Tag Archives: xbox live

Selective Game Installs Coming To Consoles. Finally.

DJozG7BXgAAZ85sIt looks like console gaming is finally starting to utilize compartmentalized game installations upon figuring out everybody can’t install or download 80-plus gigabyte games. Bethesda confirmed the newly-announced Nintendo Switch version of DOOM will come on a physical game card that will only contain the main campaign, with the multiplayer being an optional download that can’t fit on the card. Microsoft also just started talking about how future game installs on Xbox will let players be selective about what parts of a game they want to install — choosing between textures, game modes, and audio languages, in order to save hard drive space and internet data.

Frankly Microsoft should have been doing this long ago, and Bethesda should allow this for every version of DOOM. Some PC games have been doing something like this for a while (for decades actually if you wanna get really technical). For the most part though until now console games that install to the hard drive have just been installing everything. Continue reading

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Is The Xbox App More Of What Microsoft Should Be Doing?

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Maybe I’m really late on this one, but I haven’t really seen anybody talk much about the Xbox app in Windows 10. I only recently started using it a lot, and to be honest I’ve started booting up all my games through it more often than through the Steam client. Continue reading

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Game Patches Should Be Available As Separate Downloads Again

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CDProjekt RED is doing something pretty interesting for the release of The Witcher 3. Like most high-profile releases today it’ll have a day-one patch, but on PC that day one patch will be available as a separate download for everyone regardless of whether they have the game yet (just like The Witcher 2)*. Everyone should start doing this, on both PC and console in fact. It’s basically a regression to how patches used to be distributed, but why not do both the new and old ways? Continue reading

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Further Observations on AAA Game Download Sizes

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If you haven’t seen it, my new feature article finally went up on PC Gamer. I’ve talked about rising file sizes once here before, but this article seems to have gone up at a good time with some new games coming out to raise the issue again. Continue reading

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Do People Really Want To Talk With A Bunch Of Strangers In Splatoon?

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A lot of new details recently came out on Splatoon, but being a multiplayer shooter from Nintendo, what’s getting the most attention is its announced lack of voice chat when playing with random people. This is classic Nintendo going against what most people expect of a genre in which it has basically no experience.

This is far from the first time I’ve talked about Nintendo and online infrastructure, but I think this particular area is worth examining again in the midst of recent conversations about online harassment. It plays into what I think is Nintendo’s reasoning behind everything they’ve done in regards to online multiplayer. Continue reading

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Is Retail Holding Back Modern Game Development?

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If you look around gaming websites right about now, a hot topic is the prevalence of big AAA games launching with significant problems. One of the more underlooked websites — Gamesindustry.biz, seems to pin the problem almost entirely on retail. I think at the very least we might be headed for a major conflict between the retail model and how video games are made these days, if we aren’t already in one.

PC games have more or less always been like this, but console games have gone through a transition in terms of how they develop and evolve. Before, most console gamers probably thought of each game as sort of like a movie or a book — it has a release date, comes out, and that’s it. That’s thinking of games as essentially pieces of media. Video games today with launch issues, patches, and long-tail communities, are revealing what they really always were — software. And modern software doesn’t neatly fit into a retail-focused model. Continue reading

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How Can Console Digital Distribution Do Better?

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Despite Microsoft backpedaling on policies that would’ve essentially emphasized the Xbox One’s digital market over the retail one, all of the next-gen consoles will focus on digital distribution more than ever before. I don’t think they’re going to do a very good job of it if console manufacturers keep their online stores the way they currently are.

I think Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will try to push digital more and more if they’re smart and want to keep a greater share of profits from their games. Former Ubisoft designer Patrice Desilets (Assassin’s Creed) has even suggested that digital could save blockbuster AAA games.

