Considering the recent success of the totally addictive Pictionary-for-phones Draw Something app on iOS devices, I got to thinking, could Xbox do with an App Store similar to that of iTunes? Such a system that offered a selection of smaller gaming and non-gaming apps for a small fee of around 50-100 MS Points could be a great boon to Microsoft’s online business. We aready know Windows Store is coming to Windows 8 on PC, but will it also come to consoles?
At the moment we have XBLA, and recent updates to the dashboard allow for the download of ‘Apps’ like YouTube, Vevo and Netflix, but these offerings are very different from that of the App Store and iTunes in terms of both size and accessibility. I’m thinking Xbox could do with a whole new store that allowed for downloads of games like Draw Something or Words For Friends, or even non-gaming apps that would be useful in the living room or bedroom (or toilet if that’s where you keep your Xbox).
We’ve witnessed Xbox attempt to move into this market with the Xbox Live Indie Games store, which offers smaller titles for a much reduced fee, and non-gaming applications are becoming ever more common on the console, but there are still problems that are keeping Microsoft from delivering on this front with the same level of success as Apple.
The first is the layout of the dashboard and the infrastructure of Xbox Live. Despite repeated attempts to upgrade and better the service, Xbox Live’s dashboard is still a far way off from being as accessible and user-friendly as the App Store, which requires just a few clicks before you’re ready to download a game. With Xbox Live you still need to shift through multiple menus and select items to get a better look at what they offer. On iTunes most of the information you want is there right away, laid out simply and in an easy to digest manner. It makes sifting though the 17,000 or so apps an easy process rather than the chore Xbox can often feel.
In order to remedy this Microsoft would not only have to once again radically redesign the dashboard or create a whole new sub-platform within it for apps. What’s more, if it wanted both quality and quantity in terms of its content, Microsoft would also have to massively loosen the restrictions it places on developers – and we all know it isn’t very fond of that.
There’s another problem too, one that is much more difficult to fix: the method of control input. The App Store and its offerings work so well because they are interacted with using an easy-to-grasp and simple control interface – the touch screen. Xbox simply doesn’t have this, and as such any content it might release through an Xbox-styled app store would have to be designed around the traditional controller – which would distance the casual crowd – or Kinect. Neither of these devices would be particularly useful for a game like Draw Something. If you’ve ever tried drawing with an analogue stick you’ll know what we mean, and Kinect just isn’t accurate or refined enough yet to allow for the precision required when trying to draw ‘MC Hammer’. It’s going to take a few years yet before Kinect can handle ridiculously baggy trousers.
Despite these issues, Microsoft would be foolhardy not to follow in the same footsteps as Apple. We just don’t think it’s going to do it during this generation. No, if the rumours are true then we’ll be getting a new Xbox in the next two or three years, and it’s then that we’ll likely see Microsoft tackle the issues that surround implementing an App Store-styled system.
There are already rumours surrounding the possibility of Nintendo creating an App Store-style service to coincide with the release of Wii U. If Microsoft doesn’t follow suit it’s only going to fall behind the competition. If Facebook and free-to-play titles have revealed anything over the past few years it’s that if you want to expand your gaming fanbase, then smaller, cheaper, and even free titles are the way to do it. So, with the next Xbox, it’s likely that Microsoft is going to cater to the hardcore crowd with the best graphics yet, but also to this ever-growing casual market with fun and dispensable – and yet incredibly profitable – titles like Draw Something. We wouldn’t be surprised if Xbox 720 is releaed with not just it’s own take on iTunes, but also a new tablet device that’s used to access, browse, and play such games.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before we get to find out…