Skip to main content

How ReCore makes the case for the return of Xbox Live Arcade

Before ID@Xbox, most game developers needed a publisher to hit the Xbox 360. Putting games onto the Xbox platform used to be a pretty expensive ordeal, and publishers would often float the bill in exchange for a cut of the profits. Xbox Live Arcade was a way for smaller developers to hit the Xbox 360 digitally, forgoing the expenses of physical distribution. Games on Xbox Live Arcade were priced anywhere between $10 to $40, and were never billed as competitors for the "AAA" players on the market.

While ID@Xbox has, for the most part, done away with the financial reasons for Xbox Live Arcade's existence, I think games like ReCore make the case for its return as an entity, and here's why.

ReCore

ReCore reviews have been mixed at best. The game is currently sitting in the 60s on Metacritic, which is no doubt far below what Microsoft Studios would have hoped for.

Such average scores practically guarantee ReCore will not receive a sequel, despite the caliber of developers who worked on the title, and despite the game's solid foundation. ReCore is completely underrated. It harkens back to the golden age of 3D platforming, complete with great character designs, an intriguing premise, incredible music and addictive combat. I feel like at least some of the reasons for its poor review scores extend to expectations created around the game, some expectations a revived Xbox Live Arcade would help mitigate.

Setting expectations

I spoke with ReCore's lead developer Mark Pacini at E3, and character designer Keiji Inafune and writer Joseph Staten both at Gamescom. After playing the game, it's plain to me that they were honest about the product. They were also enthusiastic, but reserved. They didn't make it sound like ReCore was the 3D platformer to end all 3D platformers, but they were humble about the game's goals, and their hopes for its reception.

It seems unfair to judge a smaller game like ReCore against a backdrop of major, established franchises with huge budgets.

The vast majority of gamers, and indeed, reviewers, didn't have their vision of ReCore tempered by speaking with the game's developers. That perspective set my expectations for a smaller, "AA" game, rather than full blown "AAA."

I played ReCore at E3 and Gamescom, as well as Insomnia in the UK, I knew exactly what I was coming back to when I did the review. I stand by my 4 out of 5 score because I saw the game for what it was. So do many Xbox fans I've spoken to, many of whom are just as perplexed by the game's harsh critical reception.

I'm not here to claim that we should write a firm rulebook on how review scores work, but I feel like it's unfair to judge smaller games on the same stage as an "AAA" games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Fallout 4. Shouldn't review scores factor value into the equation?

If ReCore was selling for the $60 price tag, I would have felt a little bit cheated as a consumer. I haven't been receiving free review copies for as long as some of the veterans at some of the major, mainstream websites, but I still remember a time where I'd have to carefully consider where to direct my cash. Sometimes I wonder if reviewers forget what it meant to have to pay for games. If you want a contemporary sign that we factor pricing into our gaming choices, look no further than avalanche of drama and refunds surrounding the fully-priced No Man's Sky.

No Man's Sky

ReCore (and even No Man's Sky) might have fared better in reviews had it enjoyed a humbler launch under the Xbox Live Arcade, rather than sitting alongside the likes of similar explorative, action RPGs like The Witcher 3. It seems unfair to judge a smaller game like ReCore against a backdrop of major, established franchises with huge budgets.

Even when you disregard the other games that are launching under the Microsoft Studios brand, there are far too many open-world games that are at least superficially similar to ReCore, that simply offer way, way, way more content, or at the very least, additional bells and whistles.

Making room for "AA" games

Honestly, sometimes it feels a little like the industry has forgotten how to manage expectations. The most recent, most glaringly obvious example of this, as mentioned, is No Man's Sky. Sony marketed it as AAA, they proclaimed "we're treating it as first party" and they sold it for $60 at retail — it even has a pricier Collector's Edition. At least in my mind, No Man's Sky is by no means "AAA." It sits in the same frame as ID@Xbox's Everspace, which recently launched into the Xbox Game Preview to widespread praise. Everspace has enjoyed no major marketing effort, it is priced incredibly fairly, and is extremely transparent about missing features that will arrive in future patches.

