Microsoft: XBLA game prices are going up, but sos quality

In 2009, only about a quarter of the full games on Xbox Live Arcade cost the premium 1200 Microsoft Points. That number climbed to almost a third in 2010 – and is set to rise further this year, with almost half the titles released so far hitting the 1200 MSP mark. Microsoft’s Chris Charla, portfolio director for XBLA, acknowledges that prices have gone up – but argues that the inflation should be seen as a sign of increasing quality and developers pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on the service.

“On some app markets there’s been a race to zero. We’ve seen a little bit of the opposite happening,” Charla says, cagily inviting comparison with these unnamed app stores (which may or may not be commanding an increasingly huge portion of the games market via platforms which – hypothetically, you understand – might not even have been built for gaming). “It has been really gratifying to see that people are willing to pay a premium price for digital content.”

How can that be good for consumers? Charla points out that while median prices have risen, so has the quality of titles, at least insofar as Metacritic scores go. The average Metascore for XBLA titles, says Charla, has risen by 12 points since 2008. The number of XBLA titles priced at 1200 MSP has climbed by 41% in that time – though the higher price-point was only introduced halfway through 2008, and a fairer comparison might be the 21% by which the number has risen since 2009.

Above: The stupendous Castle Crashers was definitely worth the then-premium 1200 MSP price-point

It’s all a sign that XBLA is being taken increasingly seriously, argues Charla. He says some developers don’t realize the expectations people have of the service – “[some developers say], ‘We want to do a boxed-quality game on Live Arcade’, and I’m like, ‘What does that mean?’ I can point at a bunch of 38 and 42 and 56 Metacritic-scoring boxed games, so it actually kind of pisses me off” – but that quality continues to improve. “I don’t know where prices are going to go,” he says: “ultimately, that’s set by the market.”

Oppositely, Charla showed enthusiasm for microtransaction-driven titles like Magic: The Gathering and Pinball FX 2: “We’re always looking to be the pointy end of the spear when it comes to experiments, and that’s kind of where we’re focused right now.” What do you think – has XBLA gotten better as prices rise?

Jul 25, 2011

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