Friday, June 6, 2008

Delisting XBLA Games: The Latest Industry Blunder

In an effort to clean up the "clutter" on XBLA, Microsoft is going to delist those games that have been available for at least six months, have a metacritic rating lower than 65%, and haven't had a high conversion rate (the percentage of people buying a title after downloading the demo). According to MS, delisting said games will allow for a smoother and easier experience buying games for the service. To call this policy stupid would be an understatement. There are several things wrong with delisting titles, and none of them have to do with making anyone's experience more enjoyable.

Microsoft's reasoning is that this will help reduce the clutter on the Live marketplace. Say what? Clutter... on a digital store that has no physical presence? Why not just come out and tell the truth. These games are being delisted because Microsoft has gone batshit insane approving every turd proposed for XBLA, and now it wants to clean up by getting rid of the stinkers. The same company that denied Valve's Portal a berth on XBLA went and released Sudoku and Warlords (no good without a paddle!) just a few weeks ago. This is what I'm talking about.

The Xbox maker has made a great move by upping the maximum game size to 350MB, but there really shouldn't be a cap in the first place, just ask Capcom. This line of thinking is why we have a store filled with Frogger and Yaris, and no one's playing them, Jeff Minter be damned. We've heard developers complain about the glut of crap on XBLA before, and MS seems to want a quick band-aid solution to its blatant lack of quality control by sweeping the games under the rug - literally. All of the delisted titles will still be available for purchase via a friend's recommendation, and they're not actually being taken off the servers, just off the main list. You can even still play them online. So they're there... it just doesn't look like they're there. Brilliant.

There's a bigger problem than people not being able to find Dig Dug, one that almost no one is talking about. The threat of delisting not only plagues gamers who might be afraid that a game they've been meaning to buy might up and vanish, it also bodes ill for developers. Think of the company that wants to try something different. The whole selling point of services like XBLA. the Playstation Store, and WiiWare is that they offer developers a place to sell their games without the costs and pitfalls of retail distribution. Selling online allows them to take chances and go for that particular title that might never have had a chance to come to store shelves. If there's a threat of it being taken off the service, developers will be less inclined to think outside the box and take chances.

You might be able to argue that this will also keep them from making crap, but the glut we've seen so far is no one else's fault but Microsoft's. If it hadn't kept approving weak arcade port after weak arcade port, we wouldn't have so many of them. Telling game makers that their new titles have a chance of being delisted could be enough to make them take their wares to the Wii or Playstation 3. And let's be honest, making a game invisible to the general consumer is as good as eliminating it from the service entirely.

I sincerely hope that Microsoft rethinks this foolish policy. There's no need to take any games off the main page, and simply reducing their price a bit and assigning them to a bargain bin section would take care of the entire problem. Hey, if you're going to make it so that the general public doesn't even know the games are there, dropping their prices to 200 or 400 MS points shouldn't be a reach. The more games on the service the better, and one man's Mad Tracks is another man's Puzzle Quest. There's no need to eliminate anything and risk alienating consumers and developers alike.

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