XBLA: The Digital Future Of Gaming
Will triple-A XBLA games discourage gamers from the high street, or can the two coexist?
The Xbox 360 has gone through more drastic changes than any games console in history. Evolving almost every facet of its design, from its outer casing all the way to its online service, each alteration has brought it a step closer to the all-in-one entertainment hub Microsoft envisioned, back when it announced it was entering the console race.
The 360 has changed the way we think about and interact with our games, and as the Live service continues to change (with the latest dashboard refocusing on TV content) XBLA is finally moving towards offering triple-A games.
This being an often promised ambition for Live, XBLA has had the occasional larger experience hit the headlines, but with Alan Wake’s American Nightmare and I Am Alive proving the service as a viable platform, things do actually seem to be changing.
“I think it’s really cool that the industry is now putting a lot of faith into digital distribution and XBLA in particular,” explains Remedy’s vice president, Aki “AJ” Järvilehto. “Being able to create triple-A quality experiences that are really built for digital is pretty awesome and for us as developers it opens up a new world of possibilities.
And if you look at this from industry perspective, the digital channels in general are still relatively new. So it is quite natural that it’s taken a while for developers and publishers to get serious.”
Not everyone agrees, and there are still many that view digital distribution as a way of bypassing the high street entirely. Even if some shops sell codes for download-only titles, the effect Live is having is obvious and only set to get worse with high profile, big budget games like Alan Wake.
It’s an inevitable shift that’s occurred already in music, but is finally having drastic effects on film, books and gaming. Could new triple-A experiences on XBLA spell the beginning of the end for traditional retail?
“Surely there will be a balance,” continues Järvilehto. “People want different things and they can, and should co-exist, so that gamers have a lot of alternatives to choose from. Just look at cinemas and DVD. While there’s been a major transition, they co-exist and people can choose what they prefer.”
It’s a different way of thinking about games and, ultimately, a new way of consuming them. We’ve been weaned on Live and Microsoft’s vision over the years and we’ve watched our tastes evolve alongside them. Alan Wake’s first game may have been designed as an episodic serial, but only now is it possible for audiences to understand and consume it in that way.
We’ve seen some dramatic changes over the years, too, with early Live games like Geometry Wars clearly being the inspiration for indie hits like Braid and Limbo, and now for traditional experiences like Alan Wake. Live has become an incredibly varied place. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.