Dear Console Manufacturers: I Just Want To Play Games

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.




  1. although i dont own an xbox what a Fantastic article great read is all about the gaming really isnt it

  2. Not sure about the 360, but the PS3 has a lovely little feature you can switch on that boots the game up when you turn the console on. No XMB. Ah…

    • Yep, you’re right about the game-boot option. It’s sweet!

      Also, the PS3 boots up for me, to always show the currently loaded disc based game, so no wading through chuff. If I want videos, music or photos they’re just a few clicks to the left, simple.

      • Ah, now I disagree, I don’t like auto boot.
        I quite like to have a quick flick about the XMB/dashboard when I first fire up. But as Amphlett says it defaults to current disc if you want it, as does 360. 360 also has quick play, which gives you a list of recently played games for a quick boots on the front screen, so I dont really see a problem.

    • Isn’t that feature only if you insert a game does it automatically start and not every time? It used to be like that but I can’t find it anymore, it always goes to XMB now…

  3. I second this, thought it was awful the second it booted. It is just messy, with a pretty look to it!
    At least the PS3 defaults to the loaded disc, and HDD content is only 1 down from that, but you are also right saying it is getting clunky (And super-slow in game)

  4. I personally still love the PS XMB, and hope the PSVita has an option for it. It’s the power of the console (I think) that makes it load slowly sometimes, and perhaps since Sony haven’t made the in-game XMB better suited. However, I like the principle. I can sort my downloads into personally named folders, and can choose which short-cut TV channel icons I do/don’t want. It’s great.

    • I love the XMB too, I think it works perfectly, usually don’t stray too far left, unless I’m turning it off, but the games are instant and easily accessible. It’s great!

      • I think vita is only diff for the touch features really. I love the xmb still but still live in hope for my home avatar to be on there :-(

      • You turn off your PS3 like that? =P

  5. I think that Sony and Nintendo are about games. Sony’s ads are in Playstation store, not on the XMB. You can see ads if u scroll to them, but they can be avoidable overall.

  6. “Look Mom, I found the Games tab. Now then, which one is ‘play’?”

    Actually.. which one is it? Don’t own a 360 myself and I can’t really figure it out. Or are all those images games that you can play right away? Installed on the machine or something?

  7. And to think Xbox have hired a girl that helped design this, to work on the new console. Watch this space.

    • Why mention the designer’s gender? Or is just your typical misogynistic guff that permeates the internet?

      • Ha no, not at all. Just the way I have written it/you have read it. But I see what you mean.

        It could quite easily have been “And to think Xbox have hired a guy that helped”.

        Reading it back, I see where you are coming from but trust me, you are way off the mark.

      • Or “person” to be totally equal but then what I said wasn’t at all derogatory to woman, just wasn’t well worded. So for my sentence structure, I apologise. For my use of the word girl, I don’t ;)

  8. At least the PS3 starts at ‘Games’… ;)

    • Or PSN, so I can sign in automatically.

    • it starts at video if you have a dvd in the drive :p

  9. I’ve not had hands/voice on experience with the new dash on 360 (because I don’t own one) but from what I’ve seen and heard these adverts sound extremely annoying. Agree with Youles though, having the ability to create/sort folders on PS3 is brilliant and I don’t know why MS haven’t implemented something similar.

  10. With the way this console cycle has panned out, with proper TV tech sidelined in favour of shiny 3D, Sony and MS have to find a way to extend the life of their consoles. They’ve pretty much run out of gamers to sell to, so they’re bolstering their ‘media hub’ credentials in time for Christmas.

    It’ll be the way of things for the next couple of years, depressingly. At least the Wii U should be…interesting.

    • Depends how much advice Ninty have been taking from EA for the network side of things – Could be a definite Origin flavour to it, not the OS as a whole but depends how Ninty want to push the network side of things

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