Harmonix is ending Rock Band DLC releases after 16 years, ~2,800 songs

After 16 (nearly unbroken) years of regular DLC releases, Rock Band‘s avatars haven’t aged a day.

Harmonix

Here at Ars Technica, we remember covering Rock Band‘s weekly DLC song releases way back in 2007, when such regular content drops were still a new concept for a rhythm game. Now, Harmonix has announced the last of the series’ roughly 2,800 downloadable releases will finally come on January 25, marking the end of a nearly 16-year era in music gaming history.

Previously purchased DLC songs will still be playable in Rock Band 4, Harmonix’s Daniel Sussman writes in an announcement post. Rock Band 4 live services, including online play, will also continue as normal, after online game modes for earlier Rock Band games were finally shut down in late 2022.

“Taking a longer look back, I see the Rock Band DLC catalog as a huge achievement in persistence and commitment,” Sussman writes. “Over the years we’ve cleared, authored and released nearly 3,000 songs as DLC and well over 3,000 if you include all the game soundtracks. That’s wild.”

A long-lasting content commitment

You’d be forgiven for not realizing that Harmonix has kept up its regular releases of downloadable playable Rock Band songs to this day. While we were big fans of 2015’s Rock Band 4, the Xbox One and PS4 release generally failed to reignite the ’00s mania for plastic instruments that made both Guitar Hero and Rock Band into billion-dollar franchises during their heyday.
Yet, Harmonix has still been quietly releasing one to three new downloadable Rock Band 4 tracks to faithful fans every single week since the game’s release over eight years ago. Before that, Harmonix had kept a similar weekly release schedule for earlier Rock Band titles going back to 2007, broken up only by a 21-month gap starting in April 2013.

Those regular releases were key to maintaining interest and longevity in the Rock Band titles beyond the dozens of songs on the game discs. For a couple of bucks per song, players could customize their in-game soundtracks with thousands of tracks spanning hundreds of indie and mainstream acts across all sorts of genres. And even after all that time, the last year of newly released DLC has still included some absolute bangers from major groups like Steely Dan, Linkin Park, and Foo Fighters.

A couple of folks absolutely getting down to <em>Rock Band 2</em> at that game's 2008 launch party at LA's Orpheum Theatre.
Enlarge / A couple of folks absolutely getting down to Rock Band 2 at that game’s 2008 launch party at LA’s Orpheum Theatre.

Getty Images

Harmonix also deserves credit for making its DLC cross-compatible across multiple different games and systems. That copy of The Police’s Roxanne that you bought to play on your Xbox 360 in 2007 could still be re-downloaded and played on Rock Band 4 via your Xbox Series X to this day (Switch and PlayStation 5 owners are less lucky, however). And for songs that were trapped on earlier game discs, Harmonix also went out of its way to offer song export options that let you transfer that content forward to newer Rock Band titles (with the notable exception of The Beatles: Rock Band, whose songs remain trapped on that version of the standalone game).

Compare that to the Guitar Hero franchise, which also relaunched in 2015 as the online-focused Guitar Hero Live. When Activision shut down the game’s “Guitar Hero TV” service in 2018, 92 percent of the new game’s playable songs became instantly inaccessible, leaving only 42 “on-disc” songs to play.

What’s next?

While official support for Rock Band DLC is finally ending, the community behind Clone Hero just recently hit an official Version 1.0 release for their PC-based rhythm game that’s compatible with many guitars, drums, keyboards, gamepads, and adapters used in Rock Band and other console rhythm games (microphones excluded). While that game doesn’t come with anything like Rock Band‘s list of officially licensed song content, it’s not hard to find a bevy of downloadable, fan-made custom Clone Hero tracks with a little bit of searching.

We might not get any more <em>Rock Band</em> DLC, but we do get... this.
Enlarge / We might not get any more Rock Band DLC, but we do get… this.

Epic Games

Shortly after its acquisition by Epic in 2021, Harmonix has been working on “Fortnite Festival,” the incredibly Rock Band-esque mini-game embedded in Epic’s Fortnite “metaverse.” Sussman writes that a “rotating selection” of free-to-play songs will continue to cycle through that game mode, and that support for Rock Band 4 instruments will be coming to Fortnite in the future as well (peripheral-maker PDP looks like it will be getting in on the Fortnite guitar act as well).

As for the last few weeks of Rock Band DLC offerings, Sussman writes that Harmonix is planning “some tear jerkers that sum up our feelings about this moment.” Here’s hoping we finally get an official Rock Band version of November Rain as part of that closeout; as Guns N’ Roses memorably said, “Nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change.”

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