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On The Download Issue 25: Creating The Best Online Distribution System.
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On The Download Issue 25: Creating The Best Online Distribution System.

As this generation of consoles age, potentially reaching the end of their cycle, it’s time to start thinking about what comes next. The one thing that we’ve been somewhat spoiled on is the digital distribution for each console, with Steam topping the sundae that is customer accessibility and convenience.

This weeks issue of On The Download will take a look at the features of the various platforms digital distribution processes strengths, and weaknesses. Then you can chime in on the comments to see what you guys think works, doesn’t work, or could improve digital distribution in the future.

Let’s start with the lesser-known digital distribution system known as Wiiware. The Nintendo Wii is certainly not known for its online connectivity. In fact, my personal Wii does not communicate well with my wireless router and I have been unable to connect in quite some time. Otherwise, the Wii DOES have a “shop” on its dashboard. It only takes about an hour to connect to, and has some pretty strange parental controls for purchasing things.

Various stores do have Wiiware points cards that you can use on Wii to purchase games. It has a normal “money” system for purchasing DLC and digital games, and I have never personally seen a sale on Wiiware games.

So, here are my recommendations for Wii’s digital distribution system:

  1. Let people hard-line into their internet. Wi-Fi doesn’t quite work for some things, or doesn’t work well for some things.
  2. Advertise and market on the dashboard, on websites, and allow users to see sales periodically. Show specials on content that people can buy, or digital games. Run promotions on playing games together. Things like that. Oh, and release some games!
  3. Love the indie-game developers. I don’t know how to explain this other than: Please let some of your mascots retire for a little while so the third party developers get some credibility with your fans, and promote indie games that may make use of your motion control technology.

Next up I’ll harass Xbox LIVE Arcade. I think the most obvious criticism is actually a double-edged sword: the points system. Microsoft points are a strange beast indeed, as they come in strange denominations. People buy points cards (or direct from microsoft) and spend them on things, but 80 = $1. Conversion, accompanied by the strange monetary value is confusing. However, since it’s not being sold as money, many venues (Including Gamestop and Amazon.com) will have points cards on sale periodically.

How much of that is up to Microsoft, and how much is because of the point system I really can’t be sure of - but it sure is nice to buy a game at discount using points after getting a discount on those points.

Major Nelson’s Blog has some handy information on it that a lot of people check out, and many websites (such as ours) relay information from on deals. Discounted games and content will appear on the blog, then we pass on the savings. The Dashboard also posts a lot of savings, deals, etc. The Deal of the Week has to be my favorite thing about Xbox’s digital distribution system.

The last thing I have to say about Xbox LIVE Arcade is the over-abundance of games. Yes, that’s right - there are probably too man. Having an Indie games section (separate) is really nice for those developers, but over-saturation in both digital distribution areas (Arcade and Indie Games channel) tend to overwhelm people. Microsoft has worked to organize things in different ways, but it is still quite a bit to take in.

So my suggestion for the next wave of Xbox LIVE Arcade:

  1. Use, or explain, a better monetary system. The Microsoft points are nice when they’re on sale, but they’re weird when figuring out just how much you’ve actually spent on games.
  2. Keep discounting stuff. Many gamers are poor or at least conscious of their spending and would like to continue to play games, this system really helps us out.
  3. Put a bit less clutter on the dashboard so we can figure out what is going on with promotions and new game releases. There are often so many things going on that games or DLC is overlooked (or over-advertised so we miss other things. i.e. Halo content).

Finally in the Console realm is the Playstation Network. I have to say I really appreciate how simplified their system is, but at least one major feature is missing for me: the ability to purchase, or redeem codes from my PC. With Xbox Live it’s nice to be able to sign in to my account and check out new games or search for a game I’d forgotten about and click to add to my queue. Either the option to search and purchase does not exist on PSN, or I have been completely unable to find it.

Recently their connectivity has improved thanks to the Playstation Plus users picking up some of the bandwidth tab, while keeping the more casual users free so I can’t fault them for that. It’s been nice to download and update quickly from my Playstation 3 or PSPGo without having to wait as we had for the beginning of this consoles life. The simplicity I mentioned before is also streamlined now so the new releases are right out in front, before you even enter the Playstation Store.

That brings me to my favorite aspect of PSN: Networking. My Playstation 3 and PSPGo are the best of friends in many ways. Not only is there a virtual local chatroom (you connect online through the PS3, and the PSP thinks you’re in a local session with someone. Worked great when co-oping Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker) called AdHoc, but there is also the remote play option that allows your PSP and PS3 to communicate locally. You can also connect via USB to download or transfer information/games/songs/videos, and keep the same login for PSN that stores your PSN Wallet’s digital money.

So my suggestion to improve PSN:

  1. Connect the PSN Store from PC, PS3, and PSP. I know it’s already pretty streamlined between PSP and PS3, but I want to be able to purchase games from my computer. It’s also easier to redeem codes this way, as even the keyboard on PSN messes me up (Shift + Backspace = delete all. I make that mistake almost every. Single. Time).
  2. Stop charging tax for digital content, or adjust prices so it doesn't screw up the amount of money that's in your digital wallet (that you can never retrieve again). It’s tough to justify spending taxes on stuff I’ve purchased online at all, let alone when their card amounts come in nearly even-numbers while the tax throws it off with odd cents.
  3. Keep the short redeem codes. I love having the redeem codes for points cards and games at a happy 12 digits instead of Microsoft’s 20 digits.

Now it’s your turn. What do you like or dislike about the digital distribution system of your choice? I didn’t add Steam to this because they seem to have the best deals, sharing system, and game storage system online to date - but if you have any complaints or specific things to point out, feel free to add them!

Just leave a comment below and we’ll see how many programmers for the big-three are listening.