Have Microsoft lost the plot with XBLA?

Large scale digital distribution of IP is a recent phenomenon so the people who are running the businesses that do this are learning on the job. A lot of the time they are getting it right, so we are seeing the amazing successes of iTunes, Xbox Live and Steam, for example.

However they don’t always get it right and this article is about one example of this. Basically it costs effectively zero to “stock” an item of IP on a download service. All it takes is a little bit of space on a server. So all content should be available for all eternity. That the public like and want this kind of thing can be seen in the remarkable popularity of old 8 bit home computer games that are over 20 years old and which are still very widely played on PC emulators.

Now XBLA is still very small indeed, just over 130 titles, so you would think that these would be secure. After all the service is expanding very rapidly (Xbox Live Marketplace is up to a million downloads per day) so even a poor seller will deliver something over time. Yet Microsoft have chosen to cull the “underperforming games”. “The title will need to be at least 6 months old and have a Metacritic score below 65 and a conversion rate below 6% on the service.  This way titles are not just considered if they are not selling well or not getting good reviews, but actually a combination of both.  We will also give a three-month notice before delisting any title.  Overall I think you will find this will focus the catalogue more on larger, more immersive games and make it much easier to find the games you are looking for.”

Now it is possible to see the merit in what Microsoft are doing here. Raising the quality of what they host, combined with recent increases in price limit and download size limit, takes the XBLA service to a new, higher level. I believe that a Metacritic of 80 should be the target of any credible publisher. So spring cleaning out the dross can be perceived to have it’s merits by some criteria.

However game quality is a subjective thing. As are the quality of books and films. So no matter how dire an IP offering it will still bring enjoyment to some. Online distribution is a business model that allows for this because you can stock an infinite number of product lines. Which makes the XBLA delisting a little puzzling. Much of what iTunes offers is pretty rubbish but this doesn’t stop Apple listing it. And there is the validity of an IP for it’s own sake, which makes the XBLA cull look like burning books.

The real issue here is probably the Xbox Live Dashboard which, quite frankly, finds itself doing a job it is not up to. Handling just 130 titles should be simple, the Amazon user interface handles millions of items with ease. But the Microsoft Xbox Live offering is pathetic and is struggling. Instead of delisting IP they should be concentrating on offering a user interface that allows more variety and more choice. An environment in which any delisting  would be an unnecessary travesty.


  1. Here are some of the games that are possible deletions: http://www.mygen.com.au/article.php?page_id=87745967510557797&se_id=29&format=2

    Crystal Quest
    Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
    Hardwood Hearts
    Texas Hold ’em
    Fatal Fury Special
    Marathon: Durandal
    Missile Command
    Time Pilot
    Track & Field
    Hardwood Backgammon
    Hardwood Spades
    Mad Tracks
    Root Beer Tapper
    Super Contra
    Geon: Emotions
    Soltrio Solitaire
    Arkadian Warriors
    Rush’n Attack
    Double Dragon
    Asteroids / Asteroids Deluxe
    Battlestar Galactica
    Centipede & Millipede
    Spyglass Board Games
    Tetris Splash
    Ecco the Dolphin
    Yie Ar Kung-Fu
    Wing Commander Arena
    Street Trace: NYC
    Word Puzzle
    New Rally-X
    Cyberball 2072
    Bomberman: Act Zero

  2. There really hard on letting new games on live and really on top of the quality of the games.
    But on the other hand this makes it more easy to find games and be sure you won’t buy games that are not fun or any good at all.

    But a good ranking system should fix this as well.

  3. What if I already have a game off xbl and I delete it due to space constraints? Does that mean once the game gets de listed, I’ve just wasted money, as I cannot download it any more?

  4. I can’t add anything more, really. It’s stupid – simply put, Microsoft have a rubbish Xbox Arcade interface, and they don’t want to change it.

    I didn’t realise it was as few as 130 titles. 130?!? Wow…

  5. While I agree that this move is stupid, I disagree that it costs them “nothing” to host the games on XBLA. There is a very definite point at which a game could start loosing them money over an extended period of time if the download rate exceeds a base conversion rate.

    While I’m sure Microsoft have a very comprehensive network infrastructure, at the end of the day bandwidth is not free even to them, and I bet all those un-bought downloaded DEMOs are not helping.

    Of course you could also argue that lots of the games on the list are so terrible they didn’t ought to have been on XBLA in the first place.

  6. There are some classic (and very good) games in there ! Speedball 2: Burtal Deluxe, Contra, Missile Command…

Comments are closed.