There is nothing that has me more excited about the next hardware generation than the possibilities of downloading full, licensed games over the internet. Not only will digital distribution allow small-time publishers to circumvent the entire soul-crushing publishing system currently in place, it will one day ensure I’ll never have to listen to another Gamestop register biscuit beg me to trade in all my material wealth in exchange for a pre-order of Madden ’08. All three systems have a digital download service in place, and with PC services such as Steam and Gametap, soon we’ll never have any real need to waddle into the daylight again.
My current console of choice for next-gen content is the Xbox 360, and it’s online distribution system is the most cohesive and well-conceptualized of them all, Xbox Live Arcade. Live Arcade updates Wednesday, and we’re allowed exactly one (1) game per week to show itself.
Now, one (1) game per week doesn’t sound especially exciting, but there’s some quality stuff coming down the pipe, from freshly-minted indy developers proving themselves to the world to established big guns like EA to classic arcade and console games of yore. Just a sample of what we’ve been told to look forward to:
- Fatal Fury Special
- Alien Hominid
- Castle Crashers
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- Settlers of Catan
- Streets of Rage
- Metal Slug
- Space Giraffe
(Space Giraffe has me interested the most of these. It’s basically Jeff Minter’s return to Tempest 2000, only this time on Red Bull and crack, which was itself the original arcade Tempest on LSD and crystal meth. it’s the sort of game Tyler Durden would have played, if he weren’t too busy plotting the destruction of consumerism while making soap out of fat women.)
So with visions of Alucard Tepes swinging the Crissaegrim through Lord Dracula’s black, immortal heart, I booted my 360 Wednesday morning to discover…
… Well, nothing. I think there may have been updated content to already existing 360 games, and a demo that as a Silver subscriber I won’t have access to in a week, but as far as an actual game— Nada.
It’s frustrating on many different levels– as a consumer, I want to give Microsoft my money in exchange for goods and services, goods and services Microsoft seems disinterested in providing. The new stuff like Space Giraffe and Castle Crashers aside– Symphony of the Night has been finished for ten years. I know, I had the buy the damned thing twice for my original Playstation. It’s not like Konami is going to be able to add online deathmatch to a Castlevania, and any changes to the arts would be nothing less than an outright insult– So what’s the holdup? Why can’t I get this game? Metal Slug is the same way, as is Streets of Rage or Alien Hominid. These are all finished games. We’re only allowed one a week– why not push through something, especially if there’s no need for graphical gloss or online features?
A person might conclude that Microsoft is worried about the supply drying up, that they want to space out their titles so that there’s a constant flow of titles every week– but this Wednesday’s disappointment was no isolated occurrence. Here’s what we’ve had since Christmas:
*12-27: New Rally X. Yes Microsoft, that’s why I bought this $400 chunk of silicon and white plastic, so I could play the early 80’s Namco arcade titles that I always ignore whenever I buy the comp discs only to play Xevious instead. Fucking brilliant. By the way, where the hell is Xevious? I’d actually play Xevious.
*1-3: Zilch. I believe there were some map updates to Gears of War that week. Note that Gears of War is quite demonstrably not Symphony of the Night.
*1-10: Ms Pac-Man. Again with the moldy Namco arcade titles. What’s worse, Ms Pac-Man was the very first title ever released on the original Xbox Live Arcade service, back on the XB1. One might conclude that the purpose of XBLA is for Namco to sell their comp discs piecemeal, charging more money per game. One might also note that New Rally-X is essentially Ms Pac-Man, with cars. One might also note that neither Ms Pac-Man nor New Rally-X are Symphony of the Night.
*1-17: Heavy Weapon. Now this may appear interesting on the surface, a side-scrolling, top-down shooter in the style of Moon Patrol, you might be tricked into thinking this was a daring, indy-developed title put to Live by a group of garage developers intent on sticking it to The Man with thier in-your-face ideas and Mister Enfuego, their wacky mascot lemur. Nope, it’s a Pop-Cap title, released in 2005 and available for free for the past two years. Popcap. You know. The guys who made Alchemy. You know the only game of Popcap’s that I’ve ever wanted to play? Alchemy. You know the one Popcap game I can’t find on Live Arcade? Alchemy.
*1-24: New levels for Lumnies Live! Which, you know. No one ever bought because Lumnies (previously appearing on the PSP) was broken up and sold by piece by piece over Live Arcade instead of as one solid block. So I guess in a way what Microsoft was selling, in lieu of Symphony of the Night, was failure. Failure and broken promises. Like a firefighter who accidentally kills little Suzy’s kitten instead of saving her. Only the fireman is Microsoft. And the kitten is Symphony of the Night. And I am little Suzy.
So the problem here isn’t the fear of drying up the supply pipe– that pipe is as dry and sandy as Ann Coulter’s reproductive organs. Save for compatibility testing over new hardware, many of these games are already finished, and if they were made available, they could sell systems. It costs practically nothing to put data on a hard disc drive, and will cost no more to keep it on the severs five years than it will four an a half years. Right now though, that data isn’t making Microsoft any money or selling any systems– the Long Tail only works if the data is available.
Contrast this with what Nintendo is serving up on their own distribution service, the Virtual Console. When we get New Rally-X they get ToeJam & Earl. We get Ms Pac-Man, they get R-Type 3, for chrissake. We get Lumnies levels, they get Zelda: Link to the Past! We get levels for Gears of War, they get… well, they get Urban Champion. Guess they can’t all be winners. But the point is, Nintendo is leveraging what they have rights to to sell systems. Next week they’re probably going to get Super Mario Brothers 3– while we Live users will be lucky if we receive a Kameo deck for online Uno.