20 June 2010
Make Online Game Storefronts Suck Less, Please
The three big hardware manufacturers all have relatively robust online software distribution systems now. I'm just about to the point that I could live without retail games at all. However, it is clear that this space is still not taken seriously enough by the platform stakeholders or the third-party publishers.
Sony was able to give a complete line-up of Move games but we still have practically no idea what PSN games we can expect in the next 12 months. Heck, even the next six months. The PSN+ plan is an incremental step, and should help lay the foundation for a robust, long-term service offering, but Sony is not setting out a clear vision for consumers. Sure, subscribers can expect free access to games but which games will be available and when? If Sony doesn't make it clear that some truly ace games are going to be on the PSN+ list, the plan will likely languish and only attract the truly hardcore PSN junkies.
Sony (and Microsoft and Nintendo) need long-term lists of software release dates for their services. If we can get release dates for titles coming to retail stores, we should be able to get the same for online services. Here's a sample of just how FUBAR Sony's system is: on 27 May they announced the 1 June release of a game, then on 1 June had to apologize that someone screwed up and it didn't get released. This is not an isolated incident, and isn't just a scheduling problem. Sony also releases broken software and then has to pull the releases. Just in the past few months, Sony also uploaded a broken version of After Burner for the PSP and a version of Dark Forces (PS1) that works on the PSP but hangs on the PS3. The bugs are obvious to anyone who downloads and uses these files for just five minutes -- yet Sony can't even be bothered to do even this much for its users.
For this, and many other reasons, I expect PSN+ to be a debacle at launch.
At E3 2010 Microsoft seemed so distracted by Kinect that it did little to promote what I consider its crown jewel, the Xbox Live Service. Yes, its Netflix client may be getting a search function (the PS3 and Wii versions need this too, please) and the new 2D Castlevania game is a coup, but I haven't heard much beyond those tidbits that seemed significant. Maybe I just missed it, so feel free to me. From what I can tell, Microsoft at least has its software quality and scheduling pretty well done, even if a long-term release schedule is still unavailable. (I don't own an Xbox 360. So I'm not as fully-informed in this area.)
I believe Nintendo has a similar problem providing information on its online software releases, but it also lacks the facility to tie purchased games to an account for portability. When my PS3 died (I have a Slim now) it was a matter of setting up an overnight download/install process to install all of my favorite PSN purchases. In the morning the system had cut itself off and my games were ready to play. Similarly, I can put the same games on my two PSP systems without any trouble. Purchases from Xbox Live are tied to an account as well, and are portable in a similar way (although there are slightly different rules).
That copy of Kirby (NES) that I bought for my son on the Wii store? If our Wii dies, I'll have to buy it all over again or hassle customer support to move our games over in some way. Same for Super Mario Bros. (NES) that Collin wanted. But that's as far as we go. Until there is some sort of portability for these purchases -- at least to the same hardware or new Nintendo systems -- we're not buying anything else in Nintendo's virtual storefront. The launch of WiiWare and DSiWare and (presumably) 3DSWare makes the problem all the more acute.
I had hoped Nintendo would use E3 2010 and the showcase of its new handheld to announce that it will finally deal with this problem, but that hasn't happened. While I think the 3DS looks like a nice piece of hardware, my appetite for it is diminished by the lack of parity with the features that Sony -- of all companies! -- has offered for the past four years.
Microsoft, by far, is doing the best work and I hope the other companies will work to surpass that standard. Still, each company can do better. For example, which company will be the first to offer me a storefront that is as useful as the one Amazon has?
--Matt Matthews at 23:36
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