Is Summer of Arcade Worth the Hype?

Believe it or not, we have been paying more money each year for lower average metascores. If that is the case, why does Summer of Arcade remain such a big deal for gamers? It wasn’t even mentioned at this year’s E3 Microsoft Press Conference, it was mentioned almost off handily in an interview beforehand. Is Summer of Arcade starting to diminish? Is it truly worth the hype?

[Editor’s note: while this piece frequently references Metacritic, we do not believe review scores should be treated as the end all be all of a games worth. XBLA Fans does not score games. We use a buy, try, skip system. However, as much of the rest of the industry, gamers, developers, publishers and some press still place a large weight on MC scores we can’t ignore them.]

Back in 2008, Microsoft underwent a promotion entitled Summer of Arcade. Back then, anyone who bought all five games, consisting of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Braid, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Galaga Legions and Castles Crashers, would be entered in to win a grand prize of 100,000 Microsoft Points, a 12 Month Xbox Live Subscription and an Xbox 360 Elite Console. The following years would not need the same enticement as without question; it’s clear the first Summer of Arcade set a high bar for preceding years as it included the current XBLA sales leader (Castle Crashers) and Metacritic score leader (Braid).

This was followed up with the 2009 Summer of Arcade consisting of ‘Splosion Man, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, Trials HD, and Shadow Complex. At the time, fans had been clamoring for a re-release of Marvel vs. Capcom for quite some time. And ‘Splosion Man and Trials HD became huge success stories that have both spawned sequels. But Shadow Complex arguably stole the show as it pushed the boundaries on what people believed was possible for an XBLA game.

But 2010 set a new benchmark, it was the first year all five titles, Limbo, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Monday Night Combat, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, launched at a 1200 point price tag. It’s hard to argue the price increase was unwarranted as games have been increasing in size scope over the years. Limbo was the true highlight breaking into the 90’s on Metacritic.

We debated back and forth for months internally about what games we felt would make 2011’s Summer of Arcade list. The resulting titles were very diverse: Toy Soldiers: Cold War (sequel to the highly popular hybrid tower defense title), Fruit Ninja Kinect (popular iOS game and the first Kinect XBLA game), Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (a Metroidvania title from the The Iron Giant’s Michel Gagne), From Dust (return of Eric Chahi), and Bastion (a captivating world by an indie darling). In the end, we were entirely pleased by the results. All five titles shined with four of the five placing on the top ten selling titles for the year.

Ironically enough, if you crunch the numbers 2008 was by far and away the best year for XBLA Fans. The Average Metacritic score was 84.8 (the highest), and the average price was 960 (the lowest). The following year has the second best numbers with 80 and 1040 respectively. Again the third year, saw a decrease in Metacritic Scores (79.2) and an increase in price (1200). This past year saw another decrease in score (78.8) but also saw a decrease in price (1120). In 2008 we paid an average 11.329 Microsoft Points for each Point of Metacritic Score earned by the Summer of Arcade titles, while in 2011 we paid an average 14.165 Microsoft Points for each Point of Metacritic Score by Summer of Arcade titles.

So if Summer of Arcade is arguably on the decline why do we care so much about it? We can tell you first hand there is a reason that almost every XBLA developer will tell you they are aiming for summer for their release window. Many of them are hoping to work their way into the Summer of Arcade promotion. It receives an unparalleled amount of promotion, both by Microsoft and by Press. Just looking toward Metacritic will prove this yet again. Bastion received 79 reviews on Metacritic and From Dust received 76 whereas few games outside of this promotion will even encroach on 50.

If you want to be noticed by both press and gamers who traditionally ignore XBLA titles, Summer of Arcade is your ticket. And in the end, what everyone is looking for is sales. Trials HD and Castle Crashers chronically sell at the top of every XBLA sales chart. And every year a new group of games are trying to break into that territory.

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