Is Microsoft's 150MB limit for Xbox Live Arcade games a bad idea?

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xboxlivearcade.jpgBigger is better. More is marvellous. Larger is lovely. This, at least, has been the attitude traditionally adopted by game developers, who as soon as they’re given more processing power, better graphics and more spacious storage media, rush to make the most of it.

That’s great, right? But hang on a minute. All too often, ‘more’ means ‘more bloated’, while for developers and publishers, ‘more’ means ‘more costly’. The result: less innovative games, due to the risks involved if they don’t sell, and more bloatware.

You could argue that console gaming has been in its pompous prog-rock period, although that would make Nintendo’s Wii the Punk that’s come to blow it away. Something like that, anyway.

The point is, one of the coolest things about the casual games on Xbox Live Arcade was their file-size restrictions, which put the emphasis back on imaginative gameplay. Now Microsoft has tripled the file-size limit from 50MB to 150MB. The Bloat is Back? Maybe.

Okay, so there’s just a couple of loose assumptions in that opening. Restrictive file sizes can equally foster a lack of imagination – check out all the Tetris and Breakout clones available for your mobile phone, for example. And anyone who wants high-def games to play on their high-def TV will welcome the increased storage capacity of modern-day console media.

Yet still. Microsoft’s announcement that it’s giving Xbox Live Arcade developers 100MB more space to play with worries me. What are they going to do with it? Are we about to start hearing people quack on about the amazing textures in Live Arcade games just as they did about the Xbox 360’s launch titles? Will a 150MB limit focus developers’ minds as clearly as the previous 50MB limit did? I just don’t know.

The assumption is that size does matter, and this is a big step forward. “The new size limit offers developers increased flexibility and continued opportunities for innovative game development, while also ensuring that the millions of gamers on Xbox Live can continue to easily access, download and play all Xbox Live Arcade games on Xbox 360,” said Chris Early, product unit manager for Xbox Live Arcade and Microsoft Casual Games.

smallarms.jpgYet he also highlighted current titles like Roboblitz and Small Arms (pictured) as proof that developers “deliver amazing game experiences within a compact size limit”. The danger of the higher limit is that those developers will start going mad with their 3ds Max software, and forget about the innovative gameplay side of things.

Meanwhile, a host of old games that would’ve struggled to slim down to the 50MB limit can now be shovelled across to Xbox Live Arcade. And, of course, Microsoft gets to sell millions of gamers its expanded 512MB memory card (announced alongside the new file-size limit).

Don’t take this as simply slating Microsoft, though. The firm’s done some great work with Xbox Live Arcade, particularly when it comes to soliciting ace original games from developers, rather than just relying on old retro stuff like Nintendo’s Virtual Console does – at the moment, at least.

Hopefully, Microsoft’s stable of Xbox Live Arcade developers will prove me wrong, and come out with a series of amazing 148MB games. We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, PS3’s limit for download games is a whopping 500MB, but that’s another story…

Stuart Dredge