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Thoughts and Ideas for the Upcoming Microsoft Game Room

This past weekend tech nerds were given a lot to get excited about with the annual Consumer Electronics Show.  For Xbox 360 (and PC) owners, one thing that piqued my interest was Microsoft Game Room.  It’s another nice addition to the Xbox 360 dashboard which gives gamers their own personal arcade to customize and purchase old-school arcade classic cabinets to fill up space and munch virtual quarters.  Well, sort of.  The feature is due out this spring and will boast 30 titles for download.  They all cost a flat rate of $3, $5 if you want to play them on both your Xbox 360 and PC.  As you can see by the screenshots it’s a fun, customizable feature that lets gamers show off their own personal tastes while playing games most of us grew up with.  So how promising does it really look?  Is there anything that’s missing that could make it better?

First of all let me make it clear that I’m generally happy about the new feature.  I’m all for anything that makes the console more appealing and gives people more to do.  The problem I have is Microsoft’s lackluster follow-through on most of the features that have been added.  Just to name a few:  Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm, and 1 vs. 100 were all great ideas that made sense and have everyone salivating, yet once they were made available to the mainstream they all ranged from disappointing to good, but could’ve been much improved.  That’s my worry for Microsoft Game Room.  It has the makings of a very worthwhile addition to the X360 dashboard…..that is if Microsoft follows through with it.

One good sign is that MS plans to have 1,000 games available in the next three years.  More specifically, seven new  games will be available for download each week.  At the very least it will be exciting to check out what’s newly available.  I’m a little bummed about just how “retro” they’re going with the initial lineup, all of which are really retro.  Is all this work and effort worth being able to play Asteroids, Centipede, and Sub Hunt?  I’m not so sure.  In the future I’d like to see titles a little more in line with the nostalgic ones they’ve made available on Xbox Live in the past (Double Dragon, etc.).  If that happened I’m sure the price of each would be bumped up to $5, but I’d be willing anyways.  As cool as it was to play games like Combat for Atari back in the day, I think we’re past the point where the nostalgia factor still plays a part.

Another cool feature is the ability to supposedly customize each arcade cabinet.  I’m not clear on whether this is included or if MS is going to demand another buck or two, but it’s a neat idea.  What “customize” actually means is unclear.  Are you simply able to purchase the actual arcade cabinet say, for Centipede or can you really customize in the true sense of the word?  I guess we’ll find out more at launch.

All in all it seems like a nice little addition and a revelation for retro gamers, but again how far will Microsoft take it?  Frankly at this point the Xbox 360 could be a media powerhouse, but apparently MS is very aware that if they’re not careful the 360 could be almost equal to a PC and that’s bad business for them.  It’s a shame though because a lot of projects like this aren’t brought to fruition in the right way.  Here are some more ideas I have for Microsoft Game Room:

-Make it as customizable as possible but be reasonable with the price.  So far we’ve seen different themes and different props moving around each arcade (similar to avatar props) and opening the floodgates on something like that could be a win-win for gamers and MS alike.  Charge a buck or two for everything and do it just like the Avatar Marketplace.  Get brands involved like Marvel, Lucasarts/Lucasfilm and gaming franchises and you could really have something.  Can you imagine a wide shot of an Marvel-themed arcade complete with large-scale heroes hanging from the rafters?  

-Don’t go too retro.  Everyone loves Atari, but seriously how long will the appeal last?  Would you pay $3 for Pong and play it for hours on end?  Obviously not, but that’s almost what we’re dealing with here.  Make sure the content keeps people interested.  It’d be a shame if a lot of people got excited about this only to abandon it because the initial selling points didn’t do the job.

-Add alerts similar to Facebook.  One problem with games that are really old is that even when they become available it’s hard to get your friends to shell out the cash for them.  I’ve had Frogger for months and it’d be great if I could get some people on my friends list to play too, but I’m not going to come out and suggest they need to spend $5 on a 25 year old game.  It would be nice if the Game Room had a mailbox in it that contained messages that were sent every time a friend bought a particular game, beat your high score in a game, etc.  These aren’t the type of games that people will go out of their way to get so having a messaging system like that could maybe pique their interest and possibly make some money for MS at the same time.  I don’t see much down side, and while I’m certainly not a programmer it wouldn’t seem like it would take that long to produce something.

Well the jury is still out and we’ll know more when this feature actually becomes available.  Hopefully it delivers and becomes a legitimate reason to buy an Xbox 360.

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