The Internet cried foul when Microsoft said underperforming Xbox Live Arcade games would be removed from the service.
The blame falls on Microsoft, according to Aaron Greenberg, product management director for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.
"That's probably our fault for not explaining that better," he said in a phone interview with MTV Multiplayer last week. "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."
While not entirely removed, they aren't readily accessible for purchase by users. They're removed from the store front, but if you delete it, you can download it again. If a a friend users the recommendation feature, you can actually buy it. Still, Greenberg sympathizes with people's frustrations over removed content in the age of digital distribution that promised unlimited shelf space.
"We're sort of cleaning our shelves as a retailer," he explained. "Even though we are in this digital age, the pros of cleaning the shelves outweighed the cons of expanding the shelf. "
"We've created this 'XBL Arcade Death Watch,' about who will make the cut."
I suggested that the negative reaction came from a packrat mentality. Even though I own an absurd number of games and movies that I'll never play or watch again, I want them. If my girlfriend threw them out, I'd be upset. Removing games from XBL Arcade, even if most gamers will never give them a passing glance, upsets them on principle.
"I don't think it's really going to impact that average gamer that much," he said. "It is more of a psychological thing. It's like you're taking something away from [the gamer]."
The problems facing XBL Arcade in 2008 are far different than the problems XBL Arcade faced two years ago. Gamers famously groaned about the service going weeks without a new release. It was a very different time from the present, when XBL Wednesdays are now a regular occurrence sometimes adding two new games to the service in one day.
These days, Microsoft faces the challenge of having too much content on XBLA. But Greenberg believes streamlining the available content means a better experience for first-time Xbox 360 users.
"What will benefit is when new owners come into the market," he said. "They're going to turn on the Xbox and go into Arcade and [see] a much higher quality of selection. 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."
"Contra" on XBL Arcade, one game possibly eligible for delisting
Greenberg hopes the policies will encourage companies to spend more time on their XBL Arcade titles and attempt more ambitious projects. "What you're going to see [is that] Arcade, in general, is going to focus on quality over quantity," he said. "While you will see [some] titles get delisted, hopefully you won't see many games getting delisted. [You'll see a] higher quality of games that won't fall into that criteria."
Time will ultimately tell. Microsoft has not yet announced the first slate of games to be removed from the service. There will be as much as several months of notice. The games will not be removed without a heads-up, through Greenberg joked it might have helped them avoid some of the backlash targeted at Microsoft.
"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 laughed. "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."
That's the question, then: who's getting voted off first?
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