Microsoft admits it dropped the ball when it announced the removal of games from the Xbox Live Arcade service, following an outcry among gamers who felt the move was unnecessary in the era of digital distribution.
The company announced in May it would begin delisting games from the service if they failed to meet certain standards of popularity. Those standards, a combination of Metacritic scores and conversion rates, were intended to ensure that only genuinely underperforming games were pulled.
"This way titles are not just considered if they are not selling well or not getting good reviews, but actually a combination of both," said Xbox Live General Manager Marc Whitten, adding that the changes would result in a selection of higher-quality games that were easier to navigate. Many users were unhappy with the move, according to an MTV Multiplayer Blog interview with Xbox Product Management Director Aaron Greenberg, because the "unlimited shelf space" of digital distribution eliminates the need to remove older titles to make room for new ones.
"That's probably our fault for not explaining that better," Greenberg said, explaining that the games will remain available for purchase, albeit not as obviously as in the past. "The reality is we're not removing any games from the service, if you will. They'll always be there for purchase. Think about a book on Amazon. It's not always going to be featured on the front page of the store."
"We're sort of cleaning our shelves as a retailer," he continued. "Even though we are in this digital age, the pros of cleaning the shelves outweighed the cons of expanding the shelf."
Greenberg said the decision was made primarily to benefit new Xbox 360 owners, who could otherwise be overwhelmed by the sprawling selection of games available, some of which may be of less-than-stellar quality. "They're going to turn on the Xbox and go into Arcade and [see] a much higher quality selection," he said. "You want consumers to get that experience for the first time [and see that] every Arcade game is a high-quality game, so their first purchase is most likely going to be a great game."
The increased focus on depth and quality would hopefully spur developers to undertake more ambitious projects for the service, he added.
Greenberg also joked that Microsoft's policy of providing a three-month notice before delisting a game, a move intended to better serve the Xbox Live Arcade audience, may actually be working against it. "I think if we would have just taken some of these very low performing games randomly off the service, nobody would have said much about it," he said. "But now we've created this 'Xbox Live Arcade Death Watch,' about who will make the cut. It's almost like a reality show about who's going to get voted off the island."