Q&A: Rockin' out with Rock Band

Harmonix's Alex Rigopulos and EA Partners' David DeMartini talk about Rock Band and why neighborhood parties will soon be centered around a PS3 or Xbox 360.

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Gamers and music fans alike have been eagerly awaiting the details of Harmonix Music System's next project. Today, the development team behind Guitar Hero announced Rock Band, a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game that expands on the formula of its monster hit by adding drumming and singing.

With MTV onboard as a partner, Harmonix was able to sign deals with the major forces in the music publishing industry and has access to the master recordings of music from popular artists. Electronics Arts is also involved and will use its global reach to help distribute the game.

GameSpot had a chance to chat with Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos and EA Partners vice president David DeMartini to get more details on this ambitious project.

GameSpot: Alex, please explain Rock Band in your own words.

2005's megahit Guitar Hero.
2005's megahit Guitar Hero.

Alex Rigopulos: Sure. I guess what I would say about it is that Guitar Hero is a game that we made with a tiny budget and a fraction of a year to build it. And we're fortunate enough now to be in a position as part of MTV, where basically we're being given the creative freedom and the resources to really make the huge game that we've wanted to make for years, which is Rock Band.

It's essentially taking the core play premise of Guitar Hero but just expanding it hugely along every axis. We're building it out into a complete band experience, with guitar and bass and drums and singing, including very deep and expansive online game play. Huge recording artists are going to be in the game, including original multitrack master recordings in a lot of cases, which has been amazing.

We've also really just amped out the graphical impact on the next-gen consoles in a way that we're just very fired up about, because we think that this game is going to--in some ways--just fundamentally alter the way that people who play it experience music.

GS: There are going to be three peripherals with the game. How will they ship? Will there be different SKUs?

AR: We haven't made final decisions yet about the SKU configuration.

GS: But there will be three distinctly different peripherals, correct?

AR: Yes, there will be a guitar controller for playing the guitar and the bass parts, a drum peripheral for playing the drum parts, and a microphone for singing.

GS: Can you go into more detail about the drum peripheral?

AR: I guess I can just say that it's a really impressive piece of hardware. I'm a drummer myself, so we weren't going to settle for anything less than something that felt like a real instrument.

GS: Obviously there is going to be a lot of downloadable content, right?

Alex Rigopulos speaking at the 2007 D.I.C.E. Summit.
Alex Rigopulos speaking at the 2007 D.I.C.E. Summit.

AR: Indeed. This is an area where we have very ambitious plans. Because for us, this game really blurs the line between gaming and music, and music-making. And we view Rock Band not just as a game, but as kind of a platform for consuming and experiencing music. So in addition to the music that ships with the game, we have very big plans for building out a huge library of online expansion content.

GS: Is any of that going to be free? Lots of musicians are living paycheck to paycheck.

AR: I expect it's very likely that there will be.

GS: The players onscreen...how will they be represented? Will they have avatars, or will there be camera support?

AR: We're not really ready to dive much more into gameplay details at this point in time.

GS: Fair enough. Because you're bringing together a drummer, bass player, guitarist, and such, is there going to be a way for people to search for bandmates online?

AR: Absolutely. The whole experience is actually about reaching out to other people and forming a band together in that kind of collaborative experience of working with a group of people to form a band--to rise from obscurity into stardom and fame, and to go through that experience together.

So yes, [Rock Band will feature the] kind of community features that allow people to connect. You can play the game with a group of people in your living room if you want, but with next-gen consoles, we're really excited to allow a group of people--potentially a guitarist in Germany, a bassist in Texas, a drummer in New York, and a singer in Tokyo--all get together and form a band and compete on the world stage against other bands.

GS: Will gamers be able to do their own original stuff?

AR: I cannot really talk about that at this time.

GS: Were there any other reasons why you decided to make it strictly PS3 or Xbox 360? Is it mainly the online capabilities of those two consoles?

AR: Well, the PS3 and the 360 are the two platforms that we're prepared to talk about right now. But they're technologically the leading-edge platforms, and we're pushing so many boundaries with this game from a design and technology standpoint that those are the platforms that we felt we had to lead off with.

