January 25, 2010

Microsoft is bringing the arcade back with game room

Jason Trent says Microsoft recently announced their plans to launch the Xbox Game Room in an attempt to bring a classic arcade coin-op arcade experience to the masses of gamers using Xbox Live and Games for Windows live services. For those not in the know, the Xbox Game Room is a new application for use on both the Xbox 360 and Windows-based PCs where you and friends will have the ability to take your avatars through your custom created arcades. Here, you can challenge friends for an all-out battle to prove once and for all who the best gamer is. The idea is interesting, but I feel some of the particulars are flawed. What is it going to take for this to succeed as a new way to deliver retro titles to the end user?

The first thing people want to know is how much it will cost to enjoy their old favorites in the comfort of their new virtual play room. The game room itself is free, but the virtual arcade cabinets are not, so unless you want to be lounging in an empty room, you'll need to invest a little bit. The most appealing option is to purchase a title for use on one platform. For a mere 240 Microsoft Points (3 real people dollars), gamers will have unlimited play on an arcade title on either Xbox 360 or a Windows-based PC. If you want the freedom to experience your game on both platforms, you'll need to pony up 400 points (5 real people dollars). Finally, if you just want to try a game, you get one play free with additional plays costing 40 points a pop (2 real life quarters).

I can understand the 240 point price for unlimited plays of an arcade title, but 400 points to play on both my Xbox 360 and PC? That's crazy. Microsoft should be convincing me that I want to give them my money. Letting one Gamertag access the same game at two places shouldn't cost me almost double the price of a title. Further, who is going to spend 50 cents for one play on a game that is designed to eat quarters? We live in an age of nickle arcades. With 1000's of titles planned for release, you need to give me a much better price on a single play. Something more in the neighborhood of 10 cents (8 points) per play would get my attention.

Most of these games are already available for free play on the Internet, so their success is really going to be made or broken in the additional features offered. Things like leader boards and achievements are definitely a step in the right direction, but if they really want to capture the feeling of an arcade and give people a real reason to keep coming back, they'd implement machine specific leader boards. Imagine being invited to your friend's arcade to have a friendly game of Centipede and having a way to view high scores of only those who had played on that cabinet. I think that could make things much more personal for something that is supposed to recreate the social environment of the classic arcade. This, of course, would be supplemental to global leader boards; not a replacement, but it's a little thing that could go a long way.

To me, the most interesting idea of the Game Room is the chance to design my very own man cave to enjoy with friends. According to the Game Room fact sheet released by Microsoft, we can arrange cabinets how we want, as well as decorate the room with themes and animated icons from our favorite games. Unfortunately, we don't have many more details than that, but, depending on the level of customization and ease of use, this could be the bang for our buck that pushes some users over the edge and into consumer bliss.

Game Room is set to release this Spring, so we don’t have to wait long to see the master plan at work. Hopefully, this will be a positive experience for gamers and Microsoft alike.