Saturday, October 30, 2010

Controlling the Market

The Xbox Live Marketplace is anything but a free market. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. It's also extremely unfortunate. Microsoft is generally a developer-friendly company. They have released tools for developing on Microsoft platforms and systems for free, including providing a channel for independent developers to distribute and sell their content on the Xbox 360 itself. But when it comes to running the business side of things, they can be ruthless, inflexible, and anything but accommodating.

Witness a recent release of content for Left 4 Dead 1 & 2. Once again, a developer who seeks to give away its content is refused the privilege. To prove the point and drive attention to the unfairness of the whole issue, Valve announced not only the release of the DLC for free on the PC, but they put the full games up for sale on their own store for under $7 apiece. Coincidentally, $7 is the equivalent for the price that the DLC was selling on the Xbox Marketplace. Although I don't play on the PC often and even have doubts that my machine will even run the games, I decided to buy both games on Steam — voting with my wallet, as it were — and save a couple bucks in the process.

Is it any surprise that Valve negotiated to get Steam on the PS3, so they can control their own distribution?

Not only are DLC prices an issue, but the ability to distribute updates is, as well. While Microsoft cites a desire to ensure the integrity of the Xbox system as a whole (Xbox Live included), the lengthy certification process has proven a barrier to deliver even free updates. Not only has Valve commented on this, calling the system a "train wreck" that's often considered the reason Team Fortress 2 updates have been few and far between (bordering on non-existent), but other developers are suffering.

Developer Uber Entertainment released a game for the Xbox Live Arcade this summer, Monday Night Combat. This game that is one part tower defense and one part class-based third-person shooter is what Uber considers a "service based model of a game", meaning they intend to continuously update the game to balance classes and fix exploits, and do so quickly. However, their most recent title update was submitted to Microsoft, where it languished in certification and the deployment queue for over a month, before Microsoft decided it was fit to release.

In news that should surprise no one, the game Samurai Warriors 2 — which I picked up for myself $6 over a year ago — still has the extra character pack available on the Xbox Marketplace at its original price of $30 worth of Microsoft Points. I only bring it up now, though, because I can finally say that the copy I borrowed from FireMedic41 over two years ago, I finally returned this fall.

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