Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: PSA: XBLA A-OK

This week’s post was inspired by a conversation between my fiancée and I concerning the wonders of the Xbox Live Arcade. We were investigating the trial version of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes and we began almost lamenting the sheer breadth and quality of the variety of content present on the service. From time to time, Microsoft receives a low level of flak for some of its approaches to the Marketplace system, but one of the greatest aspects that they established was the necessity for all XBLA titles to be provided in trial form.

I get misty-eyed just looking at it.
Obliging developers and/or publishers to make at least a small segment of their game playable for free works wonders for a whole slew of reasons. First-off, the availability of trial versions balances the entry-point for everyone. When it comes to big-ticket releases, there is every chance that you might be unable to purchase a game outright due to budgeting restrictions. This first point segues into yet another reason that the service makes sound business sense: letting players try a part of your game with no prior outlay vastly increases the chances that they will be led to making a purchase. I can easily recall at least three releases last year that I more than likely would have missed, had it not been for the availability of a no-commitment free trial beforehand: Magic the Gathering 2012: Duels of the Planeswalkers, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, and Bastion.

The latter of that trio has likely been the most successful. Bastion benefited from myriad sources giving it great reviews (even ourselves), as well as being chosen by Microsoft as the banner title for their ‘Summer of Arcade’ series in the middle of last year. And while all that is well and good, I would still argue that at least part of that success (frankly huge for any game, never mind an indie) is thanks to the fact that players were able to cut through the PR hype by sitting back and trying out the game by themselves.

This is my first sighting of the newly-titled
Sony Entertainment Network.
Unfortunately, as solely an Xbox 360 owner, I cannot vouch for the similar standard of the PlayStation 3′s recently renamed Sony Entertainment Network (until yesterday the PlayStation Network). I wish I could, but my brief and fleeting glimpses, more minor stolen glances than anything, of the PS3 have given the impression that it is a confusing and user-unfriendly nightmare. However, in lieu of such expertise, I consulted with Jens Dietrich, User Experience Architect at marketing agency Engauge, for a professional and, as a PS3 owner, personal perspective on the issue:

“For the average user it absolutely is a nightmare. Thus, many of us get our SEN release information elsewhere, and then search on the system. Sony also does a bad job of categorizing content and they over-tag. The end result is an overwhelming barrage of disorganized garbage.”

Dietrich went further, citing a Penny Arcade strip for further evidence of Sony’s inherently awkward approach. No opportunity to link a comic strip goes missed when I’m around. Et voila. However, he is keen to point out that things have improved since then, if not been fully rectified.

Platforms aside, though, I still maintain that the proliferation of online downloadable content has been the defining moment of gaming in this generation. The idea of being able to browse, experiment, purchase, and then download fully functional games within a matter of minutes is really and truly exhilarating when you actually stop and think about it for a moment. That said, there are still plenty of console owners who do not maximise the potential of this gaming avenue, and so the purpose of this article is simply to highlight that which you might have missed.

This week’s assignment questions are simple: How often do you peruse the titles available for download from your chosen system? How often has your perusing subsequently led to coughing up cold hard cash (or digital Microsoft banana bucks) for the full version?

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