Meeting with Microsoft’s Scott Austin to talk about Xbox Live, there was little expectation of sexy reveals or big news, and what we saw during the briefing wasn’t flashy in any way. But there was still some really good news for Xbox 360 owners: Microsoft is getting set to update Xbox Live in a number of ways to make it easier to find and buy content. The big news is that games will be priced in your local currency, and you’ll be able to buy with a credit card, bypassing the point system altogether. That’s not all.
“We’re going to have 30 or more games launching in August, worldwide, in all markets. We’ll also be adding new content in all of our markets weekly,” Austin explained. This is the Games on Demand Service that was announced after the Microsoft press conference: you’ll now be able to buy full-sized, big-name titles directly from Xbox Live and download them to your console.
Austin walked us through the process of buying a game through the service. “What you’ll see here for the first time on the buy screen is we’ll be showing the price in the local currency,” he said, and there was something akin to a gasp in the room. “And we’re going to allow people to purchase with a credit card.” He points out that gamers will still have the choice to pay with Microsoft points, if they want. The ability to see the real price of the game, and then to be able to pay directly with your credit card instead of buying a block of points is a huge step forward.
The licensing model for the Games on Demand purchases will also mirror that of Arcade games. “We keep the license information on the Live servers, so the user who purchased it can roam to another console and play the game there.” This also allows gamers to delete the entire game to free up hard drive space, and then redownload whenever they’d like. We’re told to expect pricing on the games to be comparable to what you would see at retail. When asked about day and date releases with new games, there is no information. “We haven’t determined that,” Austin said. That’s not a “no,” so there is a possibility that new games will be released both as a physical and digital product.
All this content has the potential to make finding quality games and add-ons more difficult. Don’t worry, Microsoft has you covered. “One thing that customers have been asking for is more information about games,” Austin said. The New Xbox Experience offered expanded game pages, and that was nice, but moving forward you’ll get even more data, directly from the community. “Especially for community games or game add-ons that don’t get a lot of coverage or reviews,” says Austin. “So we’re introducing user ratings.”
All content in the marketplace this summer will be able to be rated, with an easy-to-use five-star scheme. If you find a little-known game you love, rate it. If you think a piece of content sucks, give it a single star. You’ll also be able to organize data by these rankings, so you can look at Xbox Live Arcade games or game add-ons that are five-star rated, weeding out lower-quality releases. This should make browsing through content much easier.
We were also shown a new marketplace for avatar clothing, so if you’d like to buy a Halo- or Splinter Cell-themed shirt for your avatar, you will be able to do so. If you want to give your avatar an RC mini-Warthog, it will cost you 320 Microsoft points, or $4. Games will also soon have the ability to give you awards, so your avatar can gain items by playing games. That’s right: you’ll soon have awards to deal with on top of achievements. Microsoft has many ways of making you feel like you’re earning things while playing the games.
The Avatar Marketplace notwithstanding, these additions and updates will go a long way to strengthen Xbox Live as a digital distribution platform. The ability to buy full games without having to muck about with a point system simplifies things drastically. Being able to rate content and games will give the community feedback about what’s worth buying, as well as show publishers what works and what doesn’t. The ability to redownload purchased games or download them to a friend’s console is also user-friendly.
Microsoft wants your Xbox to be the best way of buying games, and these moves go a long way toward making that a reality.