in the UK, if you'd rather use your old band hardware with it. Currently you can only buy the band bundles. Rock Band 4 definitely will be available as a standalone game, but pricing has not yet been confirmed, says Verrey.
"Hardware takes a long time to manufacture," he explains. "It’s not as simple as pressing a button and typing in a number of units to be produced! Both PS4 and Xbox versions feature components which need to be secured a good long time in advance. For this reason, we pushed the button on hardware pre-orders as early as possible in the hope of not disappointing those that are looking for new hardware at launch. We say again and again that the only way to guarantee new hardware for launch is to pre-order. Some gamers still believe that we are merely trying to ramp up pre-order numbers with such a comment but I promise you sincerely, it’s the truth!
"As explained above, software is much easier to produce and obviously if you’re talking about a digital purchase, you don’t even need to manufacture a disc. This gives us a little more time to play with. The game will certainly be available as a standalone product and more information regarding pricing and pre-order will be made available very shortly indeed."