Home > 1, Video Games (Main) > Unnece$$ary: The New and “Improved” Xbox 360 Dashboard

Unnece$$ary: The New and “Improved” Xbox 360 Dashboard

You'll look fab AND boffo.........for a price 

 

You'll look fab AND boffo.........for a price

 

Hype surrounding something as trivial as an update to the Xbox 360 dashboard is what makes us nerds, well nerds.  Think about it:  We were all so intrigued because they were changing the functionality of the screen that prevents our Xbox 360 from simply launching whatever game we wanted to play when we turned it on.  Of course that’s a broad statement.  With features such as instant movies through Netflix and downloadable content and games the dashboard has taken on a life of its own and is certainly a viable part of the experience, possibly what vaults the Xbox 360 over the PlayStation 3 if you’re in that camp.  Also, it’s not like any other hobbyist doesn’t share the same excitement over such miniscule changes:  football fans analyze slight rule changes every year, car nuts are always choosing from different parts that basically all do the same thing, and gun nuts need all kinds of different ways to accidentally kill people.  The update in question however felt like nothing more than being given the option to buy more expensive bullets for your Glock because well, they’re shiny and look nicer than those bland old regular ones.

The new dashboard has all the old functionality with a handful of noticeable additions.  The two most noticeable are an avatar marketplace that allows you to buy new brand name and game-inspired clothes as well as accessories and a feature called Games on Demand which lets you purchase a selection of older games and download them directly to your hard drive.  There’s also a new ratings system for just about everything and small improvements to Netflix.  More on those later.  For now I’ll focus on the two biggest changes.

In my opinion the avatar marketplace as a concept is a great idea.  Being able to trick out your online persona would take Microsoft’s spin on the avatar as a phenomenon to the next level.  You still have a lot of base options to choose from that are free of charge but if you really want to make your avatar unique spending a buck or two certainly seems worth it.  But how about five bucks?  That’s right, some outfits in the new marketplace can run you up to $5.  Members of the guilty party are always game-themed outfits such as Sam Fisher’s get up in Splinter Cell, COG armor from Gears of War, a stormtrooper outfit from Star Wars, etc.  Is $5 going to break anyone’s bank?  Probably not but you can also purchase a number of solid downloadable games for the same price.  Remember, you bought this thing to play games on it right?  So which is the better value?  

Brands like Adidas and Quiksilver are also available if you don’t want to go the cosplay route but still want something different and/or stylish.  Strange price decisions rear their ugly head here as well.  Personally I think $1 for a t-shirt for your avatar is too much but maybe I’m in the minority.  One thing I think we can all agree on though is this:  A t-shirt should not cost $1 and a sweatshirt $2.  Come on Microsoft.  We’re not dealing with real fabrics here.  If you physically walk into a store it’s understandable that you’ll find a t-shirt you like for $20 and a hoodie for $40.  In cyberspace?  Give me a break.

"You look great, will that be cash or charge?"

"You look great, will that be cash or charge?"

The other problem is the selection.  Given the fact that Microsoft obviously views this feature as a money grab you would think they’d have a lot to choose from.  Wrong.  You have a handful of brand names with an inventory of about 8 items each which range from shirts, shoes, hats and possibly watches or rings (which are only 50 cents thank god).  After that you have exactly 8 game franchises with apparel based on them.  That might sound like a decent selection, but not when you go into this thinking your avatar is going to be like no one else’s.  The props/accessories you can choose from have some cool choices like a remote control Warthog from the Halo series or a blue lightsaber.  However you’ll pay through the nose should you choose to purchase one ($4 and $5 respectively), and really as much as I love Star Wars do I really feel unique with my lightsaber $5 later?  Not exactly.  I guess I could always select one of the downright idiotic choices no one else would pick like a seltzer bottle or telescope.  My avatar would look ridiculous but I would only have to pay $2 for the privilege of having a prop, which I’m assuming Microsoft is banking on (?).

Worth it?

Worth it?

