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Posted by patrickklepek

A look at Xbox Live’s front page over the past few weeks included a big, fat advertisement for Mark of the Ninja, quite possibly this year’s best release for the platform. When Mark of the Ninja was released on Friday, September 7, however, there wasn’t one. Okay, that’s not completely true--it was on the games tab.

This is what Xbox Live looked like the day after Mark of the Ninja launched on the service.

But who actually navigates to the games tab to learn about new content on Xbox Live? I don’t. Do you? We head to the games tab to purchase something we’ve already been convinced on.

Microsoft should be applauded for crafting an interface that, while rightfully scrutinized in recent revisions, can prove useful to the user and creator, and help expose them to one another. That’s not as easy to do on Wii or PlayStation 3, and having to open a store will always mean some never see it. It's an important distinction.

It’s frustrating, then, to turn on Xbox Live and see nothing but advertisements for movies and politics. (Though, good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic of the electorate that is historically finicky when it comes to voting.)

Ads promoting Mark of the Ninja, a Microsoft-published release, were nowhere to be found on Friday, September 7. It was Microsoft’s decision to publish Mark of the Ninja on that day. It was, then, up to Microsoft to give up one of its likely lucrative advertisements slots for it. And that’s where I'm guessing the rub is. Promoting Mark of the Ninja might end up with more sales for Mark of the Ninja, and thus more profit for Microsoft, but it’s not a guarantee. If no one clicks on the advertisement to download Snow White and the Huntsmen, Microsoft still pockets the ad money.

Yeah, Microsoft eventually gave Mark of the Ninja prominent placement on the dashboard, but like other media, games typically do their best business on the first day of release. It’s where you build momentum forward. Mark of the Ninja was released on a Friday, and that’s when reviews and social networks were buzzing about the game.

“Better late than never,” said Supergiant Games creative director Greg Kasavin to me Twitter.

Kasavin was responding to a photo (pictured above) where I showed relief that Mark of the Ninja was now promoted. Another user asked whether or not days later was a big deal, which Kasavin was quick to discuss.

“Late isn't a stretch,” he said. “Many games do their best business on the first day of release and then it's all downhill.”

If someone had seen an advertisement for Mark of the Ninja when booting up their Xbox 360 that night, maybe it would have helped pushed them over the edge. When a title's within the games tab (or, worse, buried in the games library), the chances of just finding something become more and more remote. These games deserve better.

Friday has become a new, unexpected slot for XBLA releases. Mark of the Ninja joins Fez, Joe Danger: The Movie, and others. In the TV world, having a show on Friday night is a death sentence, as many consumers are out enjoying the weekend. Discoverability is huge problem on XBL, and prominent ads are one way, albeit not a great one, to combat that. If a user boots their Xbox 360 once that weekend, possibly for a round of Call of Duty, that ad is vital.

Microsoft is under no obligation to make the front of Xbox Live wholly dedicated to video games, and I’m not expecting or asking them to. That said, video games are the reason Microsoft’s box is in a position to compete as an all-in-one media solution, the holy grail when it comes to today’s television, and the games aren't getting their due.

I asked Microsoft to provide some clarification on how its advertisements for self-published games are determined, and got this statement in response:

“We do not share the editorial details of how we determine promotional merchandising placement on the Xbox LIVE dashboard, which is separate from the paid advertising that appears on the service.”

...which is exactly the answer I expected, and I don't blame Microsoft for not saying anymore. Ads are determined on a game-by-game basis, and are often part part of contrats between Microsoft, both as a platform holder and a publisher. Getting ad placement can, for example, change the royalty share on a game. That's not true of every game, but it happens, and shows the kind of power Microsoft wields when it comes to discoverability on its service.

This isn’t the first time it's happened, and it probably won’t be the last (see: Joe Danger). I’m not sure why this particular situation incensed me so much. Maybe it's because I’ve heard similar stories of developers upset at the disconnect between the internal teams at Microsoft who handle game development and game promotion. Maybe it’s because Mark of the Ninja is just a damn good game, and it’d be an awful shame if more people didn’t play it.

More than anything, though, XBL has the power to expose great games to more people. It's a tool of money and power, and it has the ability to do more than I ever could. Can you fault me for wanting Microsoft to use it well?

Posted by Fox318

Indie games should not go through Xbox LIVE first. They would get more promotion and word of mouth on PC/steam first.

Posted by Snipper138

It says "Kavain" instead of Kasavin somewhere in there.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

I find the whole thing horrible, but it's the only 360 dashboard that I have known, since I only just recently bought a system. I'm hoping the next iteration doesn't force me to use the Xbox button almost to the exclusion of the dashboard.

