But unpopular games get the boot as file size and price limits rise, while Microsft opens new first-party team for XBLA titles

Xbox Live Arcade gets revamp for developers

Microsoft has rebooted its Xbox Live Arcade strategy, with a number of changes on the way intended to improve the service – although it’s not yet clear how welcome to the moves third-party developers will be.

On a Q&A with Next-Gen.biz, Microsoft’s Marc Whitten has revealed that as well as increasing the file size limit to 350MB and introducing a new, higher 1600 Microsoft Point price-tier, it is "delisting older underperforming titles in order to keep the service focused on a section of high quality games".

The firm is also "going to be putting our money where our mouth is here and are launching a new fully funded first party studio which will be focused on high quality digital content creation".

Whitten described the moves as "a series of new policies along with a new internal approach and investment in the Xbox Live Arcade business going forward".

He said: "While the service has had a lot of success and now boasts over 130 titles, we think it is time to continue our focus on quality over quantity. This means that we need to allow developers more time and more space to make even bigger and better games."

As for the delisting of games he said: "The way it will work is that the title will need to be at least six months old and have a Metacritic score below 65 and a conversion rate below six per cent on the service. This way titles are not just considered if they are not selling well or not getting good reviews, but actually a combination of both. We will also give a three-month notice before delisting any title. Overall I think you will find this will focus the catalogue more on larger, more immersive games and make it much easier to find the games you are looking for."

Little concrete detail was given on the new first-party studio – including details of where it is, it’s name and size – but Whitten described "the main idea behind the concept" as being "to invest deeply in developing original content that will be compelling and exclusive to Xbox Live".

He added: "This is a place where we’ve redoubled our commitment and I’m putting both dollars and people behind new games that push the quality and the bounds of the system. Wish I could share more today, but definitely stay tuned on this, as we have some very exciting things in the works including some big original XBLA games we will be announcing soon."

The moves follow some mounting pressure on Microsoft from its rivals – Nintendo’s more liberated WiiWare service has now launched globally, offering developers to sell anything they want via digital download (although the service has its own file size limits) – and repeated criticism of the quality of games on Xbox Live Arcade.

N+ developers Metanet said earlier this year that ‘the vast majority of XBLA games suck’ – and we reported recently that developers were being charmed away from XBLA to WiiWare due to better royalty rates. "Frankly, we’re not looking at making games for Xbox Live Arcade because the service is full of shit," said one developer.

Microsoft also recently changed the royalty scheme for Xbox Live, halving the amount paid for first-party Xbox Live Arcade from 70 per cent to 35 per cent on games that make under a few million dollars in revenue, but also at the same time removing some QA costs. It’s not clear if the royalty grades will once again be tweaked as part of this latest overhaul.

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