GS: Is there a possibility that it could reach other platforms?

AR: Certainly. We're considering a lot of options, but we're not ready to make any specific announcements about that at this point.

GS: You are obviously attracted to MTV because they were able to help you secure these really good deals with the labels.

AR: Yeah, they have longstanding, deep relationships with the music industry, and it's been incredible working with MTV to forge these new relationships with the record companies. All of the major record companies are onboard with this project: Universal, Warner, Sony, BMI, Hollywood, even. Basically, every major label group that is significant is onboard and opening up their vaults of original masters to us for this game, which is really exciting for us.

It's also exciting for us because the record companies have by and large not been able to really benefit financially from the video game industry over the last decade, and we're offering them an opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in the video game business by offering their content to people to experience on a deeper level.

Dave DeMartini: To a large extent, Alex is creating a platform from which the music labels can launch things or even just get distribution and span generations with various titles. This is the ultimate family collaboration game, because you have the ability for people of a variety of ages to play the game simultaneously, and people of a variety of skill levels get the opportunity to play the game simultaneously.

GS: Say you play a song and really like it. Will there be a way to buy it right there from the game?

AR: Well, again, we'll have lots to say about that down the road a little bit.

DD: That sounds like a really good idea, though.

GS: EA is going to be distributing the title and obviously has a huge reach globally. Will there be region-specific playlists, or can someone in the US rock out to some hardcore Japanese punk?

DD: Alex is making all the key creative decisions with regard to content going into the products, and we're just trying to be a supportive partner with regards to suggestions and other things. Certainly content that is specific to different regions of the world is incredibly important, and I certainly think Harmonix recognizes that.

AR: For us, music games are at least as much about the music as they are about the game...It's critical that when we go into international territories, we're working with local artists in those [areas] who have the greatest meaning and impact for the audiences in those regions.

GS: Back to the labels and the catalogs. Do you know how much of their catalog they're offering you?

AR: Essentially we have a very broad blanket relationship with all the major label groups, so at this point we're working with artists on an individual basis to get them involved in the game.

DD: I also think Alex is moving in a direction of trying to get away from a one-off track and giving the game player the opportunity to look at a recording artist's entire catalog of songs and potentially allow you to play the entire catalog rather than a specific song.

AR: Absolutely true.

GS: How did the music publishers react to your proposition for the deal?

AR: At this point we're opening up Rock Band as a platform for music entertainment in making both the record labels and the music publishers major partners in that financially. So for them it's actually an incredible opportunity to really benefit from gamers' fanaticism about the interactive entertainment by delivering their content to gamers in a way that they're thrilled to consume.

David DeMartini announces that Harmonix has teamed up with EA Partners at GDC 2007.
David DeMartini announces that Harmonix has teamed up with EA Partners at GDC 2007.

DD: It's an interesting evolution in the industry, which MTV and Harmonix have largely been a part of. Prior to MTV, people listened to music. Then with MTV, people were watching music. And now Alex has basically defined a space in gaming where people are interacting with music in an entirely new way.

So, experience with music has evolved over these three revolutions, and I think it's made people's enjoyment of music move to that next level. People who don't have any musical skills at all--ergo me--have an opportunity to be a rock star, and that's something I'm never going to experience with "a real instrument" in my hands. But to have that ability to have that experience...I mean, to a large extent, Alex and the team are bringing a certain rock-band life experience to people who would have never otherwise experienced it.

GS: Rock Band is clearly ripe for some sort of talent contest or maybe even a reality show. Anything in the pipeline like that for MTV?

AR: It's certainly the case that these are some ideas that we're thinking very actively about right now.

GS: And any chance to expand Rock Band into other genres, like maybe hip-hop or dance music?

AR: Well, certainly. For us, this is just at the very front of what will be a major transformation in music entertainment. I really believe that four or five years from now, this kind of active participation in music-making is going to be how people expect to experience the music that they love. So, certainly, Rock Band is a huge first step in that direction. But the sky is the limit in terms of the span of genres we eventually intend to reach with this.

