Xbox Series X Should Offer A Service Like Xbox Live Arcade

Microsoft managed to fill a hole in the industry with Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade, and it's one that has been left unfulfilled since the transition to Xbox One.


Xbox Series X is scheduled to be released in November, and when it does, Microsoft should offer a service similar to the once prominent Xbox Live Arcade. Combined with the welcome practices and services that Microsoft has made since the release of Xbox One, something like Xbox Live Arcade could be a beneficial way of both promoting and curating the indie game library on Xbox Series X.

Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) launched with Xbox 360 back in November 2005. The service promoted and hosted games that weren't a part of the rest of the Xbox Live Marketplace. Each game on XBLA was priced under $20 USD and had free trials, creating a library of games with a much lower bar for entry. You could try them out prior to deciding whether to buy them and they were much cheaper than the traditional $60 USD retail price of a AAA game. Right from the start, XBLA was used to promote games created by small teams and indie studios that were released for Xbox 360--a market that had traditionally only excelled on PC, not consoles.

I discovered plenty of cool-looking indie games and experimental titles through XBLA, like Mark of the Ninja, Minecraft (yes, really--I actually hadn't tried it prior to its release on Xbox 360), and Telltale's The Walking Dead. These games also released on other systems, but XBLA helped them gain traction on Xbox 360, the service prominently featured at least one new game every Wednesday. XBLA Wednesdays became this huge event (which, admittedly, began to peter out near the end of the Xbox 360's lifecycle), where new games were spotlighted and celebrated by the Xbox brand. If you were a small studio or solo creator and you could get your game to launch on Xbox 360, you were likely guaranteed to have your game promoted for a whole week.

Though not solely responsible, XBLA was a contributing factor to the indie game boom in the late-2000s and early-2010s. In July 2008, Microsoft held its first Summer of Arcade, which promoted Braid and Castle Crashers--both games are commonly cited for popularizing indie games for console users. Summer of Arcade would be held every year after that until 2013, promoting other indie games that went on to be very popular, like Limbo, Bastion, and Dust: An Elysian Tail.

With the transition to the current generation, no service on consoles has managed to match XBLA. Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo will occasionally hold sales specifically aimed at the library of a certain indie game publisher or feature a new indie game as an incentive for subscribing to their respective online service--like PlayStation Plus and Rocket League--but none have a service that highlights a single indie game for seven days straight, with a guarantee that the game being featured is under $20 and has a free trial or demo. And it's not like the supply isn't there. I frequently annoy my fellow GameSpot editors about upcoming indie games that are worth checking out (sorry y'all), so I know that enough release each month that you could feature a new title every week.

All that said, XBLA as it was shouldn't return--the service had its flaws, specifically for the indie developers themselves. For instance, to get onto XBLA, a game needed a Microsoft-approved publisher--indie devs were not allowed to self-publish. It was a decision that many indie developers found restrictive, encouraging them to gravitate towards Sony, as there was no such mandate for releasing their games on PlayStation. As the release of Xbox One approached, several of these developers spoke out against Microsoft and how the company treated them when it came to XBLA. For example, in an email to Wired in April 2013, Braid creator Jonathon Blow (whose game is arguably somewhat responsible for kicking off XBLA's success) even wrote, "Microsoft treats independent developers very badly."

Thankfully, Microsoft has largely improved its treatment of indie developers since then. The release of ID@Xbox in 2014 and launch of Xbox Live Creators in 2017 allow and actively encourage indie developers to self-publish their games on Xbox One. Several of these games have even been prominently featured on the Xbox Live Marketplace--sometimes on the homepage, though usually on Xbox Game Pass. Thanks to these changes, the bigger indie games haven't been lost in the shuffle of releases on Xbox One.

But not every indie game that releases for Xbox can be the next Hollow Knight, Celeste, Cuphead, or Outer Wilds. There should be a service for indie games that isn't tied to an additional subscription like Xbox Game Pass or is reliant on players knowing what's coming out because they keep up with press conferences. It should be something that can be accessed with a few buttons upon turning on your console, highlights interesting-looking indie games that are worth looking at, and provides free trials so those with a limited budget can better decide what they want.

At the very least, a service like this would help with game library curation--if you look back, separating Xbox 360's marketplace into two halves, with XBLA specifically geared at indie games, made it easier to navigate and know where to go to find certain titles. It's sometimes hard to keep track of all the games that release on Xbox One with indie games, AAA titles, other experiences that fall in-between, and DLC expansions all releasing into the same cluttered space.

If the past few years are any indication, there are still indie games that released on Xbox One that didn't get the recognition they should have--titles that did something incredibly clever like Full Metal Furies, Forgotton Anne, or Creature in the Well or were just really fun to play such as Coffee Talk, Moving Out, or River City Girls. I believe that if a service had existed that propped up indie games similarly to how Xbox Live Arcade once did, it would have encouraged more players to try and quite possibly fall in love with more of these deserving games. And with the library of games releasing for Xbox Series X already filling up with indie titles like Scorn and Call of the Sea, the next-gen console could use a service to help promote the games that likely won't have as much of a mainstream buzz as something like Halo Infinite or Assassin's Creed Valhalla.

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