“But I don’t believe the AAA blockbuster will die. Maybe the way it is distributed will change, but it won’t die,” he said at a Gamelab conference in Barcelona. “But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Even if he’s right, I don’t think the preservation of discs was the only reason people rebelled against Microsoft’s Xbox One DRM. The other reason is because right now, people don’t trust Microsoft’s handling of digital distribution. Some suggested that Xbox One would end up being like Steam, but what proof have we seen of that? Right now, console digital distribution sucks, at least compared to how its’ done on PC.

I feel no incentive at all to buy Xbox 360 games on Games on Demand instead of at retail. The games don’t show up on the digital service until weeks after launch, they always seem to stay at prices above retail (even excluding used prices), rarely go on sale, and have no extra incentives. It’s like Microsoft just throws the games up there but doesn’t actually care about convincing people to buy them. As of this writing, Spec Ops: The Line costs $30 on Games on Demand and at retail. I bought a Steam CD key for the game on Amazon for $2.50.

Sony at least started releasing games digitally alongside retail on current generation hardware, and it aggressively encourages pre-orders on PSN with small bonuses. Nintendo also does a lot to promote full new releases as soon as you log into eShop.

They still have a ways to go if they want to catch up with Steam and other PC services though. As soon as you log into Steam you see several rows and categories of games: a hot new release, featured games, release lists, what your friends are playing, current sales, and demos, all on one screen. If you activate Big Picture mode you can reach the store with a single button press. Another digital distribution platform — iOS, let’s you access the store with one tap, and right there you already have several categories of software to look at, even on a tiny smartphone screen.

On Xbox 360 by comparison, you gotta flip past pages full of ads, music, and social stuff to get to the games, then enter “Browse Games,” then enter each section individually. From what I’ve seen of the Wii U eShop (I haven’t used it myself), Nintendo seems to be learning these lessons a bit, though on the 3DS it takes way too much scrolling just to see what the latest releases are. It’s bad enough I have to use 3rd party websites to get consistent notification of what Nintendo’s latest digital releases even are. On PS3, once you actually get into the PlayStation store it tries hard to promote featured content, but it’s all a bit disorganized.

Once again though, the biggest and hardest thing for digital consumers to swallow right now is price, and that’s also the area where manufacturers are probably most hamstrung by retailers. People put up with Steam’s DRM because of its sales (I’ve bought probably less than 10 percent of my Steam games at the full $50 or $60), and one reason Valve can do that is because retailers in the US have largely given up on PC gaming. iOS is all-digital and its prices are extremely low. Console manufacturers are probably afraid that offering such sales or chopping $20 off the digital versions of games will piss off the likes of GameStop and Wal-Mart.

That doesn’t mean though that those guys can’t make their digital stores more inviting, or find other ways to increase the value proposition of buying digitally.

PlayStation Plus and now Microsoft’s Games With Gold are very good, unique ways to keep people engaged with PlayStation Network and Xbox Live respectively. Nintendo has a pretty good loyalty program with Club Nintendo, which I’ve already used to acquire several excellent games. All three companies need to go further though.

Steam’s sales aren’t even the only reason so many PC gamers prefer it to other storefronts. Whenever another store has a better deal than Steam, many customers will still request the sale include a Steam key. They want their games on Steam because of the easy installation, automatic patching, and other features that make the service feel more valuable. Many customers also prefer to pre-order their games on Steam even though the prices are the same as retailers. Why?

One reason that console digital distribution can definitely follow is pre-order deals. Like I noted before, Sony already offers some pre-order deals like 10 percent off the price (like Steam does). Why not digital-only pre-order DLC? Usually Steam will have the same pre-order DLC as Wal-Mart. I don’t see why the consoles can’t do the same thing.

Sometimes Steam will bundle a pre-order with a free copy of an older game: A Red-Faction Guerrilla pre-order guaranteed an immediate free copy of the original Red Faction, Modern Warfare 3 pre-orders guaranteed immediate free copies of Call of Duty 4, and so-on. Of course this heavily relies on how much classic content is available on these stores, and the PS4 and especially Xbox One are starting from zero with their software libraries.

