That button above… I just added that to my game’s info page. Go ahead, have a click. Don’t be shy. Understanding where that link goes will be central to the theme of this post, and of course I’d love if you kept going and tried the game as well 😉
I’ve been ever-skeptical about the long-tail sales of games on XBLCG (or XBLIG, as it is soon to be called Indie games instead of Community games). For community games, there have been 5 ways to download a game as follows
1. Your game came out recently, it’s listed in new releases
2. Your game is popular and gets (and ideally stays) in the popular games list
3. Your game is picked as an IGN pick for a week or two
4. You use the browse functionality to find your game.
5. You use a webpage like the one that link above goes to for (in)direct download.
Choices 1 to 3 don’t last forever. Or at least, it’s VERY challenging to stay in the popular list, especially as a game since that list is based not only on purchases but trial downloads. “Peculiar” titles tend to stay up there longer due to this fact.
Browse functionality is painful to use, unless you like big non-descriptive lists. It’s rarely if ever used.
Which brings us back to that download link at the top, and what I wish that link represented. If you follow where that image leads to, it will take you to the XBox Live Marketplace. At this point you’ll look at the page and see a LOT of buttons. Live links, buttons reading “Full game” and “Game demo”, and depending on your resolution, you may have to scroll down to see those magic words “Download to Xbox 360“. So we don’t get to download immediately. Once you try to use this button, if you aren’t logged in you have to of course go through a login screen, and then are dumped back to the same page to press download again. Once that is done, you FINALLY get… well… a confirmation screen. Okay so AFTER confirming you want the trial you are congratulated. Of course, it makes no mention at this point that you’ll have to go to your XBox to begin the download process.
If you aren’t already logged in, to get from my link to finally having the game queued up on XBox takes about 5 steps? Click link, find download link, login, find same download link again, confirm download. As the web developer I don’t have much control on this ease-of-use issue, but it hurts the chances of my game getting trialed by potential players. If a process isn’t simple, a lot of users will just as easily give up on it. That holds back XBLCG from long tail sales. It’s not easy to use and makes things more painful than if I were trying to sell my games directly on PC.
Here’s what I’d like
Ideally I’d like a stronger connectivity between the XBox and PC, but that’s not going to happen soon. Maybe we’ll see more once Microsoft puts in ratings and facebook/twitter connectivity, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about easy downloading from Windows to XBox. iTunes was always nice how you could click a link on a webpage and everything would be setup to download or subscribe to whatever you clicked on. No clutter or confusion to get in the way of finding that one “extra” step that stops people from abusing the system.
Saving that connectivity, I’d like Microsoft to minimize user steps. I want it to be user clicks a link on my web page. If user isn’t logged in, a login prompt is put up, where in place of “sign in” we would have it confirm the download. If the user was already logged in, they are given minimal info and a clear, obvious download link to click. Once confirmed, the download is queued and a message comes up telling the user to boot up the XBox to begin downloading the title. That’s 2 steps. Click my link, and confirm/login.
Without this setup a direct-sales approach to the problem is difficult, because it’s already a challenge to get people to download the game, even if I as the developer have a compelling way for users to be interested in my game. I don’t control where they go after, and as far as I’m concerned what comes after is also what gets in the way.