Rock Band 3 Heralded as the greatest in the Rock Band series and some would even say that it is the greatest music based game ever released! I can understand that as it's a game with a ton of really cool features added to the refinements made on the already nearly perfected core game mechanics. It is fully a wonderful game in almost all regards. That's not to say that shortly after it's release (a few hours if I recall correctly), the game had managed to make me depressed, overwhelmed, and ultimately regretful of my purchase due to the implementation of features that I had loved on paper.
Progression Problems My biggest disappointment was actually the feature I had most looked forward to; the fact that progression would be made in any game mode and there would be some slight story related to that progression. Prior to launch, I failed to even consider that this could potentially destroy the idea of cooperation in a gaming household while simultaneously making the act of hosting parties involving Rock Band into an engine of hatred towards your friends.
The progression in Rock Band 3 is tied to a player's account/profile the same as in previous games in the series. Harmonix also added in little mini-achievements for completing various goals in an effort to create further incentive for players to play each instrument, play them well, and at least experience every miniscule bit of content available in the game. The biggest flaw in this type of progression is the inability to turn it off.
In Rock Band 1 and 2, I had invested a lot of time into progressing through the World Tour mode with my roommate at the time. We would play nearly every night in the band that we had created, The Cereal Killers. This band was on my roommate's profile, but it was only played when both of us were playing as we each had what we referred to as "solo projects" since the first two games allowed multiple bands to be owned by any one profile. If we had friends over that we didn't consider as "guest musicians" we could simply play the freeplay mode and not make any progress on our official band. This carried over to when my roommate moved out and my girlfriend moved in. We had our band in Rock Band 2 that we played together, but still carried on with our own "solo projects." She could make her solo progress while I was at work and we could progress our band when we were both playing at night. We could even have people over and play freeplay or have them be a guest musician in our band. We played Rock Band 2 nearly every night for at least an hour. That all changed when Rock Band 3 came out.
Rock Band 3, with all it's "progression all the time" features had removed the ability to have multiple bands on any single account, effectively making every player a solo artist that sometimes works with other solo artists. This became an obvious problem when I first realized when playing with my girlfriend that I was seeing locations and progression cut-scenes that were far beyond where MY virtual music career had gotten. This was the turning point. I didn't really care to play Rock Band regularly anymore since I felt that it was no longer a cooperative endeavor to reach the top, but two singular entities reaching to top. This was compounded by the fact that if I were to play along with her progress, I would be making completely unseen progress in my own career that would effectively prevent me from experiencing large portions of the story progress.
Soon after this we held a Halloween party with Rock Band 3 as the centerpiece. Of course, for the DLC to be available we had to have my profile signed in and my girlfriend's profile signed in as well since some songs were purchased through her Live account. (I'm aware that there are possibly workarounds for having to do this.) As our accounts were being used in a party setting, the people playing them were unlocking the aforementioned min-achievements for our profiles and we were simply in the Quick Play mode. We were making progress through the story, getting mini-achievements, unlocking new clothing (which will be griped about in a bit), and we felt nothing but contempt for the fact that we were not accomplishing these tasks ourselves but through surrogate players and against our will. This was the day that, for us, Rock Band died.
Clothing Collection Let's jump back a bit here. Before we fell out of love with Rock Band 3, before we realized that the constant progression would kill the game for us, there was one thing that already felt quite a bit "off." During the creation of our representative characters we noticed that there was no starting money for their clothing, hairstyles, and accessories. That's because money in the game is a thing of the past. Probably dropped in an effort to reduce the numbers that a player had to think about so they could more easily enjoy the game aspects of Rock Band 3. Getting clothing is instead unlocked through game progression, often with specific clothing pieces being unlocked by very specific tasks. So rather than getting the shirt that I want by playing enough songs to get the money for it, I would have to play a specific song and do well enough at it that my shirt is magically placed in my closet.
There is also no longer a need for a Rock Shop in which to buy this clothing due to the money system being removed, and therefore every piece of clothing that you unlock is in your closet. Even if you don't want to wear it, think it's hideous, or would rather gouge out your eyes than have to see it again, it will be in your closet so you have to scroll by it in an effort to find the piece of clothing you do want to wear. You no longer get the right to not purchase clothing that you'll never wear which makes it all the more difficult to change your appearance from time to time using clothes that you've previously selected. The same applies to instruments and even hairstyles. This has effectively made creating a character that you like into a chore rather than an expression of creativity or self.
The Good Rock Band 3 had some good things going for it as well. The core game mechanics got refined to the point that everything seems to feel as good as it possibly can. The additions of drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, 7 person bands and the keyboard as an instrument are all amazing and really ramp-up the fun that can potentially be had with large groups. Road challenges, story cut-scenes, and individualized scoring are also welcome features that work wonders to add a sense of accomplishment to every part of the game despite the individualized scoring system adding to the ever-present feeling of this being "a single-player game played with other people." And yes, even the graphics look better than they did in previous games. All the necessary improvements to warrant a new series entry are included in Rock Band 3.
Rock Band 4 Design Ideas Now to the reason I started writing this: What would I do if put in charge of the Rock Band Franchise.
Below I have broken up my ideas into minor changes and expansion. Minor Changes are small changes that should be easily implemented in Rock Band 4 without too much hassle and would greatly improve at least my enjoyment of the game. Expansion on the other hand, is what I would like to see done with the game that involves a large portion of the game getting entirely revamped.
Allow progression to be turned off. This prevents unwanted progression to be made if, for example, someone else is using your profile.
Career progression occurs only in Career Mode.
Allow a profile to have more than one band. This allows for solo play, as well as being in a number of bands with separate career progress.
Bring back the money system.
Separate the Rock Shop from My Closet as it was in Rock Band 2.
Add the ability to save outfits in a player's closet so they can quickly and easily change between preset appearances.
Expansion Career Mode.
The player starts with a small selection of songs in their chosen genre. They can unlock more songs for themselves or their band by paying for the song rights to with in-game money. (All songs are always unlocked in Quick Play.)
The player starts with a small selection of venues. More venues are unlocked based on how many fans the player or band has.
The player can start or join a band offline or online with other players yet still continue to play solo when they choose.
Label Contracts. Artists and bands can choose to be signed to a label when enough fans have been made. Being signed to a label will lower the costs of recording, promotions, travel, and other expenses, increase fanbase growth, but less money is made overall and the label can create setlists without player input.
Recording sales. Artists or bands can opt to make recordings and sell them. The player can choose between a DIY recording or a Pro Studio recording. The DIY route is obviously less expensive. Each take costs money and consists of the player or players playing the song and their scores determining the quality of the recording. There could also be the option for "live" recordings and multi-track recordings. Live would cost more per take and be the group playing together with multi-track recording being cheaper per take and consist of each player playing their part separately until they are happy. The combined scores of each player's recording determines overall recording quality. Each performance that the band does after releasing a recording earns them money from the recording as well depending on the recording quality, number of fans, and promotion budget.
Promotion. Artists or bands can set a promotion budget for their upcoming show or release. This is taken care of by the label if signed.
Road Challenges become part of Career Mode when signed to a label.
I believe that these ideas could really provide a deeper game mode for those that want it while still allowing for the party atmosphere when appropriate. It would also greatly reduce the issues that I personally had with Rock Band 3 while retaining most of the features added.