Xbox Live South Africa; where are we now?

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When Xbox live finally launched in South Africa last November, we were elated; our years of campaigning and hard work had finally paid off. No longer would we be treated as second class netizens! Of course, being realists we stashed a little cynicism and skepticism aside just in case it wouldn’t be the digital land of milk and honey we were promised. It soon became evident that our stowed pessimism wasn’t for naught, when the local marketplace started out empty and was slow to populate. Blame has mostly been laid at the feet of our local Film and Publications Board, which certifies and rates the media entertainment that’s put up for public consumption.

It’s been nearly six months since Xbox Live launched locally – so where are we now?

Yesterday one of the genuinely lovely people in charge of Microsoft’s Xbox PR, Chris Onderstall, tweeted that the fledgling local Xbox Live marketplace was getting better, now boasting 464 games. Of course, this was picked up local media and taken prima facie as evidence of the marketplace’s growth. As pointed out by local downloadable game enthusiast Jannie Theron, hardly any of those 464 titles are actually downloadable games, so we decided to look a little deeper.

There are – and this really is pretty commendable – a total of 49 full retail games (compared to 218 on the UK marketplace) available for download on the Games on Demand service. Of course, these games have appeared at retail and have passed FPB certification, so getting them up digitally shouldn’t be much of a problem. A bigger problem is the Xbox Live Arcade service which, along with online multiplayer, is one of the pillars of Xbox Live.

The Xbox Live Arcade section in the local marketplace has a total of 20 games available for download. Just 20. For reference, the UK marketplace has over 300 full arcade games available. Some of the local arcade games are broken, as is the case with King of Fighters 2002, Voodoo Dice, The path of Go, Raskulls and Unbound Saga which offer up trial versions – with no way to purchase the full games. Surely if a trial is rated and approved, the full game should be too? That’s not something that can be blamed on a ratings board.

Other games, like Snoopy and Street Fighter II do the opposite; giving gamers the means to buy full games, without available trial versions – something that’s actually against Microsoft’s policies and guidelines.  Worse are the games that allow you to download DLC add-ons for games – without letting you download the games in question. Games guilty of this slap in the face are Scott Pilgrim, Section 8 : Prejudice and Deathspank 2 (the first Deathspank is missing entirely).

Of the last 18 release downloadable arcade titles, we’ve gotten just four- not even 25%.  So 49 retail games and 20 arcade ones, totalling 69. So what makes up the remainder of boastful 464 featured games? Avatar gear and trailers. It is, frankly, just not good enough, and before everyone goes about patting each others’ backs for a job well done, shouldn’t we make sure the job actually is well done? It’s been nearly six months, and there still isn’t a compelling reason for those using foreign gamertags to migrate.

I appreciate all of the effort that the local guys are putting in and I do think we need to foster positive attitudes to help Xbox live (and indeed the entire local gaming industry) grow – but if we’re not vociferous about a service’s failings, how can we highlight them to ensure they get better?

Last Updated: April 29, 2011

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