DD: Just from what we've seen in the demos that Alex and his team have put on, it is going to be the ultimate party experience. I could see Rock Band parties forming in a neighborhood near you, where people just get out there to entertain their friends and just love the music and interact with the music that they love.

GS: Alex, I saw your speech at the D.I.C.E. Summit, and you went about a dozen years in the industry before your first big hit with Guitar Hero. Do you feel any sort of pressure for your follow-up?

AR: There's always pressure. I think the prevailing sentiment is just a sense of excitement about everything having finally come together for music games in the US.

We've been working at this for more than a decade and finally now to have the resources and the creative freedom to be making exactly the game that we want to make. [It's great] to not be limited by resources, to have a partner like MTV supporting us, have a partner like EA who is literally unparalleled in the world at what they do in marketing and distribution of games. To have all the major record companies supporting us and offering up their content to us, honestly, I and the rest of the creative team here just feel incredibly privileged and excited to be able to just be swinging for the fences with such an ambitious project that we really think can fundamentally transform music entertainment.

Excitement is the prevailing sentiment.

GS: Thank you very much, Alex and David.

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Darkiewonder

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And that's what Nintendo do, leave out a lot of things with the Wii and you'll get a different version of Rock Band MUCH Later. ANYWAYS, As far as this games goes I'll not follow it until there's some more information about it.

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nintendofreak92

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also if Guitar hero is 90$ imagine how much this is going to be...my guess is almost over 100$

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Tele_Cast

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OMG AWESOME

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nintendofreak92

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i really think they should have left vocals out and replaced it with like another kind of guitar or something but otherwise this game sounds incredible.

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noamatt128

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guitar heros good enough for me and i dont plan on spending over 1000 buckeroos when they can go toward awsome wii games.

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Mystoksor

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Why is everyone saying "this game will make me buy a ps3" it's for the 360 too -.-

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gatsbythepig

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sounds interesting

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jjjgem

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shootgun the drums YER BOY!!!!

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princew

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ugh... vocals? oh boy kareoke! keyboards (even if the controller had just a single octave) would be a better choice for the game than vocals... oh man my ears are bleeding already

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kya-kun

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OMG!...Kyle on Drums. Micah on Guitar. Anthony on Bass. Me on Vocals! Greatest Music game ever!

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pandaman37

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sounds awesome but the only bad part for me would be the singing.. my singing is so bad its just going to end up bugging everyone

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acdcwroks7

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sweet

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badgerman13

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This game looks sweet... but my big concern is if i will have to give an arm and a leg to buy the stuff :)

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kakashi_00x000

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this sounds so awsome...too bad you can't use guitar hero controlers with it because me and my brother already have one each.....well I imagine the guitar playing will be the same as guitar hero. now i definately need a ps3...in 8 months...

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Killer_Dodds

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so..if i buy this game? im gonna have 2 real drum kits and a video game drum kit...right...........this shall be interesting..

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Cainekass29

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I am really excited about this!

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stunt_boarder03

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This game sounds awesome... I can't wait to see what EA and Harmonix are able to come up with.

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fmobliv06

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omg..this is the kind of music game i've always wanted to play

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felixest

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Me and my dad were talking about an idea like this, little did we know a game just like it would be released this soon!

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DukeofBoston

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The only think that looks bad about this is the fact that MTV is involved. Otherwise, I'm excited.

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UrbanMessiah

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This is pretty cool, IMO. I had always said something like Rock Band needed to happen, but I didn't think anyone would wise up and make it happen anytime soon. Hopefully, they will make it so you can buy the instruments and mic seperately, because I already got a Xbox 360 guitar, have no interest in bass or singing, and would like to think about the drums. -=x

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arczero01

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SWEET I'm a drummer and I'm pretty sure lots of other drummers would enjoy a good drumming game

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gintheplacetobe

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Sounds great. I just hope their new relationship with MTV doesn't mean that this game is gonna be filled with emo, pop rock, and the rest of the absolute garbage that gets played on that channel.

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RaiKageRyu

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One word: Awesome!

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nestea_king

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Good, something I always felt that Guitar Hero lacked.