Microsoft could’ve done this had they allowed digital pre-orders of Games on Demand games — perhaps bundled older 360 games or original Xbox games with pre-orders. Why not bundle a digital pre-order of Max Payne 3 with a copy of the original Max Payne (which is on Xbox Live)? If retailers were smart they’d be doing this with download codes or used copies of the older games.

Sony might have a bit more leeway with this kind of strategy since they’ll probably be able to get PS1 and PS2 Classics working on the PS4 through software emulation. They could give you a free copy of an older PS1 Final Fantasy when you pre-order Final Fantasy XV on PSN, or a copy of the original Metal Gear Solid when you pre-order Metal Gear Solid V. Nintendo has at least as much ability to do this with their Virtual Console library — give anyone who digitally pre-orders Super Mario 3D World a copy of Super Mario World.

An obvious digital pre-order bonus is pre-loading — allowing customers to start downloading the game a week before the actual street date so the game is ready to play immediately upon that date. It also reduces stress on the store’s own servers by spreading out pre-order downloads over the course of a week instead of forcing everyone who pre-ordered to download on the same day. European PSN already does this but I don’t know why Sony doesn’t do it in any other region. I would be shocked if Sony and Microsoft didn’t do this on PS4 and Xbox One. Games are already requiring downloads in the dozens of gigabytes, which takes days on some internet connections. Since the initial PS4 unveiling Sony’s been all about reducing download times as much as possible, and pre-loading would be an ideal method.

Why not start doing digital special editions? Steam offers many special editions with soundtracks, special feature videos, and even digital art books. Every game you buy on Good Old Games comes with similar content along with things like guide eBooks and wallpapers. That kind of content could be made available and viewable on a console. When Sony started releasing all PSP games digitally, people quickly called out games like the original Persona that were the same price at retail and on PSN, but came with extras at retail. That kind of lopsided value proposition needs to stop.

Another cool thing Steam does is four-packs — buying a bundle of four digital copies of a game for the price of three, then gifting them to three of your friends so you can play co-op together. This is of course ideal for games with four-player co-op. Dungeons & Dragons Chronicles of Mystara has this on Steam, why not PSN, XBL, and eShop too? Dragon’s Crown should have a four-pack on PSN. Super Smash Bros. should definitely have a four-pack when it comes out on Wii U and 3DS eShop.

Something I’m kind of frustrated I don’t see on console is unique digital bundles. If I look up “Total War” on Steam I can get a bundle of every Total War game available on the store at a moderate discount. There are entire series of games available on XBL, PSN, and Virtual Console that should be bundled similarly.

What I don’t like about the old Mega Man games being re-released on Virtual Console is that I already own a collection of the original eight games on PS2 which is more valuable. There should be a VC bundle for those games. There should be PSN and XBL bundles for all three BioShock games for instance. There should be a $60 Gears of War trilogy pack on Games on Demand. Why isn’t there a digital Resident Evil anthology on PSN? This wouldn’t require the expenses of setting up a similar collection for retail. The only bundles I see on PSN are exact copies of the ones available at retail, showing just how much the manufacturers are still under retail control.

Every digital console storefront needs to let retailers sell codes for digital versions of games, and let those retailers sell their own prices. Sure retail still get’s a cut, but it cut’s out used sales and it exposes customers to the digital stores. When Amazon has one of its digital PC game sales, why can’t they also sell digital copies of PlayStation, Xbox, 3DS, and Wii U games?

One last, general thing that needs to be done is for manufacturers to give third party publishers more power in terms of how they sell their digital games. Nintendo is already letting indies set their own prices and sales, and Sony is planning to follow suit. They need to do the same with big third parties so they can do digital sales and promotions whenever they want.

Whatever manufacturers and publishers do, they’re probably still going to be under the thumb of retail for a while. The standoff will probably last at least until digital console game sales start to catch up with retail. I think when one of the manufacturers finally decides to release a machine without a disc drive, you’ll really see things start to change. At that point, the manufacturer will be under the upmost pressure to drive digital sales.