Posted by hardindr

good story

Posted by ZGoon

Agreed! Thanks Patrick.

Posted by Pr1mus

If "Kavain" is supposed to be Kasavin it's one hell of a typo!

Posted by Video_Game_King

@patrickklepek said:

Ads are determined on a game-by-game basis, and are often part part of contrats between Microsoft, both as a platform holder and a publisher.

Spotted a typo.

Posted by Double0hFor

got damn I hate the ads on Xbox, even in Canada its bad

Posted by mlarrabee

I'm excited to see what Microsoft does with the interface of the next console.

They should have kept all music game DLC in a separate category, though. "Gee, 89 of the latest hundred are for Rock Back 3, Rocksmith, and Lips."

Kavain was responding to a photo (pictured above) where I showed relief that Mark of the Ninja was now promoted.

Was that supposed to say "Kasavin?"

Posted by Darthozzan

It upset me because games consoles are supposed to be about the games. Especially as a European, I don't get netflix or any of that. And it was pretty hard to even find mark of the ninja, to the point where I wasn't sure it was released in my region. Just annoying and Microsoft can and should do better.

Posted by Dtat

"Though, good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic of the electorate that is historically finicky when it comes to voting.)"

...what? This sentence makes no sense. Maybe it was rewritten, and part of the old sentence remained? There are a lot of typos in this article.

Edited by freakin9

It's pretty obvious each new revision is focused on what will lead to more sales and them making more money, not ease of use for the user. It's almost like they are trying to dissuade people from finding what they want, so they can thift through all this other stuff along the way. There is just enough lag in the menus to make me dread every click.

Posted by Nightriff

Agreed, one reason why I don't use my 360 anymore is because of their focus on anything but video games. Without us they wouldn't be in the position they are in and I feel like they have left us out to dry. I moved over to my PS3 a few years ago and have picked up PC gaming a few months ago. I want games Microsoft, not stupid movies and music videos.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

At least if Mark of The Ninja doesn't do well, they can't fault it entirely on the developer.

Posted by Dezztroy

More points for Steam tbh. Only advertising you see there is for games.

Posted by ExZippo

"good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic"


Posted by RandyF

There's a lot of wasted space on the home page of the dashboard. Couldn't they squeeze in a few more ads? They could advertise Mark of the Ninja and Snow White at the same time if they wanted to.

Edited by DougQuaid

The lack of focus on games bothers me, but the fact that I am paying $50 a year to be blasted with ads every damn time I turn on my Xbox bothers me more.

I only hope that PSN+ will push Microsoft to do more with Xbox Live than update it every year and it worse ...and fuck my face with ads.

Posted by InsidiousTuna

@Dezztroy: That's because all Steam has are games. What about in 5-10 years when you're buying television shows off of your Steam Box?

Posted by jasondesante

I love seeing drink and car ads in xbox live!

Posted by samsara

Something was wrong as soon as that game didn't make Summer of Arcade. I wonder if someone at MS was feeling a bit spiteful.

Posted by IzzyGraze

@Dtat said:

"Though, good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic of the electorate that is historically finicky when it comes to voting.)"

...what? This sentence makes no sense. Maybe it was rewritten, and part of the old sentence remained? There are a lot of typos in this article.

Yeah. I've counted...4? Maybe more.

Posted by Rirse

The crappy treatment this game got on the 360 is making me glad it's coming to Steam soon (it has entries in the registery).

Posted by RE_Player1

@samsara said:

Something was wrong as soon as that game didn't make Summer of Arcade. I wonder if someone at MS was feeling a bit spiteful.

So many of the core Xbox higher ups have either been moved around in the company or have left so I have a feeling these new guys in charge are out of touch with your traditional game player. I bet Microsoft will pull a Sony next generation, being over confident, make stupid decisions and drop to third.

Posted by Nightriff

@DougQuaid said:

The lack of focus on games bothers me, but the fact that I am paying $50 a year to be blasted with ads every damn time I turn on my Xbox bothers me more.

I only hope that PSN+ will push Microsoft to do more with Xbox Live than update it every year and it worse ...and fuck my face with ads.

I doubt it will, Microsoft will keep doing what they are doing with Gold until something else comes along and competes. PSN+ is a great alternative but it came to late in the game. With the next consoles I will be very interested to see what these services do but until then expect to pay $50 for ads.

