The Rock Band phenomenon from the mid-to-late 2000s is long over, but accessories for the live-band facsimile video game, which were once abundant in bargain bins and thrift shops, have skyrocketed in value. This includes everything from plastic instruments to add-on drum cymbals.
One accessory in particular, the PDP Wired Legacy Adapter for Xbox One, has soared into the upper atmosphere, selling anywhere from $600 to $1,000 on eBay — an eye-popping sum for such an unassuming add-on. And this has put Rock Band fans in an uncomfortable position.
As older accessories degrade and break, lowering the amount available on the second-hand market, add-ons like the PDP Wired Legacy Adapter give players access to more professional electronic musical equipment, ones meant to handle a greater beating. Unless developer Harmonix or accessories maker PDP do something to address this issue, price gouging will continue to exacerbate.
The PDP Wired Legacy Adapter looks about as basic as any other USB dongle that can be found on Amazon. Yet, the components inside, which allow for a wide-range of electronic drum compatibility, have become invaluable to the Rock Band faithful.
“If I did ever want to become that pro level drummer, that adapter would enable me to work on being that,” said Jon Farrell, 34, an IT contractor and moderator of the Rock Band subreddit told me over the phone.
Rock Band 4’s accessory crisis
Rock Band 4 launched in 2015 to solid critical acclaim but middling sales. Publisher and accessories maker Mad Catz recorded a $11.6 million loss, blamed largely on “incredibly disappointing” sales numbers. It forced the company to cut 37% of its staff as Mad Catz needed to quickly move remaining inventory. It also didn’t help that Activision’s Guitar Hero, a competitor to Rock Band that was also popular in the latter aughts, decided to make its return that same month with Guitar Hero Live. Ultimately, NPD results from October 2015 ranked Rock Band 4 at ten, with Guitar Hero Live at eleven.
Either way, the title was a fine-tuning of the Rock Band formula rather than a reinvention. Where Rock Band 3 arguably went overboard with the introduction of the 102-button Fender Mustang Pro Guitar add-on or an actual six-string with the Squier Pro Guitar, Rock Band 4 aimed to reel some of that back. Gone was keyboard support for songs like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as well as pro guitar support. Instead, Rock Band 4 stuck with the fundamentals of five-button guitars, microphones and rubber drum pads.
Rock Band fans were largely okay with leaving the pro guitar accessories behind, and many were happy to jump back into Rock Band on newer gaming consoles. But the desire for more realistic drums never went away.
While Rock Band 4 didn’t meet sales expectations for Mad Catz, it sold enough copies for game developer Harmonix to commission another company to make accessories for the game’s first major expansion, Rock Band Rivals.
Harmonix turned to Mad Catz rival PDP, known for making third-party controllers and other accessories. And it was in the PDP announcement that Harmonix revealed Xbox One users would get an accessory to accommodate ION Drum Rocker owners and e-kit drummers that played via the Midi PRO-Adapter.
Why does Xbox need the Wired Legacy Adapter?
This adapter was made for Xbox One players specifically, as PS4 owners still enjoyed cross-generation compatibility. Xbox One, in contrast, used a different standard than the security chip required for all Xbox 360 peripherals. That move effectively ended all support for past 360 hardware.
“The transition from Xbox 360 to Xbox One required changes to the system architecture to enable us to support new accessories and products designed for the new Xbox hardware,” said a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to Tom’s Guide. “As a result of that decision, Xbox 360 accessories were no longer compatible with Xbox One hardware.” The spokesperson went on to add, “We have no plans to add support for Xbox 360 accessories on Xbox Series X | S.”
Thus, it was up to PDP to find a solution to accommodate ION Drum Rocker and e-kit drummers.
“PDP has an in-house engineering team here in San Diego. And so we had the capabilities to do it,” recalled Tom Roberts, CEO of PDP. Given that Microsoft only allows certain partners access, it’s made it nearly impossible for modders to connect e-kits without the Wired Legacy Adapter. Often, modders need a donor motherboard from a Rock Band drum kit to then reconfigure to an e-kit.
“The stuff that you buy should work, regardless of what version you’re on,” said Daniel Sussman, project director at Harmonix and product manager for Rock Band. “And, you know, we’ve tried to, to honor that as it relates to DLC, and then also for hardware.” It’s a commitment to this philosophy that’s allowed gamers who bought Rock Band back in 2007 to continue using those instruments 14 years later across multiple generations of consoles.
Once PDP had developed an adapter to work with older hardware, it then came down to figuring out how many to make, a challenge for such a niche item.
“We go find a contract manufacturer in China. And they have minimum order quantities, MOQ’s,” said Roberts. “And I’m like, ‘what’s the MOQ?’ Because I wonder if we’re going to hit the MOQ. We ended up placing two orders. We ended up doing about 6,000, a little over 6,000 units.”
Roberts admitted that the Wired Legacy Adapter was not going to be profitable.
“I don’t want to say we did it as a favor, but we did it to support that legacy community and Harmonix really wanted that support, too,” Roberts said.
Even then, there’s a reason PDP didn’t commission thousands of units to hold as potential back inventory. Unfortunately, the product sales and distribution business doesn’t work that way.