Why was No Man's Sky billed to be something so much more than the superficially similar Everspace? Sure, by marketing No Man's Sky as "AAA," even though the game is, at least for now, pretty shallow, Sony and Hello Games ensured it would sell like hotcakes. Their short-sighted marketing has led Hello Games to go completely dark on Twitter, and has seen No Man's Sky's player-base dwindle to just 1000 concurrent users on Steam.

Did ReCore really need a cutting-edge CGI reveal trailer or an expensive Collector's Edition?

Gamers are wising up to these sorts of marketing techniques and growing weary of the hype that video games generate around themselves, but perhaps developers and publishers are not entirely at fault. This is a business after all, and with the rise of indie games, it feels like big publishers are are simply not willing to accept smaller "AA" investment bets anymore.

"AA" cult hits like Castle Crashers, Shadow Complex and State of Decay flourished under the Xbox Live Arcade, where expectations were tempered, foibles were tolerated and reviewers were lenient. When a game flies under the ID@Xbox flag, it's as though it is rightfully judged on how much fun it offers, rather than whether or not it has tennis mini-games or billions of side-quests.

Did a AA game like ReCore really need a cutting-edge CGI reveal trailer? Did it really need an expensive (but, admittedly awesome) Collector's Edition? These are the sorts of things that usually accompany blockbuster AAA franchises. I can't help but feel like these sorts of things inflate expectations, which are already on high simply because Microsoft.

Space to flourish

ReCore should have been given a chance for a quieter launch as part of a digital-only brand, to prove itself conceptually, instead of being marched out of the door among titles like Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4. ReCore's pricing is an admission that the game isn't "AAA." If Microsoft Studios wants to fund new ventures and projects on a smaller, "AA" scale, doing so under a brand that manages expectations from the outset would only be a good thing. "Not quite ID@Xbox, not quite AAA."

Microsoft's philosophy of allowing the smallest indies to sit alongside the biggest budget blockbusters is a nice sentiment, but I do wonder whether if it's stifling creativity, as it forces smaller projects to compete with the odds stacked against them. Depending on your philosophy, that might only be a good thing — competition forces innovation and drives quality, but it feels increasingly like the goal posts are shifting at a pace that smaller games simply can't keep up with. Gameplay should always be the central thing that defines a game's quality, but value, effort and craftsmanship should count for something too.

ReCore

We could catalog the complex logistical and financial factors behind all of this, and perhaps projects like ReCore wouldn't exist at all without a hype-train driving sales. I can only hope that's not the case.

The bottom line is that the ID@Xbox branding seems to work for smaller indie titles to some degree, but for those games that do have the opportunity to reach a little higher with publisher backing, a revived Xbox Live Arcade could be a place where those sorts of mid-range projects exist, and hopefully flourish.

We deserve to see more of Joule and Mack, even if it isn't via a "AAA" title.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

