Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Digital discoverability is getting worse, says Nathan Brown
My wife is an excellent packer. Educated at boarding school from the age of eight, she is a master of the art of fitting a lot of stuff into a small space, the consequence of having to load up a trunk at the start and end of every school term for a decade. There’s a lovely ritual to the way she packs a case. Nothing goes in until everything is ready, her clothes rolled up, small things stuffed into bigger things. Then she stands back, takes in the situation, and embarks on what is best described as a
Tetris speedrun. As an onlooker, you understand what’s going on, but could never do it yourself, that mix of speed and precision, anticipation and reaction, with everything slotting perfectly into place.
I am, at least, better than I used to be – plus, the airline industry’s increasingly stringent luggage weight limits mean I rarely find myself in the situation where I need to fit a lot of stuff in one case. But carry-on luggage is a different matter. As a child, I went on a family holiday with a bag packed at the last minute that contained only a Game Boy with no spare batteries and eight back issues of Mean Machines. These days, I start thinking about my hand luggage days in advance; devices need charging, updating, filling with the latest games, movies and music. Last week, I got on a plane with a fully charged iPhone, iPad, 3DS and Vita. The flight time was an hour and 20 minutes.
I spent probably double that browsing the various download stores looking for new games, and it slowly dawned on me that I am starting to hate visiting almost every one. Developers, biz guys and players have all been complaining about digital distribution’s discovery problem for years, but things aren’t getting any better. They’re getting worse.
I went first to the App Store – perhaps the most important part of my preparations, given that Puzzle & Dragons can only be played with an Internet connection. Even when I managed to look past the seemingly endless procession of endless runners, Candy
Crush ripoffs and F2P games aimed at children, the entire App Store game catalogue felt monotonously defined by best-practice consensus. Icons are mostly cutesy, sometimes stylish, but always nondescript; game names are uninspiringly factual; screenshots are cluttered with text. Everything just congeals into one uninspiring whole. I left, as always, empty-handed.
On Vita, things are a little different, because I’m not looking for new games to buy. Thanks to monthly PlayStation Plus freebies, I already have plenty to play. They just need downloading. It’s a simple process in theory, but in practice means a tortuous scroll through the dreaded Download List, which contains every game I have ever purchased on Vita, PS3 and PS4, and any associated DLC. There are, at the time of writing, 536 items on my Download List. One of the topmost is a game called 1,000 Tiny
Claws, which Sony believes I downloaded on January 18, 2015. It was a PS Plus freebie in October 2011 and I have never played it.
It’s not just a problem when I’m preparing for a trip, either. At home, PS4 and Xbox One sport dismally arranged storefronts and dashboards. Steam does things better than most, but it is becoming increasingly unwieldy, too. Valve has pretty much opened the floodgates to new releases in the past year or so, but even once you get beyond the front page and load up your library, there is almost too much to handle. I scrolled about aimlessly looking for local multiplayer games when I had company last month, and found myself paralysed with choice for a game to put my new graphics card through its paces. When you can’t even sort through your own games, you know you’ve really got a problem.
I have helped out with the music at two friends’ weddings. The first had turntables, CD players, a mixer, and involved an afternoon of preparation, sorting through shelves of catalogued physical media, my record bag full to bursting with carefully chosen cuts. The second saw the role of DJ delegated to a laptop with Spotify, a handful of us taking turns to cue up some music. Here’s a decent chunk of the entire history of recorded music – could you put on a few tunes? Terrifying stuff, but it’s precisely where games are heading. Those digital store shelves, and our virtual bookshelves, are only going to get bigger, and unless sellers get better at presenting their wares, some great stuff is going to slip through the cracks. After all, not even my wife could pack a suitcase with every item of clothing she’s ever owned.
Unless sellers get better at presenting their wares, some great stuff is going to slip through the cracks