“It’s like you’re trying to predict the future. And one thing I will say, from having been in that part of the business is that your inventory liability is a thing that you need to be very cautious around.” Harmonix’s Sussman said. “If you make too much stuff, that can bury your company.”
Of course, if people on eBay are willing to drop upward of $1,000 on an accessory to play on Xbox One, surely, rebuying all hardware and switching to PS4 would be more economical. Unfortunately, due to licensing reasons, if a gamer decided to start their Rock Band journey on Xbox 360, they were stuck on Microsoft’s platform.
Once on Xbox, always on Xbox
Due to music licensing deals, songs that were released on Xbox 360 and PS3 have now since expired. Before expiry, Rock Band did allow users to export their track lists to subsequent titles by paying a fee. This meant that a gamer who exported their songs from the original Rock Band on Xbox 360 could continue to play those songs on Rock Band 4 on Xbox One. It was all linked to their Xbox Live accounts. Starting from scratch on PS4 meant foregoing an entire library of exported songs, as well as purchased DLC tracks. Some of the licenses on DLC tracks have expired too. And for those that grew up with the series, letting go of that initial playlist was not worth it.
“I was playing with my daughter and she was playing Blitzkrieg Bop on easy. And I own this song on Rock Band 4 — who would have thought when I was playing it back in the day that my daughter would be still playing with me,” said Brian Sevilla, 29, a Rock Band enthusiast who is currently active in the military. “This song that I owned because of the backwards compatibility, the way it works — so it’s just crazy how all these charts this just stretches so far”
Sevilla himself has been on the hunt for a Wired Legacy Adapter. He recently lost out an eBay listing after placing a bid for $800. He understands the irresponsibility of spending so much on a USB dongle, and his sister thinks he’s crazy for even attempting to buy one, but Sevilla feels that it’s worth it. Already, Sevilla has gone through multiple Rock Band kits, and is now looking to pick up a purpose-built e-kit that can handle the abuse. Even if it means forking $800 or more for an adapter.
“I mean, it’s rational thinking. It’s just for someone like, who has that soft spot for Rock Band,” Sevilla said. “I’m in the Rivals, and I do the weekly challenges. We have a crew and everything.”
What’s next for Rock Band fans?
Given that there’s a limited number of Wired Pro Adapters out on the second-hand market, some of which could malfunction sometime in the future, the community is at a loss as to what to do. Apart from repurposing old Rock Band drum kit motherboards, which requires some expertise, neither PDP, Harmonix or Microsoft have put forward any kind of solution.
Simply putting together another manufacturing run isn’t as easy as calling up China either. There are real economic challenges. According to Farrell, the Rock Band subreddit moderator mentioned above, it’s not like the Wired Legacy Adapters sold out immediately from PDP’s website at launch.
“That came out, it was pretty readily available for a few months. And then it kind of came in and out of stock a few times at one point.” said Ferrell. “It was in stock for like half price, like only for $15 bucks. And it was in that state for a few weeks. And then it just disappeared.”
Farrell suspects that some keen buyers noticed the drop in price as a sign of clearing out inventory. Those people likely bought the remaining stock and have been holding on to units since. And now that prices have broken the $600 barrier, units have begun to trickle out online.
That’s not to say all electronics require a huge order number to go into production. The mechanical keyboard community will often do group buys, where if a certain number of people pre-order a product, then it will get a limited production run. Ferrell estimates that if Harmonix was to put together a similar group buy campaign for the Wired Legacy Adapter, then users would be easily willing to put down $100. Even then, it’s not that simple.
“The question is not so much like how much will people spend, but more how many people actually want this,” Sussman said. “I think one of the things that I sort of learned from my experience in the manufacturing space is that you have a lot of setup costs that are hard to rationalize at low volume, regardless of what the kind of market price is going to be.”
Rock Band fans may have a tiny sliver of hope
Although the Rock Band community might not be as powerful as it was back in 2007, it’s still plenty passionate. Not only are the games fun, there really isn’t another party game that’s taken its place in the ensuing years. And to be clear, neither Sussman or Roberts turned down the idea of a limited low-volume run outright, even if they weren’t overly enthusiastic either.
“I mean, I would certainly be open to that. But you know, we have multiple projects going on, and we have to weigh the opportunity costs. And, that’s the reality of running a business,” PDPs Roberts said. “If someone came to me and said, ‘hey, well, we got, we got 10,000 people that really want a Legacy Adapter,’ and they’re willing to pay 50 bucks… Yeah, you know, I might have to take a serious look at that, for sure.”
As for Sussman, who’s been with Harmonix for almost 20 years, seeing the community struggle through this hardware crunch has been tough.
“I’m blown away by the passion and the enthusiasm that we see on the part of the community, and that is the positive part of it, Sussman said “The, the negative part is that the whole hardware conversation is difficult for me to address in the sense that, you know, we make the game, our focus is on the software experience, and we’re not in a position to just like, ring up the factory and have more guitars, or drums, or adapters, or anything made.”
Even then, Sussman is keeping an open mind.
“I’m happy to talk to anybody who’s interested in making more Rock Band stuff, absolutely. Call me.”
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