Commentary

Crowded Shelf Space At The Digital Game Store

Now that digital distribution is in the limelight as the alternative to brick-and-mortal retail for independent game developers, we're starting to see the same old controversies we've seen about limited retail space in the past: smaller, independent titles getting overshadowed by more well-marketed mainstream titles.

In a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Katie Morgan, vice president of sales and marketing for Emergent, a firm that designs and publishes game development tools, said that crowding on platforms like Xbox Live Arcade is a "huge problem": "What we've seen at retail over the last five years, maybe more, will happen to the downloadable store front, so to speak -- more content available than there is virtual shelf space," she said. "Over the last couple of years on the downloadable platforms it's evident that the merchandising is starting to suffer."

Just a quick glance at a list of XBLA titles confirms that it's getting pretty crowded in there, and the interface of the marketplace leaves a bit to be desired. Aside from XBL homepage promotions, the only way to find titles is to find them on a "Newest" list, or to scroll through interminable category menus. But there are digital distribution platforms that handle this problem with much more success than XBL. Steam and Stardock are great examples of services with many different ways to find the games you're looking for and browse effectively -- including top-sellers, top-user-rated titles, and hits with critical acclaim.

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Some developers advocate having fewer titles on XBLA, and back in May, Microsoft began removing poorly performing titles from the title list -- poorly performing as defined by their demo-to-full-version conversion rate and their Metacritic scores.

But if these are the metrics by which titles are being judged, why not let the users judge them instead of Microsoft as a platform owner? Successful platforms like those mentioned above have already made major strides in solving their shelf-space problems by allowing user ratings and other critical data about titles to be publicly facing. Why can't Microsoft solve its problem with the same measures? The XBLA platform provides a great space for independent developers to get their work distributed, and by making more information available to consumers, XBLA can continue to provide that without removing potentially good titles that have yet to find their fanbases.

1 comment about "Crowded Shelf Space At The Digital Game Store".
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  1. John Harris, December 19, 2008 at 12:31 p.m.

    kudos to Mountain Dew for recognizing this dynamic and teaming up with the VGA's to support independent gaming titles. This is a great example of a brand knowing the space - one that they have been invited into by gamers themselves - and integrating itself into the framework in an authentic and welcomed manner.

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