nice job, jerks

Microsoft has done a surprisingly good job with the Xbox 360 (except with its marketing in Japan). A couple years ago, I thought I would only be interested in the PS3, but now I have an Xbox 360, and the reasons I have to even want to buy a PS3 when its price drops are dwindling (the remaining ones being Final Fantasy XIII, LittleBigPlanet, free online play, Blu-ray, and maybe Home… we’ll see on that one). Then I didn’t think I’d pay the extra for Xbox LIVE Gold, but when my friend and I wanted to be able to play Marvel: Ultimate Alliance together and I found myself shelling out fifty bucks for a year of it.

As an aspiring game developer I appreciate the lengths to which Microsoft has gone to make the Xbox 360 easier to develop for than any other console (though I don’t doubt that much more could be done in this area). And as a player I appreciate the lengths to which they’ve gone to get so many cool games lined up for the system. But despite all the good things they’ve done with the system, when it comes down to the online business, they’re still jerks. Microsoft is halting the release of free additional game content until the developers agree to charge money for it: link.

Jerks.

It’s like the guy says at Penny-Arcade:

This kind of thing doesn’t seem prudent to a person starving for new content to extend their experience, someone who is already paying a monthly fee for the privilege of paying more fees.

These are multiplayer maps. That means the odds are very good that the buyer is already playing Gears online. Which means that he or she has already paid for the Gold subscription. So what exactly does that subscription pay for, anyway? It doesn’t cost Microsoft any extra to grant early access to a commercial. The servers that host the online games have upkeep costs… but so do the download servers from which you can get free (or not free) stuff with a Silver membership.

Also, why does it cost money for a skin for the Xbox 360 interface? $2 to put a Fable 2 wallpaper in the background. Then there’s no return policy, either, and you can’t see a preview before you purchase it. The movie studios have it right on this one; movie themes are free, because they recognize them as what they are: almost free advertising. For the cost of maybe a megabyte of bandwidth, they get a billboard on people’s TV screens whenever the people want to show off their $400 console to their friends. And people notice; whenever I have friends over they ask if I’m getting Fable 2 and I have to tell them the release date hasn’t actually been announced yet. Yes, I have the Fable 2 theme… I had extra M$ points on my account and I was tired of the Lost Planet one I downloaded accidentally. Which brings me to the point that there is no contingency if you accidentally push through the download confirmation and already have points on your account to pay with (when this happened to me, it was because the network was slowed down, the words telling me what there was to download weren’t loading and I was pushing A to try to get something to happen). Even if you cancel the download before it completes (I tried this), you already paid for it, so you might as well restart the download and see what you got. It’s a crappy system. At the very least, it needs a way for people to see what they’re getting before they buy it. Much better would be just making all themes and gamer pictures free.

But that’s just my $400 + tax, and $50 + tax, and $2 + tax, and $2 + tax, and…

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