Sunday, November 11, 2012

XBLA vs PSN deathmatch

Written by Debbie Lloyd

XBLA is ten years old this month and has been on an ever-evolving cycle since its release. Every now and then Microsoft decides to overhaul the interface, and add some shiny new features that more often than not splits the fan base... The dashboard update that came with in-built Kinect features was pointless to those without the extra peripheral, but was fantastic when it came down to Kinect fanatics.

XBLA is clearly not the only online marketplace out there; the PSN is its main competitor. But which is best? Without jumping on the fanboy or fangirl wagon, here we'll compare visual appeal with raw content to find out which wins the battle of the marketplace. As usual, leave your thoughts below:

When it comes to aesthetics, XBLA wins ands down. The constant changes to its appearance and ease of use make it a very simple way to download your content. The only downside is there is not always enough new content. The XBLA has been on a bit of a slow down recently, and even the Summer of Arcade was a bit of a let down. I for one didn't download anything as there was nothing as exciting as the likes of LIMBO to catch my attention.

The truth is the Xbox 360 provides small updates in size but huge in substance. An Xbox dashboard update might take about 20 minutes at most, and you can start using it straight away. There is always a massive change, and it’s normally a positive one.

The most recent update sees the introduction of a browser add on with Internet Explorer, something Microsoft have promised since before the console was even released, and the introduction of new video and music features. Unfortunately the browser just isn’t up to scratch. While it looks good, the interface feels as poor as it does on the Wii. Browsers don't belong on consoles, nor do they work.

The other additions in this dashboard update
unfortunately include more adverts, and an odd bunching of boxes in each section. To be honest, it looks like someone at XBLA HQ went mad with a ruler and decided that screens full of boxes were the way forward.

The final addition is Xbox Music & Video. While it is currently being offered as a free 14-day trial, the monthly charge for this is £8.99. Apparently this little piece of software is to rival services like Spotify, but it’s unclear whether Microsoft are a little too late to the party. With most other apps on XBLA being offered for free, it’s a bit strange to see a monthly subscription for this, especially when some are already paying for Gold membership.


The PSN has only been around for 6 years, but that should still be plenty of time to iron out the creases. It seems as though Sony just weren’t too fussed about appearances, as the PSN features one of the most hideous user interfaces I have ever had the "pleasure" of using. It works well on the PSP/Vita etc, but on the PS3 it just looks cluttered.  A UI like the one on PS3 just doesn’t work well visually. I have no desire to venture in and out of the menus as it feels like I’m working my way through lists at school.

Herein lies my issue with the PSN. It’s much more extensive than XBLA, with old and new content and a plethora of DLC, but it’s just so impossible to find. Using the PSN is like navigating my way around an endless maze with an infinite amount of alternative paths to take. I search for one thing, and something else entirely different comes up, leading me back the way I came so I can trawl through a list of games within a genre or alphabet category. It’s just a pain so while the content is there, I often don’t bother searching, as I know it’s not easily accessible.

However, when it comes down to pure content, the PSN wins hand down. Sure, all the content is in a slightly cluttered mess in a mountain of sub menus, but it is there. Need a load of pointless DLC for that obscure Japanese game? It’s there. Want to play a classic from the PS1 era? Well that’s there too. Even the Classics collection is better on the PSN than it is on the XBLA, and it’s usually cheaper.

The other issue with the PSN is its update system. I’ll admit it, I don’t use my PS3 as much as I probably should do, but every time I get that urge to get back into a game, I'm met with a system update. These are all well and good, but they take far too long and I have never actually seen a system update that changes the appearance of the home screen. When competing with the forever-changing appearance of the XBLA, the PSN falls flat on its face retaining its flat and boring interface full of lists and dull icons. It’s simply not as visual, even with a custom theme.

~ This isn’t a console war, but more a content war. The Xbox is older and more mature but it’s lacking in substance as time goes on. It’s got the style, but can it really keep up with the exclusive content the competition has to offer? The PS3, however, is like a teenager, keen to show you absolutely everything it has to offer, but it’s got issues. It likes to tell you it’s changing, but ultimately you are confronted with the same product over and over again, simply offering just that little something extra in a desperate bid to keep your attention.