44 Comments
  • As stated in the article, Recode would have had a much bigger launch had it not been released just two weeks before Forza Horizon 3.  If a late August launch was not possible, then perhaps an early October date would have been better. Also, if MS wants to push Digital over disks, why not just let the digital users play a couple days before the disks are available.
  • How about a discount for buying digital? I would have more incentive if it wasn't almost always more expensive to buy digital.
  • The discounted incentive now is that if you buy digital, you have access to the game on any platform instantly through the UWP, (I.e.- Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, Halo Wars 2, etc..) or also known as Xbox play anywhere windows 10
  • That doesn't help those of us without gaming computers. The fact that they save on disc and case production (I'm sure its less than a dollar) warrants a small incentive in the initial pricing. Then digital stays high when disc game's pricing drops, this should at least match.
  • I'll pay more for digital. I get cloud storage of the game potentially in perpetuity (the Xbox One is going to grow as a platform, rather than be replaced every 5-7 years, and they're still hosting 12 year old non-backwards compatible Xbox 360 games, so it looks good in this department). I get to play it on multiple devices in various locations without carting a disc around. I don't have to worry about the disc getting lost, stolen, or damaged. Anyone can play the game on my primary Xbox, even if I'm also simultaneously playing it somewhere else. Heck, we can play online together on different Xboxes, with only the one purchase. Physical copies don't offer any of the above advantages.
  • That's not really a discount, since the secnod copy doesn't hold value to a large segment of the XB1 population. A discount is a legitimate price drop, like you get with physical games through Best Buy's GCU and Amazon Prime (20% off new game purchases).
  • Do you really think the cost for the disk and case factor into the pricing? The cost to make the game and distributed is a few dollars. you think that you should get a break on digital copies because you can resell the physical games. however, the game developer doesn't make a penny from the resale market. So, what incentive do they have to cut their profit on digital copies? The most they would cut is the the few dollars it cost to manufacture and distribute the game.
  • You're missing the point about resale: I can't sell a digital copy and make money back, therefore it's better to buy a same-priced physical disc because I can sell it later. Digital prices should compensate for this because they make EVERYONE buy the game new, which gives more money to the developer.
  • Better for you, maybe. You lose too many cool things with a physical copy. For example, I have multiple Xbox Ones. I can buy a game on an Xbox, download it to another Xbox, and have a friend play it on the first system while I play it simultaneously on a second. You can't do that with a physical copy, as one of many ways physical copies are inferior to digital distribution. And I've lost, misplaced, misfiled, and damaged discs in the past. Games take up space, and after 35 years of gaming the amount of physical space all my games takes up is ridiculous. It all adds up. Never again.
  • You're completely missing the entire physical process. It's not just discs and cases. It's printing inserts. It's printing artwook. It's cases. It's discs (and their artwork). It's storage for the discs. It's the machinery to do the disc writing. It's the employees running (and doing maintenance on) the machinery. It's the buildings to hold that machinery. It's the warehouses to store the stuff pre-shipping. It's the shipping costs to get it to customers and retailers. It's the cut you have to give those retailers (which 100% dies in a digital distribution system). It's the stock you have to eat that doesn't sell. It's the lost sales because of the physical, used market.
  • Exactly. I'm not talking about a huge difference in pricing, I am thinking about 54.99 instead of 59.99. Once discs are phased out completely ( I know there are arguments that they never will be, and that's probably correct for the most part) discs WILL cost more, probably more than the 5 dollars I am talking about now because they will be special collector's editions only. I completely understand and agree with the fact that digital copies hold all the advantages over disc copies, especially now that they take up the same HD space. At the same time I do not agree that this convenience should factor into pricing. This is what was wrong with Ticketmaster, WTF is a convenience fee anyway? =P I never stated that I should be compensated because I can resell physical games, but this does add to the case that discs should cost more. I almost always wait till I can get a game used for this reason (the fact that they are much cheaper, especially over digital copies), unless I'm completly into the series or need MP and they have that stupid anti-resale system set up. Digital pricing remains higher long after a disc's NIB pricing has fallen, this isn't right. If anything they should match. There is no reason why I should be able to go to a Wal-Mart and pick up a game for 34.99 regular price and see it still listed in the Xbox store for 59.99.
