The quality to expense ratio, otherwise known as getting the most bang for your buck, is perhaps the biggest influencing factor mulled over by individuals in the market for a new game. Up until fairly recently, these gamers were presented with only a few worthy options each year – namely in the way of extraordinary triple-A exclusives that went to great lengths to define or redefine their respective genres. Many other games that fell into the $60 price range were good for a gaffe, but did little to justify their exceedingly high price point. On the flip-side were significantly more affordable games, typically developed by smaller studios or independents, that offered a more compact, graphically inferior experience that more often than not failed to exhilarate. These lesser games were hardly taken seriously, and in no way threatened big-shot developers.
However, with each passing each year, the line between a triple-A and XBLA regulated title continues to blur. In fact, it can be argued that XBLA games are almost as hotly-anticipated as their triple-A, XBox exclusive counterparts. Considering that on average, XBLA games are approximately one-fourth the price of major releases, they appeal to the frugality of the sensible gamer, thus propelling them into a position to steal the spotlight away from the corporate behemoths that suddenly find themselves with less influence over gaming trends.
One needn’t look further than the rising quality of XBLA games to answer why they have grown so popular of late. Take the recently released Trials: Evolution for instance. Juxtaposing a seamless difficulty curve with amenable game mechanics, the second iteration in the Trials franchise is a well-balanced, fiercely addictive end product, the likes of which most triple-A developers can only aspire to. And given the enormity of courses, online leaderboards and modes, Evolution parallels most triple-A games in terms of scope. It is little wonder then why it shattered XBLA day-one sales records – in essence gamers are getting a fully-featured triple-A product for a fraction of the cost.
It was perhaps Shadow Complex that first brought XBLA into the limelight. Released back in 2009, Shadow Complex offered gamers a visceral, albeit focused, experience that looked and played like a much more expensive title. Granted, at its core it’s primarily a 5-10 hour, side-scrolling shooter, but beneath the hood lied a game as resonant as it was brilliant. Intertwining RPG mechanics into the already fluid battle system served to flesh out Shadow Complex, ultimately adding to its replay value.
Whereas XBLA games are thriving, triple-A exclusives are beginning to grow tired or stale. The perennial greats like Bioware’s Mass Effect and Epic Games’ Gears or War have come to a conclusion, with many a gamer arguing that the final chapter in each series was less than satisfying. And let’s not forget that Mass Effect began as an exclusive 360 title only to have it’s second and third iterations released on the PS3. Halo 4 will undoubtedly spark a purchasing frenzy, but may be offset partially by the release of Call of Duty: Black Op2 just a week later. Is there really much else?
Perhaps the nature of a console’s life-cycle is to blame. The 360 is rapidly approaching its death throes, prompting developers to refrain from unveiling any new franchises until the next generation arrives. Can they really be faulted?
XBLA offers more flexibility – games on the service are not as intimately tied to a piece of hardware, and those games downloaded to a player’s 360 hard drive will likely be immediately accessible once a new system is released. Yes, the nature of how gamers interact with the dashboard will invariably change, but considering how much its evolved since the inception of the 360 back in 2005, is that really going to be a problem for XBLA lovers?
A quick glance at any “Hot Upcoming Exclusives for the Xbox 360″ list will reveal at least as many, if not more, XBLA titles than triple-A ones. Fez, Alan Wake and Trials dominate gamer wish-lists, prompting this journalist to believe that the days of triple-A games scoffing at the thought of XBLA interfering with their viability are now over.
And if you don’t believe that XBLA games are beginning to overshadow big-time exclusives, just consider that the proverbial juggernaut that is Minecraft was rated by users over 400,000 times – before it’s release. More bang for your buck – that’s really all it comes down to.