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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Game On: Forthcoming Xbox 360 Marketplace closure signals the end of an era

Debuting in 2006, the Xbox 360 Marketplace will finally close its doors on July 29, 2024. The storefront had a heavy hand in popularizing the digital distribution of video games on consoles.   (Microsoft Corp.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

On Aug. 17, Microsoft announced that support will be dropped for the Xbox 360 online storefront next summer, on July 29. This news follows a trend set by other console makers, with Nintendo withdrawing access to their eShop for the 3DS and Wii U in March and Sony discontinuing store access for the PlayStation Portable in July 2021.

Microsoft clarified that the 600+ Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles that have been made backwards compatible to play on modern Xbox consoles will continue to be available to buy, and that all games already purchased will still be available to download for the foreseeable future.

In addition, on July 29 the Microsoft Movies & TV app will no longer function on Xbox 360, so downloadable movies and TV shows purchased via the Xbox storefront will no longer be watchable on the 360. This was never a huge selling point of the console, and it’s difficult to imagine many people are regularly using the system as their primary media player in 2023.

While the news is somewhat unsurprising, it signals the end of an era. The Xbox 360 debuted in 2005 and its Marketplace launched in 2006, kicking off the trend of buying digital copies of games on consoles. Digital distribution of software was steadily gaining popularity on PC, but it was the Xbox 360 that made it popular for game systems.

The storefront was initially known primarily for its “Xbox Live Arcade,” where players could download small indie titles while larger games were still sold on physical discs. But before long, Microsoft was enticing players to download even disc-based games with the promise of quicker load times.

Microsoft and Sony considered ditching the disc drive altogether for the console generation that followed – the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – and the newest generation of systems has had discless models since day one.

Whenever a storefront is discontinued or an online-only title is taken offline, there’s a collective sigh in the gaming community. Video games face a somewhat unique dilemma when it comes to preservation, because most other forms of media are limited to playback alone – it’s not hard to rip the audio and video from a long-lost Betamax cassette and get it running on modern devices.

But video games are considerably harder to preserve due to being programmed in many different ways for many different systems. There are numerous titles available only on the Xbox 360 that haven’t been ported to newer systems. Further, several of these games only exist on the online storefront. Once there’s no way to buy a copy, there are no options for would-be new players aside from illegal emulation. The game is effectively lost.

Again, while this move by Microsoft comes as no surprise given the actions of its competitors, it’s still disappointing – a small part of me hoped that Microsoft, with its legendary quantities of server space, would be willing to continue supporting the Xbox 360 Marketplace indefinitely. After all, they’ve been all too happy to advertise their support for backwards compatibility in recent years.

Sony may be the surprise winner of this race, as they reversed course and indefinitely stalled the closure of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita storefronts following backlash in 2021. While I applaud their decision, I suspect they’ll also put the nail in the coffin before long. Preserving old storefronts that only a handful of enthusiasts regularly use is detrimental to these corporations’ bottom lines, and they ultimately exist first and foremost to make money.

While it doesn’t exonerate Microsoft’s money-first choice, it’s worth noting that when Nintendo took down the eShop for the 3DS and Wii U in March, consumers were only given one month’s notice, while Xbox 360 owners have 11 months to prepare.

So to all my fellow preservationists and retro game enthusiasts – although labeling the Xbox 360 “retro” hurts my soul – consider giving the system’s online catalog one or two last looks before it disappears next summer.