Thinning The Herd: Good Idea, Bad Idea?

Will Microsoft's recently-announced efforts to improve Xbox Live Arcade quality levels by culling underperforming titles bolster the service, or ultimately harm it?

Objectively, one of Live's biggest obstacles is the sheer density of its offering and wildly variant quality levels - it's hard to tell what there even is to play, let alone if what you're checking out will be a worthy experience, despite the numerous demos. With that in mind, a standard methodology for trimming the fat might help the cream rise to the top, right?

Slaughterhouse and farming metaphors aside, a new opinion column by Lionhead and Climax veteran Tadhg Kelly presents a fascinating perspective on why Microsoft's new sales and scores-based "de-listing" strategy might actually spell the death of the service.

Basically, Kelly opines that opting for a standard supported by sales performance and Metacritic scores will saddle XBLA with the same struggles we're seeing in retail - publisher attempts to coerce or incentivize media and developers, for one, and more importantly, increased risk aversion.

Weren't digital distribution platforms supposed to provide an alternative route for developers wishing (or needing) to avoid the tight control score-and-sale scrutiny that many people think is stifling innovation in retail?

Also, writes Kelly:

Lastly, and far more seriously, it means that the developers will increasingly pitch for products that they think Microsoft will like, or products that Microsoft themselves might think should be on the service, and so XBLA will become a much more for-hire service.

If you're like me, you may have wondered why there wasn't a YouTube-esque content aggregator system for XBLA. That's because Microsoft sees its service as more of a "portal" offering, and Kelly says this and other issues are even more of a problem for XBLA, since its competition's quickly catching up:

Is it too late for XBLA? Well I hope not, but I suspect it is. Microsoft increasingly have competition from Sony (whose online play is free after all) and now Nintendo - who have announced a very interesting scheme for WiiWare that is squarely aimed at the sorts of innovative small developers that Microsoft wanted to attract but ultimately repelled with their portal structure.

Microsoft had an early-market advantage with XBLA 3 years ago, but their competitors have now matched (and may supercede) their offering. And with sales of the 360 console itself being caught by PS3 and out-classed by Wii, I would imagine there isn't much of an appetite in Redmond for large-scale changes to the system.

It could be that Microsoft's well-intentioned attempts to address what many have called XBLA's biggest problem may stand as a turning point for the service. We've contacted Microsoft to discuss, and hope to learn more soon.



Aggregation vs. Portals: Where Microsoft is Going Wrong With Xbox Live Arcade
[GameSetWatch]