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.

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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.

Ah…

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51 Comments

  1. Spot on article. Apart from changing my wallpaper and occasionally checking out the PSN store I can’t say I’ve used any of the crap they bundle into their firmware releases (that goes for the 360, Wii and 3DS also)

    I miss the days of just buying a game, putting it in the drive and playing it. No complications whether I bought the game new or used, no day-one patch cutting into my monthly download usage, no hacking of my personal details, no abusive 8 year olds waiting to shout through my TV speakers, etc, etc.

    Gaming officially stopped being about the games several years ago now :(

  2. Seeing as the primary function of a video game console is to play games, it doesn’t make sense to hide the launch game option in a very hard to find place. I can understand Silver members getting adverts but gold as well? Surely the yearly fee pays for that.

    I have now been put off on buying an Xbox 360 as the UI is a bloody mess. I’m no programmer(I’m crap at it) but surely, they could have implented a function that allows you to sort out the mess. For example, Anything that falls under games will be the first thing you see and the rest of the stuff will be sorted into your preffered order. It would improve the UI and make it user friendly.

    I don’t mind Sony adding stuff to the XMB as the games catergory is very easy to find. If they start doing what MS has done with the xbox UI, then i will start to worry. I hope that MS will make the Nextbox(Xbox the third, Xbox 720, whatever they call it)’s ui very simple and very customiseable.

  3. Companies want you to spend more and more time with their product. More to the point, interfaces like the new Xbox one and the current Facebook layout and features want the user to spend as much time as possible browsing, so the more convoluted the system is to get what your after the more opportunities there are to steer you in different directions that result in yet more time being spent in the system.

    The problem is that this will become normal, in fact it already is. We can complain of course, but to anyone who uses these systems for the first time it will simply be normal, if not impressive that there is so much presented to them.

    • “want the user to spend as much time as possible browsing, so the more convoluted the system is to get what your after the more opportunities there are to steer you in different directions that result in yet more time being spent in the system”

      I definately hear what you are saying but when the 360 dashboard changed from the original (logical) layout to the newer (crappy) design I just got frustrated with it and haven’t really bothered browsing it since. Its too much like hard work.

  4. The new dashboard is one step closer to a Disney DVD – you have to watch a dozen trailers of “in cinema’s soon” and “also on disney dvd…” before you even get to the top menu, and they have a nasty habit of disabling the FF button.

    Can’t stand the new 360 dash – it’s all form and no function. The PS3 XMB is more streamlined and easier to navigate but it’s getting very clunky in its old age…

  5. Quite like the XMB as a way of organising categories, but it’s utter crap with lots of data, even using albums to organise still means there’s hundreds of items to scroll up & down.
    However I prefer that to wading through pages of ‘promoted’ items.

    PS3 can default to ‘What’s New’ or ‘What’s New’ or whatever it’s called which is Sony’s rather naive attempt at marketing, but you can turn that off or even boot straight to disc (although that doesn’t help me as my most played games are digital; Warhawk, FIFA12 & Starhawk)

    • You play Warhawk and Starhawk? You’ve never mentioned that before :)

  6. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this but… I’m always partial to a bit of fluff ;-)

  7. Great article, I’m glad someone has done this because I’ve been saying this for a long time. I hate all the crap they add, including Sony, although its not that intrusive anyway. But I buy the machine to play blu ray and play games. I don’t have a xbox but by the sounds of it, it sounds mad if you do to go through this.

    Designers definitely need to look at this and make it more simple.

  8. This is exactly the reasons why I didn’t update my console, they can go stick it :l

  9. Adverts I can live without (and there are none on the XMB, you can turn them off), however the PS3 is now my only source for TV – I dont watch live anymore (apart from Beeb Breaky when im getting up to check the travel), I use the catch up services. I also use Vidzone a lot and occasionally Home. And rent movies from the PS Video store and have lots of blu rays.

    I wouldnt buy “just” a games console anymore, I dont want ten bits of hardware when one shiny black box can do everything I ever want.

    God knows what Id do if my PS3 went bang I would have zero entertainment.

    • Oddly, I’m the same Tuff. Though I tend to split between PS3/PC for TV and movies. Live TV just isn’t flexible enough these days. It’s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you can consume your entertainment when you want. On the other, those providing that content have to try to get you to consume their other products/services somehow. Leading to the current mess of an xbox interface.

      I guess the problem with the microsoft system is that they’re trying to normalise the interface across all their media (phone, next windows, and next xbox). unfortunatley, they don’t seem to care that what is optimal for a touch screen phone is actually a pain in the arse when applied to a system that is primarily navigated by a game-pad. I dread to think of how much of a faff it’s gonna be when you throw a mouse/keyboard into the mix.

      • @Nocure-fd Yep, and Windows8 beta is crap with a mouse/keyboard until you turn off MetroUI.

        Another PS3 media centre user here, games belong on PC Ok I do play some games on PS3, but really it is a secondary feature for me.
        I do get what people are saying though, maybe as a poster up thread said, we could have this thing called “choice”?

  10. Considering how some of the PS3’s startup and XMB ‘features’ annoy me it’s just as well i don’t own a 360.. :/

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