BULLETS:

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The Xbox Reveal: A Reveal of Services

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Art by NeoGAF User “Family Fry”

I guess this is my last chance to lay down any “predictions” for what Microsoft will show us on May 21st when they unveil the next Xbox. The thing is, I haven’t really had any specific “predictions.”

I haven’t tried to think about what games they might show because I actually don’t think individual games themselves are the focal point for Microsoft anymore. I’ve thought about (and even previously laid out here) some general things that I think will be important for the next Xbox, but not actual pieces of content. Like I’ve said before, I think it’s gonna be more about the services.

The Service of the Games

I know Microsoft (or someone else) has said that the conference is gonna be about the games, and that’s true in a collective sense, but in my opinion they are no longer in the state of hyping individual big-hitter games. Even now the Xbox 360 business is no longer that kind of environment. The 360’s main killer app has been Xbox Live. Even after the PS3 has collected more exclusive games as well as parity in multiplatform games (especially this year), people still mostly buy their games on Xbox 360 because they want to stay plugged into Xbox Live.

Exclusive content and software is how you ensnare people onto your platform, but Microsoft already did that over 10 years ago with Halo and many other games. They may try to bring out more exciting exclusives on Tuesday, but that’ll really just be icing. The most important game there is probably going to be Call of Duty: Ghosts, and it’s multiplatform. The only really critical thing Microsoft has to do is keep those Xbox Live customers. The more difficult task is for Sony and Nintendo to convince people that their services are better.

This is why I think the crux of the reveal is actually going to be a massive upgrade to Xbox Live. In March 2005 the crux of the Xbox 360 reveal was the introduction of the Gamertag and Gamerscore system, as well as many other advancements like party chat, custom soundtracks, and so-on. Microsoft will likely try to introduce similarly groundbreaking features. What those might be I have no idea — perhaps a massive upgrade to the Achievement system. Valve is already trying this on Steam with digital trading cards.

I think we can make some assumptions however based on what other services are already doing or talking about doing. I’ve said multiple times that they should just rip off Steam. I think it’s a given that next gen, all retail games will also have physical versions come out at the same time. Sony and Valve already let you pre-order those digital editions. I should be able to pre-load them before the actual release date. Sony’s boast of letting you start playing before the download is even finished sounds like an excellent feature on paper.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft tried to turn XBL into a full-blown social network, or at least a part of a greater Windows 8 social network. Sony, Nintendo, and Valve are already trying to do this. Sony and Nintendo are letting you follow players and share what’s happening in your game similar to Twitter. Nintendo and Valve are letting you discuss games in forums native to the central interface.

I’m also still intrigued at what Microsoft plans to do with Xbox services in general outside of games. I know people have said the conference is gonna be all about the games, but just look at where Microsoft has taken the Xbox 360 interface in recent months. They want this thing to be a living room box for all your entertainment software, not just games.

The Service of the General Entertainment

In at least one previous post I’ve already gone over how console manufacturers are preparing to basically sell general-purpose living room computers, and how I even think the Xbox is basically going to become the living room extension of Windows 8, running Windows 8 apps. There’s a very good reason a lot of people don’t think console manufacturers can succeed with this route though: price.

This strategy would put $300-$500 consoles up against $100 set top boxes like the Apple TV and Roku box as well as $100 smart Blu-Ray players, not to mention Smart TVs. The only advantage a game console has over those machines is additional horsepower and the fact that they run the games hardcore gamers want. The weaker boxes are already powerful enough for the software that 90 percent of consumers care about. You don’t need a $400 console to run Netflix.

What if however, console manufacturers leveraged that extra horsepower for special operating system features that set top boxes and Smart TVs can’t match yet? That’s basically what Apple’s been doing.

Think about it: Why do you keep buying more powerful iPhones and iPads? Certainly not to keep running the same apps — that facebook or twitter or Netflix app runs just fine on the older models. The main selling points of the newer models end up being sophisticated OS features like Siri, the iSight camera, FaceTime, turn-by-turn GPS navigation, app multitasking, and so-on. This is also partly why people keep buying $600 iPads when they can get most of the same software on other tablets that cost much less. Microsoft already outmaneuvered Sony with this song and dance last time around.