  • Agreed on a lot of that. However, I'll note that new > used around launch time. If you go to GameStop and get a recently released, major title, you're going to pay $55. If you have their PURP membership, you can get it for $50. If you get Amazon Prime or Best Buy's GCU, you get launcch games at $48. Plus, Best Buy usually has used games at $50, when GS has them at $55, and GCU offers the same discount of 10%. So, as long as I can get new games for $48 at BB, and occasionally get $10 back in rewards (on larger releases like Gears, CoD, and Battlefield), there is no incentive to go digital. I don't own/play a lot of games at once. The only physical game I own right now is DOOM. I'm going to go trade it in today, when I pick up my physical copy of Forza. I'll be sticking with a single physical game. I have a decent number digitally, but the only ones I've played in the last month or so are Neverwinter, Halo 5, and The Crew. I can't trade in Titanfall, which I got with my console and stopped playing within 6 months. It's worthless AND useless. The last thing you mentioned is also huge. The biggest example I can recall is the first Borderlands. My cousin and I beat the campaign of that, he owned the game. We wanted to get the DLC and play it. This, of course, was right around the time Borderlands 2's GotY release was happening, so nearly 4 years after the game we were playing launched. The DLC on the Xbox 360 Marketplace was $10 each, or $40 total. This is the same price as when it came out, 2-3 years prior. For $35, we could go buy the GotY version of the game at GameStop, which would get us all the DLC and a second copy of the base game. DLC never seems to take permanent price drops digitally, at least with Xbox, and it's horribly priced as a result.
  • Wow, yeah I forgot about the DLC aspect. That is a great point. That doesn't ever fall, even if the game gets permanently discounted. This usually doesn't effect me as much as I will usually wait till a season pass goes on sale to get the DLC if I own a game before a pack comes out. Even doing this is usually still 5-10 more than getting the package in the end, however.
  • While the Disc production and distribution costs are low, the profit margin built into games for retailers isn't (10-20%).  On the other hand, if publishers undercut retailers, then there would be zero incentive for retailers to carry those games.  Since the majority of gamers are still purchased on disc, it wouldn't make sense for publishers to start a price war with its primary sales vehicle.
  • The retailers still have the incentive of used games, if digital undercuts physical. Plus, since Amazon (Prime) and Best Buy (GCU) do programs to sell new, physical at 20% off (meaning $48 for a launch title), there is absolutely room for digital to come down. Used profits are MUCH higher for retailers than new, and the opportunity to trade games in to save on the next purchase would still drive a lot of physical sales for those retailers.
  • That went away with all the DRM and 24 hr checks after the original Xbox one announcement at E3. Sad to see it go. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I'd argue that the game is aiming for a different part of the market. Having something like Xbox Live Arcade would have been able to differentiate them more so as totally different experiences, thus selling them better to their respective markets.
  • Do we have any other example for that though? ID@Xbox sort of covers the meat of the XBLA platform, the indie stuff. We're basically sitting here, asking if an entire (redundant) program should be revived over a single game. So we have any other examples that fit under this hood of "not AAA, not $60, not indie?" You could maybe argue to have Sunset Overdrive in that, but then I think you're just picking on it and ReCore for not being a mature art style, because that game looked much better, to me (I played it, but not ReCore, so I don't want to claim ReCore is inferior from a gameplay standpoint, though I loved Sunset's movement system).
  • Early October would have been a raging disaster. You basically needed to have it in the summer (the first-half of the summer) to have a chance. Forza Horizon is just the start of the holiday avalanche (really, NBA 2K17 last week was). "Early October" means October 4th. That is 1 week before Gears of War, which is 10 days before Battlefield 1, which is 7 days before Titanfall 2, which is 7 days before Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (and MW Remastered). A week after that, you get Dishonored 2, which is 4 days ahead of Watch Dogs 2. Then you get a small, 2-week window before Final Fantasy XV, then the following week is South Park and Dead Rising 4. The first week of September might have worked, though that would have meant following Deus Ex and Madden.