@InsidiousTuna: With Value I trust that games will always be first and media will be optional. Microsoft just feels like movies and tv shows and music videos are trying to be their big focus instead of games. That depressing. And you say 5 to 10 years from, thats a long fucking time in media and video games. I don't know what the industry will hold for us then, but I trust other companies over microsoft to keep with video games as their main priority.


@patrickklepek The New Dashboard Kinda Makes Games More There.

Posted by Sergio

I don't think it really matters in this case. People who would have bought it through word of mouth would find the game under the games tab anyway. Those who would have bought it because of an advertisement on the home dash ended up buying it later. One can say that day one sales are usually the highest, but in this case, wouldn't that simply result in day x being the highest? It's silly to assume that someone's interest in a product they didn't know about to begin with will be less if they learn about it later.

Posted by Wong_Fei_Hung

@Snipper138 said:

It says "Kavain" instead of Kasavin somewhere in there.

And "contrats".

Wow, had no idea political shit was being promoted on XBOX LIve, that's not something I would want to see over here on any console, I don't think Microsoft would ever do that in Europe, thankfully.

Posted by CornBREDX

I wont be playing it unless it gets ported to PC anyway as I sold my XBOX.

This is a common complaint with XBLA from developers, though. They had this problem with Super Meat Boy I think (or similar). In general I think the whole thing needs work. Have to give them credit, though. They are technically off to a good start. It's just a shame, like all big companies, they don't seem to have a very good communication across the board. That seems to a business problem more then a Microsoft sole problem, though.

Posted by Draxyle

This seems pretty standard for Microsoft. They're large enough to the point where one side doesn't know what the other side is even doing, so they end up with many "factions" vying for control over that limited space. I imagine that there's a lot of politics that allow this to happen.

I'm not entirely sure if it's a good or bad thing that are gaming machines are becoming "entertainment centers". Part of me wants to resist it, but at the same time, it's only the logical progression for technology.

Posted by Rihanna

Good on Patrick should for writing this article.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

I think it's really silly to say that seeing an ad after the first day will be different than seeing it day one. While, yes, games do best on the first day, someone isn't going to click that ad, then see "this came out like 6 days ago!" and decide not to buy it because of that. I also kind of think ads SHOULD be kept to their respective categories, instead of that front launch blade or whatever we call them now. That way you see ads for things you want. Wanna see what the new hot movie is? Go to the movies section. Wanna know if there are any new XBLA games worth promoting? It'd solve most of the problems people talk about today with the ads. Just get rid of the ones on that initial screen, pack more functionality in there, and then put the ads somewhere else. The best way to get targeted advertising (which is generally the best way to get clicks) is to let the user chose what he wants to see. While an ad for Snow White or JoJo's latest album won't be seen by as many people if it's on the movie/music panel, it'll be more likely to be seen by media folks who use their 360 for things like music and videos.

It is a shame that Mark of the Ninja wasn't advertised right on release, but I have to question the idea that ads for a week old game will be less useful than an ad the day of. If anything, it keeps the game in the eyes of the public (the educated section of which already has plenty of knowledge of this game) a bit longer, and gets that tail to last a bit longer, which can help by spreading the gospel about the game. It's not as simple as "games sell best the first day, so ads work best on the first day." Advertising is there to counter-act a lack of knowledge in a crowded market. So if the game is going to sell well that first week anyway, why not wait a few days and then start pushing ads?

I'm not an ad man, but I'm pretty confident that a few days won't make much of a difference to most people.

Also, edit this duder. Hell of a lot of errors. You got Greg's last name wrong the second time, "good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic" and I think there were one or two others that have slipped my mind.

Posted by oasisbeyond

I wanted Mark Of The Ninja... But MS's stupid point system made me not buy it. I wanted 1200 so I can buy it... Not 1000 + 500... That's well over 25$ here in Canada, so no thanks. Considering I just bought Max Payne and GTA3 perfect ports on tablet for less then 8$ total.

Posted by thirteenyahs

I think people make way too big a deal about ads on the dashboard. I know where I'm going for what I want to do on my Xbox so I never focus on ads.

Posted by Corvak

I could go on and on about my disdain for the current dashboard, but I am pretty sure everyone here either agrees with me, doesnt own a 360, or doesn't care that much about user interfaces.

But what it all boils down to - does Microsoft really have to be this greedy? Not only do I pay several hundred for the device, and sixty per game, I am giving them another sixty a year, just for the privilege of connecting to the internet on their machine - do they really need to start advertising banks and big box retail at me?

Another thing that burns me up, is the fact that a tiny fraction of the services and apps available are in canada, yet we still pay the same for Live. And more for points, since we don't have a 1200 point denomination to buy, and the cost per point is higher.