One of the most commonly lauded features unique to the Xbox 360 is party chat. The PS3 doesn’t have it because Sony neglected to set aside the proper amount of memory to allow for it at an OS-level. Sony’s sharing and streaming functionality is an OS feature but is probably only possible due to its extra horsepower. I think it’s even likely that Microsoft is planning to leverage the horsepower in a similar OS-level way not only for games, but general purpose apps too.

One of the rumors talked about “fast app switching.” Basically, the Xbox allowing you to multitask apps in order to instantaneously switch between them as well as the games. It would be an interesting feature that Smart TVs and set top boxes can’t do. Another rumor suggested Kinect’s voice recognition could become the Xbox’s version of Siri.

Oh man I almost forgot about Kinect 2.0. Rumors abound that it will be required for the next Xbox to function. I absolutely believe that’s the case. If there’s one “prediction” I think I’ll make it’s that Kinect 2.0 will come packaged with every single unit of the next-gen Xbox and will be an integral part of controlling the OS.

Generally speaking though, the closest thing to a “prediction” that I’m willing to make is that Tuesday’s reveal is gonna be more about the service of the games than the games themselves.

BULLETS:

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Next Xbox Speculation: Why Shouldn’t it Be a Windows App Machine?

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I’ve mentioned Microsoft here and there in various posts about next gen gaming, but I don’t think I’ve actually gone over much of the speculation on them specifically. Despite Xbox being the main platform for traditional console games right now, its successor is the next gen system we know the least about.

What’s even stranger in my opinion is that all the rumors have been mostly talking about hardware, when I think that’s probably gonna be the least interesting part about the platform.

The most recent “Durango” rumors talk about how it’s gonna have Kinect as a mandatory pack-in. I’ve seen a lot of people practically pull their hair out over this, but I’ve seen it as inevitable ever since Microsoft first unveiled Kinect. It’ll probably be integral to interfacing with the system like the Wii U GamePad is for that system. I think if they can get the thing to play nice with a standard controller, you could see some interesting gameplay come out of it. I doubt however whether you’ll see multiplatform games utilize it much at all.

The other half of that rumor states that the next Xbox will require an internet connection. I still think this is unlikely because we still haven’t reached a point where close to 100 percent of console gamers connect their machines to the internet. It would definitely look bad if Microsoft had the only console that did this. Even iOS devices, which Microsoft probably sees itself as competing with, don’t absolutely require an internet connection at all times. The Apple TV does but that’s because it has no drives of its own.

The next Xbox not being able to run games off of a disc at all is, essentially, another form of blocking used games (as well as probably saving wattage), which I think is slightly less unlikely. It would basically make Xbox games operate like PC games — you install off of the disc and that’s it. While functionally that would be cool, it brings back all obvious problems with locking a game down to one console. That brings me to the point however that software is still the key thing here when speculating on a new piece of hardware.

Just as Xbox Live was probably the most important thing about the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s big reveal for the next Xbox will probably be its OS and software environment. Sony went through a whole conference revealing the PS4 without showing the actual box and still got people hyped. I could see Microsoft doing basically the same thing.

Over the last couple years there have been rumors about the next Xbox’s relationship with the Windows 8 ecosystem Microsoft is trying to build which currently includes computers, the Surface, and the Windows 8 phone. I think it’s pretty easy to draw the lines here.

I could definitely see the next Xbox running a derivative of Windows 8, or at least being compatible with a significant chunk of the software on the Windows 8 marketplace, almost turning it into a Windows 8 set-top box. It would be the last piece to their puzzle, and a piece that one of their main competitors in that space — Apple, hasn’t dominated yet.

In a previous post I think I talked about how easily Apple could have a big impact on consoles games if they were to simply offer an iOS device for the living room. It would be natural for Microsoft to not only compete, but beat them to the punch with a Windows 8/RT machine for the living room, and what better than a beefy Xbox? Just look at how much they focus on apps for the Xbox 360 right now.

