Microsoft: “Let’s make redownloading everything you ever bought as difficult as possible!”

Early last November – the same day I happily picked up Saints Row 2 with my paycheck – my Xbox 360 died. Like most 360s of 2005 vintage, mine spit back the dreaded red (three-quarters) ring of death.

Fast forward a month, and my 360 is back from the repair center. Finally! Current-gen gaming on my surround sound, and not some friend’s tinny TV speakers! Yes! I tear open the box like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning, and prepare for a long session of catch-up on drive-bys and unnecessarily rough police brutality.

Another few weeks roll by, and in futzing around the ad-tastic new interface I discover that none of my arcade games or purchased content work outside of my Xbox Live profile. Anyone who’s had their 360 repaired can tell you this is a standard occurrence with a fairly standard remedy, and anyone who invites friends over who have their own Live accounts can tell you why such a feature is important.

“No problem,” I say naively. “I’ll just use the license transfer tool!”

No problem… right? Wrong.

The whole point of the license transfer tool is to make content on your repaired, replaced, or repurchased Xbox 360 work like it did on your original console – that is, you don’t need to be signed in to play your games. Why is it, then, that in order to activate your transferred licenses you have redownload everything you ever bought?

Sure, the migration tool works… technically. It does what it is supposed to, and nothing more. Unless you go through the extra legwork, you end up at exactly the same place you were at when you started.

Redownloading your content could have been made easy – but it’s not. Microsoft says you’re supposed to find your download history under the “Account management” page on the guide menu. Navigating to that page, however, reveals one mass list of everything you have ever downloaded, ever: demos, icons, themes, full games, trial games… everything. It makes no attempt to differentiate between paid content and free, Arcade games purchases and trials – the only categories are “games” and “videos”.

Compounding this problem is the amount of steps one must take to actually start the download – and that these steps must be repeated each time: click your content item, click “Download Again”, click “Continue” to add it to the queue... lather, rinse, repeat. Keep in mind that between each of these steps is a wait time of about 3-5 seconds – an eternity when it comes to software design – while the Xbox downloads information from Live and runs the animations for moving between and drawing windows.

Microsoft: I don’t have time to sit there and requeue everything I already bought, especially when it’s because of your design flaw. People use the Xbox 360 to have fun – not to do work that most companies pay minimum wage for.

At least the NXE expanded the download queue to 40 entries, as opposed to the previous limit of six. Still – my download history is 162 entries long. Most of that is “paid” content – well, actually most of it is free stuff but it acts the same as paid content – meaning that in order to restore my Xbox to its original ability, I have to fill up that download queue four times.

This, of course, leads to four questions:

First, is it really so hard to add a “redownload all” option at the end of the transfer process? I can't think of a single good reason why not. This is Microsoft we’re talking about – the company with a seemingly endless well of money, whose Windows department pushes out large update files on a seemingly daily basis. Considering that “redownloading” a 150mb Arcade game takes about ten seconds, it would seem that Microsoft doesn’t even have to serve the actual game at all – just whatever is needed to update the license.

Second, why bother with a download queue limit at all? Just because the dash is given a limited amount of memory doesn’t mean it can’t cache the rest of the queue on disk. Besides that, a download queue – a list of URLs and their order – doesn’t take a lot of space: an order number and a URL, multiplied a bunch of times.

Thirdly, why wasn’t the transfer done while my Xbox was at the repair center?

Finally, why is this step even necessary? Is Live really so poorly designed?

For a company whose leadership seeks to establish an “open” line of communication with its customers, telling us that it’s “easy” to transfer the rights to content we legally bought (and in my book, own – EULAs be damned), forcing gamers to tediously “redownload” a huge pile of stuff strikes me as awefully braindead.

So thank you, Microsoft, for giving me yet another reason to hate DRM. Epic fail, MS.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein
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