The simple answer is that it is an acronym that stands for Xbox Live Arcade. But that answer in itself just brings the inevitable question of what is Xbox Live Arcade? I’ve always known that XBLA was a niche sector of the games market, and numerous friends and family members had never heard of it until we started this site just over a year ago. The constant prodding by our team to our friends asking them to like us on facebook, brought an abundance of questions and a hunger to learn more we couldn’t satiate fast enough. And it was for them I initially intended to write this post. However, believe it or not over the past week while at E3, numerous industry professionals have asked me these same two questions. They too are unaware of the hundreds of quality titles under the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) platform.

Upon googling what is XBLA? Only two relevant searches pop-up: and Wikipedia. In an effort to discover why so few knew what Xbox Live Arcade meant, we went straight to the source: Sadly the page we landed on mentioned nothing of either XBLA or Xbox Live Arcade. Utilizing our crack researching techniques (googling and brute force clicking every link on the page) we never found a description of Xbox Live Arcade. If we went to the games pages specifically, we could search for them if we clicked arcade on the left navigation menu. Still we kept looking and eventually left the normal section of the site to find brief descriptions on the press and developer pages of the site.

Description Given to Press: Xbox LIVE Arcade on the Xbox 360 system is the premier destination for digitally distributed, high-definition games at a great value. With a diverse library of hundreds of original and classic titles, Xbox LIVE Arcade delivers high-quality downloadable games from the world’s best independent and established developers and publishers.

Description Given to Developers: Xbox LIVE Arcade (XBLA) is a for-sale service within Xbox LIVE that offers downloadable Xbox games created specifically for the service. Compared to traditional retail titles, these games are smaller, less expensive, and provide gamers with a more intense short-term experience.

While these descriptions answered some questions a lot of the people we talked with started asking even more because of them, such as where to find the games on their Xbox. Neither of the descriptions above were enough to be the end all be all for Xbox Live Arcade. And neither directs people with were to go to make a purchase since they are not intended for consumers.

We then turned to Wikipedia, which has a brilliant and detailed history of the service, but a barebones description of what the service actually is. As such, we’ve decided to answer the question in great detail below intentionally focusing on a consumer perspective.

What Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) IS:

On the Xbox 360, Xbox Live Arcade is a branded digital distribution platform that is part of the Xbox Live Marketplace. The Xbox Live Marketplace represents the entirety of the for sale content on Xbox Live, including the Game Marketplace, Video Marketplace and Music Marketplace that appear on the Xbox Live Dashboard when signed into Xbox Live. Xbox Live Arcade Games are found inside the Game Marketplace on the slider that says Explore New Games. For the uninitiated this may seem tricky since it says specifically “browse add-ons and free demos.” Once inside, the easiest way to get to the arcade section is to go to games and demos and then click arcade. From here, there is a searchable index of all the Xbox Live Arcade games available to players.

These Xbox Live Arcade games are smaller, compact game experiences that are typically only available digitally (a few notable compilation packs have seen retail shelves). While they are only available digitally, those who do not wish to add their credit card info to the Xbox Live service can buy codes for Microsoft Points on sites like Amazon or codes that allow them to download a specific Xbox Live Arcade game at their local retail store. If they do this, they can redeem those codes on both the website and their Xbox 360 through Xbox Live.

Because Xbox Live Arcade games are smaller, compact game experiences, they have traditionally cost less than retail games. While a game like Gears of War 3 will cost $59.99 MSRP upon its initial launch, a typical Xbox Live Arcade game will cost between 800 ($10) and 1200 ($15) points with a few outliers at the 400 ($5) and 1600 ($20) price point. Various sales occur throughout the week lowering these prices even further for specific titles, which are designated on the Xbox Dashboard and sites such as XBLA Fans.
Xbox Live Arcade games encompass multiple genres, including but not limited to: First Person Shooters, Puzzle Games, Action Adventure Games, Role Playing Games (RPGs), Beat-em Ups, Shoot-em Ups, Platformers, Twin Stick Shooters, Sports Games, Racing Games, Card and Board Games, and even a few that defy classification. There is something on the service for everyone.

Each week on Wednesday, a new game is added to the Xbox Live portfolio of games. Every Xbox Live Arcade Game has a demo that allows players to play the game before purchasing it. This is a great addition that the retail market for consoles severely lacks. When a game is purchased, it will be downloaded onto the memory device a player is using and added to their game library. If it is deleted it can be re-downloaded at no charge. A record of purchased data is stored allowing for the user to  maintain a library in cloud storage.

Why Buy Xbox Live Arcade Games?

Now that you know what they are, the important question is: Why buy Xbox Live Arcade Games? At XBLA Fans, we love that both established and independent developers have a platform for creative, engaging, and innovative new experiences. New and exciting games are popping up on Xbox Live Arcade each week.

As a whole, games that make their way to Xbox Live Arcade are quality titles, as Microsoft limits the number of releases. Sites such as XBLA Fans review titles and allow you to sift through the bad apples. This past week, Develop 100 released their list of the highest rated developers on Metacritic with multiple XBLA developers taking high honors.

Arcade games are perfect for people who want a quality gaming experience but don’t have as much time to devote to beating a longer game. Xbox Live Arcade allows for fun, condensed gameplay experiences that typically focus on high quality in a less time consuming package. Xbox Live Arcade fits this mold of game perfectly. It can be seen as comparing a long novel to a novella or short story. Both types of literature have their place in society and maintain artistic merit. The main difference is just the size.

This summer is the perfect time to get into Xbox Live Arcade Games, as Microsoft is about to release the titles for their Summer of Arcade Promotion. Having played all five titles, we can say with assurance they are some of the best offerings on the platform to date. In the meantime though, check out our list of 15 Must Own Xbox Live Arcade Games.

If you have any additional questions please leave a comment below and we will get back to you with an answer.