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SlysApprentice

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Drumming would be awesome with Wii-motes :(. Why hasn't it been announced for the Wii?

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bgres077

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This sounds like it's going to cost upwards of $200. No thanks!

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Rent-Boy

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that sounds pretty sweet to me

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kasalisk

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if its the REAL band experience they should also make a backstage marijuana minigame. Bong Controller sold separetely.

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Gamer6534

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Ive been waiting for a game like this since i first started playing guitar hero, I cant wait.

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Progn0sticator

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I'd call this an April Fool's Day joke but it is the 2nd and I don't see anything else on the site :/

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Batman54

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This seemed like the obvious next step forward it was just wheather or not they were going to stick with guitar hero for another round or move to this because the technology has been there it just needed the right environment like the success of guitar hero and the backing of MTV, I'm so psyched about this so they better not screw it up

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FLYmeatwad

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Not sure if it's real...not sure if I care. Drums would be cool and guitar is great. I have Kareoke Revolution and I know I can't sing, so...not so sure about that whole aspect.

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sonofabear17

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awesome! im kinda nervous about the singing part hopefully this wont be like american idol (i hate that show)

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kejigoto

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I was completely interested in this one when I read about a total band experience, then I read that they were involved with MTV and I moved on. Sorry to say but MTV doesn't do anything for music but bring it down. I'll wait for Guitar Hero III and be content. Plus with three different types of controllers this game will get expensive fast, I don't want to pay for controllers I won't use (i.e. the microphone). I suck at singing and I certainly wouldn't want to hop online and use it nor do anything with it at home. The drum controller might be interesting but I'm more drawn to the guitar part and not overly interested in the other pieces of the game.

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Shmeckledorf

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This is an April Fools joke. They didn't do one yesterday because the Gamespot staff doesn't work on Sundays.

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masterjedijeff

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From what I read on IGN, the guitar controllers from Guitar Hero 1 and 2 will not be compatible with the new game. If that's true, I think it will really hurt their sales. It was bad enough when they purposely made GH incompatible with 3rd party controllers for Guitar Freaks, but this is just wrong.

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bigboi_trey

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Hope they keep it like guitar hero with great music and gameplay but should be better with new instruments and online. But does all of the instruments come in one package or buy them separately ??? Thinkin bout it makes my wallet hurt

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TWG9288

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a whole lot of potential, but i hope they make a good split screen mode, bc cable or DSL dont reach my house, so i need some good split screen support if im gonna get it

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deactivated-57af49c27f4e8

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a day before the release of guitar hero II... hmm. too late? maybe.

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Praetorian25

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Wow, figures MTV would take part in this. I'll wait until they make a METAL expansion or sequel. \m/ \m/

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MogFromLeipzig

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Sounds awesome :) (and expensive!)

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JBiker51

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Yeah, great idea..if we'll able to pay the exorbuniate fee

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Spencer626

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Guitar Hero rocks and this is just bringing the concept to a whole new level. I've always wanted to try the drums in a Guitar Hero type game. THIS GAME IS GOING TO ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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cheetah_TM

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It makes sense for the game to come bundled with any ONE of the intruments for like 90 bucks (like Guitar Hero)...then you have the option of buying the rest of the stuff seperately. I will get the drumset, as I already have the Guitar controller for my PS2 (which better work on the PS3)

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WTA2k5

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Sick idea, but it seems like it would cost a bunch.

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comthitnuong

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:o...Microphones! I can now sing!

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crew2005

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OMFG... I cant wait, ever since Guitar Hero 1 came out I was like, they should make a game with a whole band. I was 1st runner up for the guitar hero 2 tournament, and i cant wait till this game comes out. so i can share my awesome guitar hero skills with everyone but i might do the drummer. Freakin awesome

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mrbass208

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So are they going to be able to pair PS3 and 360 users online? Is there enough common ground or incentive to make that work?

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mrbass208

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I absolutely LOVE the premise. Unfortunately, the price point for all of these peripherals is going to be the big sticking point. I know that GH2 for the 360 will be $90 with one peripheral, but 4?! It's going to be tough to create a huge following with this, but if they pull it off, this game will absolutely kick @$$