Possibly most importantly for gamers, I don’t think this will really interfere with “core gaming” on the system at all. It simply means more software. It’s not like the hardware will instantly become non-gaming hardware, or lesser gaming hardware.

The presence of Netflix and music apps on the Xbox 360 doesn’t make it a less viable platform for Halo and Gears of War. The existence of a wide-ranging non-gaming app store on the next Xbox won’t kill those games or make game publishers stop releasing games on the platform. There will simply be a wider variety of software.

I could maybe see Kinect advertised as the main way for non-gamers to interface with the next Xbox when they’re using all those apps and whatnot, but once again, what’s to stop Microsoft from letting you use a standard controller in tandem? It’s not like they’ll just stop using it.

Look at it like this: Every game console, even going all the way back to the NES, is basically a living room computer (the NES was even called the “Family Computer” in Japan). It’s just a computer that up until now has only had entertainment software developed for it. Now we’re approaching a stage where there’s more and more software that people want to run in their living rooms. In light of that why should consoles be restricted to running software for only one purpose? The way I see it, more software adds more value to the hardware, period.

BULLETS:

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The Online Networks of Next Gen Consoles: Part Two

After trying out the new Steam community for a bit, I’m starting to understand why so many people spend all their time on Facebook. This is honestly a future I could see occurring for console games.

If you go into Steam now and op-in to the new community beta, the community home page becomes a social feed of your friends’ status updates, screenshots, videos, and discussions. Each game also now has a hub with basically the same thing pertaining to that game. Steam is trying to become Facebook for PC gamers.

I don’t know how much people actually want this, but along with the upcoming Greenlight I think it could fundamentally change the way Steam’s customer base interacts with the service and each other this year. Game consoles have already made the jump from just playing games to becoming media ecosystems in themselves, but they aren’t quite complete social ecosystems yet. I think that’s one thing they could end up becoming next generation.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 were probably locking down their specs too late to truly accommodate social networking infrastructure . The PS3 itself doesn’t have many of Xbox Live’s features because Sony didn’t plan ahead enough to allot enough of the PS3’s memory to it. Neither console fully takes advantage of Facebook or Twitter either. There’s no way to know what Sony and Microsoft are planning for what their online services are going to be like on their next consoles, but they’re probably taking social networking into account.

What Steam is doing now is providing a lot of useful advancements that I think could be great for consoles. On the game hub for Dark Souls there is already at least one guy starting a thread offering to share his expertise from having played the PS3 version to anyone willing to ask questions. While the community page isn’t part of Steam’s in-game overlay yet, it’s not hard to access it from there. Commenting on screenshots and status updates tagged for specific games is just another part of all this.

It seems like Nintendo’s MiiVerse is driving towards something similar to Steam’s new game hub discussions. It’ll be amazing if I can pause any Wii U game I’m playing and instantly boot up a thread on MiiVerse about that game.

For Sony and Microsoft, it would be like incorporating the official PlayStation and Xbox forums into each respective console’s interface. Sure Steam has the advantage of keyboards and even the Wii U GamePad will have a keyboard interface, so I guess Sony and Microsoft would have to figure that out for normal controllers. If they got it all right though, I think it could be the next step for how gamers experience a console.

People already value the Xbox 360 primarily for how it allows them to connect with friends on Live. Turning Live into a full-blown social network of its own could very well be the next part of the process. Add to that Microsoft’s new media-hub focus and connection with Windows 8, and they could have a massive ecosystem on their hands for the next generation of gaming.

BULLETS:

  • Looks like the first three Ace Attorney games are coming out on iOS. This is the format I was waiting for.
  • Oh, and Bastion should be out for the iPad today.
  • I might actually need this app… for all my video games: http://t.co/6udjlUKo
  • Anybody seen this movie Gunhead? http://t.co/05Upqlpa Any good?
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