The other major addition is Games on Demand.  Not to ruin the surprise but if you thought shelling out a few dollars just to change the look of your avatar is a bit steep you may want to sit down for this one.  Got an itch for another play through of BioShock at 2 AM?  It’ll cost you $30 through the dashboard.  How about Mass Effect?  The sequel is on the horizon and the original is already on the Greatest Hits list so it would be nice to grab it again at a discount.  No dice.  You’ll pay $20 just like everyone else without getting any packaging or instruction manual.  Oh, and it’ll eat up your hard drive space too obviously.  Then you have the worst offender:  Call of Duty 2.  What are we on now, Call of Duty 12?  Okay okay it’s not that bad but I’m pretty certain the sixth installment is coming out in November.  If you want to play Call of Duty 2, the sequel to the original, the one that came out way back on November 15, 2005, you will pay a grand total of $30.  Thirty dollars for a game that is almost 4 years old.  

This is gonna hurt.

This is gonna hurt.

Here are the prices of some of the games available on Games on Demand along with the cost of a used copy at GameStop in parentheses:  BioShock $30 ($15), Mass Effect $20 ($15), Assassin’s Creed $30 ($20), LEGO Star Wars $30 ($18), and so on and so on.  The sad part is I’m just going off of the main list of games that’s featured on the dashboard which you would think would be the titles Microsoft wanted to use to entice people to buy.  Overall the Games on Demand feature in my opinion is a total disaster that could incite anger amongst many Xbox 360 owners if nothing else.

The other additions that are notable include easier use of Netflix and game ratings.  The ratings system can come in handy for the casual gamer that doesn’t read gaming publications or surf the web researching games all that much.  It’s a simple 5 star rating system that’s applied to every game, demo and game-related video to give you a quick impression of how well it’s been received by others.  To be honest I’m sure it will even come in handy for people like me who like to follow the industry closely but sometimes need a second opinion just before a purchase.  Rating games yourself is incredibly easy too.  When you’re prompted to “push play” and launch the game there’s also an option to rate it.  Simply highlight as many stars as you feel the game deserves and you’re done.

The improved Netflix feature now allows you to choose and select movies to add to your queue right on your Xbox 360 instead of grabbing your laptop or sitting down at your PC to make your choices.  It doesn’t sound like much but if you’re looking for something to watch in a pinch it’s all right there for you.

To be fair Microsoft hasn’t hyped this dashboard update at all aside from the simple announcement that it was coming out.  Sure they wanted to drum up a little excitement about some of the features but it certainly wasn’t a spectacle of any kind.  The point I’m trying to make is that while I think the update was more or less a bust and at times a borderline insult to the paying customer, Microsoft never promised anything that wasn’t delivered.  The prices are too high, that’s a fact.  However we all still have the right to choose whether to purchase something or not.  

So why do I still use the term “bust”?  Because I for one don’t like being insulted.  If you want to squeeze an extra dollar or two from me over the course of a few purchases that’s fine; this is a business after all.  However don’t charge me $20 for prime rib when you know it’s just an old cut of chuck roast you have sitting in the back.  The avatar marketplace is one thing, but Games on Demand is entirely built around the hopes that mom or dad will let their kid purchase a game online in order to save a trip to the store while spending up to 50% more than they should unbeknownst to them.  That’s not right.  It’s the way of the world, but again it’s not right.

It’s a shame profit margins crept into this update a little more than usual because there are some great ideas here.  Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that most of what’s here simply isn’t cost effective for most people.  Microsoft continues to blur the lines between gaming console, home theatre and PC (Chris has a lot to say about it here) but with this update they probably took one step forward and two steps back.

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  1. d.v.n.t.
    August 17, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Your “gun nut” comment is completely ignorant. Otherwise, enjoyed the piece.

    • August 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm

      Yeah my bad. Trying to inject a little humor at someone’s expense and it just happened to be gun enthusiasts. Thanks for reading though, glad you enjoyed the rest.

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