Especially glaring is the fact that they're alone in doing this. All of the other major services, all of which are free to users, don't shove advertising in my face at startup. Nintendo and Valve only advertise games being sold on their service. Sony does have ads on PS3, but not front and center when the device turns on.

At the very least, could we only get ads for video games and related products?

Though, who am I to say anything, i'm the one who keeps buying games for this machine, since i'm too invested into it at this point. I think Microsoft has really got to sell me on their next platform, however. I don't feel like I am ready to tolerate another generation of ad spam and fake money points right now.

Posted by Wuddel

Yawn. Having owned a 360 and a PS3 I never could understand why people this this is the superior service. Ok achievements are cool. I am living in continental europe and many of the services are not available here. So it really comes down to how quickly can I start games etc.

I am really excited for the next generation. Especially with Steam and the PC packing the most punch and most versatile game-centric features - arguably with the most "tinkering" involved (compared to buying a box and putting a disc in).

Posted by JJWeatherman

@ExZippo said:

"good on Microsoft should for attempting to inform a demographic"


Yeah, there's like a dozen typos in there. Just letting it be known.

Good idea for an article, though.

Posted by beepmachine

Good article. There really seems to be growing frustration with xbox live in the past year or so. I really hope Sony can knock one out of the park next cycle, but honestly who can even tell with that company nowadays.

I would love to get Mark of the Ninja (and a lot of other games on xbox) but it's never been worth it for me to have to buy another console and shell out more cash on top of that for xbox live. More and more stuff has been coming to PC lately so there's another reason for me to just avoid the xbox.

Also Patrick, I love ya, but you need to get a proofreader man.

Posted by sempiternal

It always surprises me to see the amount of ads on the American 360 dash. We get hardly anything on the Australian one.

Posted by starfurydysan

Posted by Oginam

Not going to defend Microsoft or anything since I mostly agree that the dashboard isn't good right now, but the 360 dashboard is still the "best" in terms of complexity and infrastructure compared to it's peers.

Leaning on the ads may be a way to deal with the cost of building, iterating, and supporting it - even more so because of the declining hardware sales at the tail end of a console generation and lackluster Kinect sales.

Edited by Residentrevil2


The New Dashboard Kinda Makes Games More There.

Yeah, I've noticed that the beta preview has made the dash a little neater and really brought games into the forefront. Also, I'm enjoying the Pin feature (allows you to access items -games/videos- faster) and Internet Explorer isn't bad. Oh, I've said too much...

Edited by umbaglo

@starfurydysan: For the record, the PS Vita has parties and cross-game voice chat as free, the PS3 has downloadable profiles as standard and cloud saves as a PS+ service. Add to that that any multi-platform game would also have the same matchmaking.

For me, the idea that I need to pay money JUST TO HAVE MULTIPLAYER is ludicrous. I'm far more willing to pay for PS+ because of the discounts and free games, then I am to pay the MS tax just to do things that REALLY should be core.

Posted by Khann

*hugs PC*

Posted by DemonGeese

@Residentrevil2 @patrickklepek @xMEGADETHxSLY:

In the new dashboard they had a Mark of the Ninja advertisement on the home tab when you first boot up the system. I remember, Patrick said something about Microsoft not advertising Mark of the Ninja in a I Love Mondays video and kept my eyes open to see if it was true. That advertisement was on the home tab for almost a week. (I don't think the advert showed up until a few days after Mark of the Ninja was released, so that criticism holds some weight.)

Posted by BreakfastKing

Every time I turn my xbox on these days I get mad. Everything on the front end has nothing to do with anything I care about (i.e. games). Finding Rock Band Blitz on my arcade games list (that takes forever to populate) takes about 30 seconds of scrolling right.

Inefficiency at its finest.

Posted by gizmo88

It's very hard to take this article seriously, knowing that Greg Kasavin used to work at Gamespot. I have a very strong feeling this article would not exist if that was not the case.

Posted by BirdkeeperDan

"and are often part part of contrats between Microsoft." Needs more cowbell (proofreading). 
Also I do check the games tab for sales so I would have seen the ad had I signed on. If only the games tab was right next to the home tab.
Posted by liste3r_fi3nd

I understand that argument, but for someone like me or my friends who are relatively hardcore gamers the ads mean nothing. Purchasing a game is based off of pre-launch coverage and reviews. I'm not exactly sure that the casual market crowd (who doesn't follow gaming sites or publications) is going to pay $15 (or any money) to purchase a game based on an ad. Though I am sure that it would be more than 0% of those people which would still help sales.