  • Keith vrs Mass. Two great commenters go head to head. Who wins round one or how many rounds did I miss?
  • Maybe all the hype this site and others gave it should have been scaled back then? Besides a game should be judged on its merits not by being required to speak to the devs to set expectations, Microsoft is happy to take people's money so the game should be judged as its sold, a finished product.
  • I don't feel like we overhyped it. The interviews we conducted on the game were frank and honest about its content and quality. I asked repeatedly what the £30 price point meant for the game, and made note of the fact that it raised the possibility that it wasn't going to be a full-blown AAA experience. I linked them in the article for reference.
  • I pre-ordered ReCore based on the reviews here and so far I feel that Jez's review was perfect. I knew that I wasn't getting an AAA title and it means I've really enjoyed the game because I had the right amount of hype for it. I don't normally pre-order games with the exception of Halos as most games are over-hyped I find but the article Jez wrote throroughly tempered hype with honest review. Maybe other sites over-hyped it but I felt Windows Central did a great job as it still is a great game!
  • Then judge it as it's sold; a very good budget game. It's half the cost of a AAA game. I think it delivers more than enough value for money.
  • I'm halfway through it and feel it is definitely underappreciated. Welcome relief from the dark/gritty shooters & action titles (like Tomb Raider). Loads of fun, great style/theme, addictive gameplay. Kind of reminds me of a sci-fi take on Fable.
  • Agreed.
  • I'm excited to play it.
  • Microsofts game organization is frankly a mess, after most of the people responsible for the xbox 360 left, the team that made the xbox one started from scratch and then the team which has been cleaning up the mess made which brings up to today. Xbox Live Arcade worked in it's time but also had lots of limitations, XBLA had dedicated places to publishers, mandatory demos, limited patching etc, towards the end of the xbox 360 era many developers felt XBLA was stifling. You could bring back XBLA as a showpiece system for AA titles but it's nothing more than that. You could add an XBLA section to the store but it also needs a games with mods section or even an Xbox Anywhere area. Same goes for the Windows 10 Store which had Xbox titles alongside casual mobile titles. Plus if you go to the Xbox app on Windows you get a different layout on top of all that.  
  • Well, the problem is that we're getting solid franchises, but they're only published by MS, not controlled by them. So, they had a really nice Sunset Overdrive, but Insomniac is off to its next project--meaning no sequel. Ryse was done by Crytek, who didn't sound interested in another release (I believe they even said MS would have to pay for the IP for a sequel to happen, then develop it themselves). Quantum Break was nice, but not controlled by MS, and people are more interested in Alan Wake 2 out of Remedy, so that franchise is likely done. Dead Rising and Titanfall are going multi-platform now, as did Rise of the Tomb Raider. MS just isn't doing in-house stuff that isn't super-safe. They have shrunk the portfolio greatly, cut out a lot of jobs and IP, and left us wanting on the exclusives front.
  • I like recore. It is short and a little shallow in places but it has charm. Quickly I got the relationship between Joule and Mack and found Mack to be a likable companion, unlike some AAA games where companions are just annoying. The graphics are good enough but there are issues which I would expect from a game from developers which don't have the team size to do extensive game testing.
    This should be a £19.99 xla game and should be promoted as look what small teams are able to produce.
  • If anyone ever doubts the pro-Sony, anti-Microsoft media bias, just look at the review scores for No Man's Sky and ReCore. There is no way, in any sane world, that the former should be rated higher than the latter, especially when considering the price and the hype (a.k.a. manufactured lies by Sony and Hello Games, who are now laughing their way to the bank). 
  • This^
    It is unbelievable that ReCore should get 'average' reviews all things considered. It's just the regular anti MS thing. I don't read reviews anymore these days. I'll take my chances on gut feeling.
  • Best way to do it. Videogame and phone reviews are all the same... Biased reviews on brand or specs where the actual useage. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I actually see that as more of a problem in the way games are rated. In the professional realm, a game has to be fundamentally broken and unplayable for a rating under 6, maybe 5. The 1-10 scale starts at 5, and everything that is disappointing gets a 6, as Destiny just got...again. For the masses, 7 is that starting point for a decent game. If people USED the whole scale, and readers understood how it worked (rather than using a school grading scale mentality), it wouldn't be this way. Calling ReCore a 5 (average) should be acceptable, and calling No Man's Sky a 4 (good for the right crowd) should be acceptable. There's no nuance in gaming reviews.
