When I was a kid I got this stereo that had a little space invaders type game that you could play on it’s LED display. To a 13 year old in a time where internet wasn’t even in most houses, let alone every pocket, there’s no doubt that this was a cool little feature but far from the machines intended purpose, and I understood as much. The machine had a decent lifetime. I only parted with it about two years ago, after another 13 or so years of time not being particularly kind to it. It had fallen from an elevated position countless times, cracking the screen a little bit more every time it happened. The multi-disc changer had jammed more times than it had been used, radio was growing more detestable to me with every passing day… and the tape player… well, cassette tapes in 2012? Need I say more?
It reached a point where the only real use of this stereo was a means of getting a louder volume out of my television or to be used as a set of speakers for my PC, but one thing remained – it was always a stereo. It’s shortcomings, it’s breakages and quickly passing usefulness never denied it that. While I look back fondly to the time when I would sit right beside it, listening too my Outhere Brothers tapes and vying for a new high score on the integrated minigame, I remain aware that the game wasn’t the priority; it was the music.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with anything and I just wanted to prime my overall stance on what follows. Recently, last.fm has decided that they plan to make some changes to their service, and one of those changes is the discontinuation of their Xbox app. This is something I generally wouldn’t have an interest in were it not for the reaction the company received and the argument provided by those who see it as a bad thing. I saw from a friend on Wednesday night, he had taken to a promotional tweet on last.fm’s feed to say, and I quote, “Restart the Xbox app and then we’ll care.” To say nothing of entitlement, there are channels you can go through that would better serve your frustration and spare you from looking quite so infantile… even a better choice of words would help. But, all the same, it got me thinking about the whole affair and how the omission of the last.fm Xbox 360 app (and the lack of development for an Xbox One version) affects the people involved. Not me, mind. I mean the subscribers, the company and, then to a lesser extent, the industry and gaming community as a whole.
I make no claim to be personally invested in a positive or negative outcome to this situation but upon looking into it, I saw that this was no one-man-army outrage. In fact, there were countless threads, comments and discussions around the web where the prevalent frame of mind was ‘sod this then, I’m unsubscribing!’. Which really begs the question “Why is it that your subscription to last.fm hangs solely on whether or not it can be used on an xbox?”. The entire notion is out of whack to me. Mainly because, despite marketing strategies, I see the Xbox 360, Xbox One and all games consoles primarily as… well, games consoles. Much like my old stereo was a box that music came out of by design and that I was fortunate enough to have it come with a little game too. A games console is a system that plays games. Anything beyond that, at least as far as I’m concerned, is irrelevant. I accept that if someone buys the machine under the premise of it being a home entertainment system that they come to expect it to, in fact, be a home entertainment system, but that’s just something I don’t personally go in for. At least not as vehemently as many of those affected here.
It’s worth pointing out that I don’t actively think these people are wrong, per se, I enjoy features such as Netflix, 4OD and the like as much as the next user, but first and foremost the only thing I expect to come of these machines is an interactive experience that no other machine is capable of offering. The inclusion of other features is great and I would naturally not want them to go anywhere, but I didn’t pay as much as I did on my PS4 to own a static music streaming device or a DVD player. I could spare myself a lot of money if that is what I’m looking for. I actually bought it because it’s the technological progression for the hobby that inspires me to do a great many things, one of which I’m doing right now. The reaction I have seen here – which, in fairness, hasn’t all been childish vitriolic cries of persecution – has been contradictory to the fact that something like an app – a free app no less – is anything more than a pleasantry. It’s akin to my tracking down the person or persons responsible for the implementation of that game on my old stereo and attempting to cajole them, through angry tweets and whiney forum posts, into affixing it to my new stereo.
More to the point of how this affects the system itself, I was actually thinking about custom soundtracks a few weeks ago and how they seem to have passed as quickly as they had appeared. The understanding that I ultimately stopped thinking about it on is that it generally wasn’t worth the resources for developers – of game or system – to provide the option to play music during gameplay. A lot of work goes into the music and audio in games and is designed specifically to aid the experience. Not to say that you shouldn’t listen to music, but the best possible music in most cases is right there in the game. Programming this functionality – or access to this functionality – soaks up time, money and system resources that would be better served elsewhere, but the hammer of disapproval falls pretty hard on this last.fm Xbox experience when I learn that this isn’t even that. The app in question doesn’t even coexist with the systems purpose, your choices are music or game and never the twain shall meet.
As I said, while I won’t say that these people are inherently wrong in their being bothered by this, but I am pretty bothered by them and here’s why. The subscription to last.fm is universal. With phones, tablets and other mobile devices, smart TV’s, laptop and desktop computers remaining, as far as I can tell, all untouched by this change, the vocal majority seem to be opting to disregard all of it. Why? Because it’s not hindering their games console from showing the potential it’s designed to provide. It’s glaringly apparent that few are taking into account that this could possibly be an affordance vs. worth issue, that it may generally not be profitable to keep the app going. Instead, it’s last.fm “not listening to their user base” when they stamp their feet in the face of an attempt at progression to a service. It’s hard to accept that unwavering dedication to plans, that are most likely designed to improve the service, is a failure to listen to their user base. The big problem I see here is the fact that it’s not affecting anybody, really, they just want it to be affecting them. Fact is, your subscription is still available, and no doubt appreciated, you just need to find use for it through a different device. Who knows, you might even play a game while using it now.
In closing I have only this to say: according to Wikipedia, the service held 30 million active users – not subscribers, active users – in March 2009, 9 months prior to the Xbox app’s release. This tells me that while many of those people may have adopted the Xbox app as the mainstay source of the service, they don’t NEED the Xbox to prosper. In fact, last.fm is actually around four years older than the 360… those must a have been dark times. I’m curious to know, are you ready to grab your pitchfork and flaming torches or people making mountains out of molehills? Let us know in the comments below!