Bing. Home. Social. TV. Video.
Five things that, according to the order of the new Xbox 360 dashboard, are more important than Games, which is now sixth in line. Sure, Bing is off to the left but I remember buying my 360 to play games, not to scroll through pages of ill-fitting boxes just to get to the bit where I can start up Rez HD.
I wasn’t privy to the pre-release roll out of whatever they’re calling this interface revision, but I know people that were and – really guys – you should have said something to Microsoft.[drop2]You might think I’m being dramatic, my usual moany self, and I am – but I doubt I’m alone and, frankly, I couldn’t care either way. To me, the dizzying array of boxes and adverts that now faces me when I switch on my console is more than enough to provoke a rant or two, and actually I’m being rather restrained. I haven’t flat out said it’s terrible, for example.
But, you know, I just want to play games.
I’m the sort of gamer that likes to browse – I’m a huge fan of the Indie Games section and think it’s one of the best things Microsoft have done this generation: letting developers get their own stuff out there was a brilliant move, even if it’s rarely been easy to find what you’re looking for as a consumer. But now, it’s actually worse.
Once you’ve scrolled to the Games tab (by flicking around the oddly inconsistent tabs) the actual box to browse the Games Marketplace literally couldn’t be smaller. In there, about three levels deep, there’s one of the singularly most terrible examples of user interface design I’ve seen on a console with a little green box that just says ‘show’ on it apparently meant to let you filter the type of games you’re looking for.
Microsoft’s point of view that the Indie Games devs need to ‘do the marketing’ themselves rather than letting potential customers try to find the games is annoying, too.
And then there’s the adverts, their presence so overwhelming that people actually resorted to DNS hacks last week to try to stop their consoles reaching Microsoft’s advert server. I’m serious. And even if you’re a Gold subscriber it’s the same story – the new dash’s homepage offering up one central pile of rotating ads (albeit mostly relevant ones) and then another bottom right for things you probably don’t want.
The adverts are everywhere, too – the Video panel is little more than Microsoft and its partners trying to sell you stuff.
I get that the manufacturer is pushing Kinect, but that doesn’t mean that the dashboard needs to look and function like leftover menu screens from Kinect Sports (as nice as they were). For those us with controllers this is an often fiddly, awkward interface that tries desperately to portray the console as a media platform but fails almost completely by stretching a boxy graphical style over something that’s just screaming out to be customisable.[drop]Let us shift the order around. Let us pick which boxes we want where. Get rid of the streaming adverts for those that pay for a monthly or yearly subscription to Gold.
It might work on Windows Phone 7 where buttons need to be chunky and square, but it doesn’t work here when you’ve got so much to navigate through. Not for me, anyway.
And whilst some new features are cool (Beacons is lovely) the rest, including subscription-walled movie streaming, are not.
Music, Apps and Settings are less important, apparently, given that they finally appear after Games on the menu. That’s probably fair enough, but I can see those Apps sneaking left over the next few updates. If they manage to hide Games even more, I’ll be asking for a map next.
Of course, this isn’t just limited to Microsoft. Sony’s XMB has gradually introduced more and more fluff to the system on a continual basis; Nintendo too, but at least the latter lets you move boxes around to your heart’s content. I appreciate that there’s a wider audience just now buying all these consoles, but I fondly remember the way the N64 did this:
A jet black screen. Which simply booted the game when you shoved in the cartridge.