  • I think that's a good point Jez. I liked Arcade and the fact you could search for these smaller games in a specific place rather than them getting lost in a sea of big name games. It needs to come back to help games like ReCore thrive for being what they are rather than be classed as something that has no chance of living up to expectations.
  • I just bought a digital copy of recore at best buy using a reward, Samsung pay gift card, and the rest on a best buy gift card. Good thing about digital purchase s is no tax, the convenience of loading the dog-on disc, and I can play this on my gaming PC. I hope the game syncs progress and I would play in the office sometime. The price was fair at 40. I bought after reading that it was Metroid - Zelda - like. The game is good. So far I have played it more than my AAA games like GTA5, fallout 4, Destiny/taken King (yeah I bought both even though I never played the original). I don't have a lot of time for games, so I nice short l, yet engaging game suits me... I am liking indie games like costume quest and guacamelee. I think people want too much... So far if it is not first person, most people won't buy it. I love my shooters, but the only other game I will buy this year is titanfall 2... Digital preorder at that.. There is a charm for indie games... No one wants to buy a game for $60 and it be junk. 60 dollars is just too much for any game really. I personally would rather be active than in front of a video game. But yeah, i have titanfall preordered. That is a game where i can play anytime and any skill level as it may be weeks before I play a game again. I feel I will actually beat recore as I have a desire to play it... Thinking about it now. Not too serious, voice acting is good, and nothing over the top... Besides I like a good platformer.
    . Solid review and interesting article. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Digital games are not tax free everywhere. I get taxed in Louisiana, and if I buy an Xbox card in the store first and load my account, I get taxed twice. It sucks, as that used to be an incentive to buy digital.
  • I am loving recore right now! It's amazing and I think it's better than some AAA games
  • Thank you for this article. The thoughts you express should be viewed by all fans of gaming.
  • I enjoyed the article, but I disagree about the need for Live Arcade coming back or that this particular game emphasises that need. I played the hell out of this game, and the only reason I have put it down is to wait for a fix for some of the achievements.  It is apparent that the game is unfinished, and rushed out the door (probably at Microsoft's insistence, who is desperate for new IP before the holiday season).  The missing content and state of the game is likely the reason for the $40 price tag.  With the missing content restored (T8NK corebot and inaccessible areas) and glitched achievements fixed, I can totally see validation for the standard $60 price. Even with it's issues the GAME IS FUN.  Sure, that is a subjective statement, but I really enjoyed the hell out of it.  The challenge dungeons can be a little frustrating, but that is just platforming, which I do not excel at.  But I still did it.  As platformers go, it is not too hard, and really a lot of fun.  A little grindy trying to get parts or cores, if you care about achievements, but otherwise optional.
  • I've been saying the exact same thing. It's a $40 game so that should have gave reviewers a big hint that its not an AAA and it shouldn't be treated as such. I was thinking about Xbox arcade the other day thinking why did MSFT drop it. Anyway great article
  • I don't know about XBLA (I'm not in favor of a return), but the way Recore has been treated by the gaming press is a travesty. It's a terrific game, even without additional time for polish. It was not priced as a triple-A title and should not have been reviewed as one. The fact that it includes a "free" copy for PC as well should further endear this to gamers. It deserves a much higher level of success.  I'm not one to believe in conspiracy theories, but it feels to me that many Xbox exclusives this generation have been given short-shrift by a skeptical (if not overtly hostile) gaming press. It's sad that platform politics seems to be tainting the good work being done on Xbox by commited developers.
  • All that left with XBLA was the name, because the systems and avenues to publish on XBox are still in place, and they felt they didn't need to segregate those games from the rest of the titles. But now, you're saying they DO because if they don't then people don't know what level of expectations to set? That doesn't say much for consumers. Also, since when do metacritic scores have any impact on whether or not a game gets a sequel? Sales are all that matter.
  • Great article. Well written and true Posted via the Windows Central App for Android