How is Xbox Live Arcade planning to evolve in 2007? We talk to XBLA Games Portfolio Planner David Edery about the service, and he reveals what games Microsoft is particularly looking to add this year, from co-op to experimental games.
is the Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade. Basically, he's responsible for the XBLA portfolio strategy in all regions, and he also manage the committee that greenlights individual games. We chatted to him about the multitude of issues, both good and bad, facing the successful service.
Since the beginning of the service, about how many games have been pitched to the Microsoft team?
David Edery: It depends on your definition of "pitched." We've received hundreds of inquiries, ranging from little more than "I have an idea" emails to full proposals (complete with a finished game prototype and forty-page concept document.)
We spend a lot of time working with developers -- over email, on the phone, at conferences, etc -- to help them create solid proposals. The correct contact address for such pitches is email@example.com
Is there a certain type of game that gets pitched the most, or have they kept a pretty even variety?
DE: Pitches are all over the map, which makes sense given that a pretty wide variety of games have been successful on Xbox Live Arcade. Marble Blast Ultra, Street Fighter 2
, and UNO
are our top titles; they don't have a ton in common.
When a developer approaches you, what types of things are you looking for that would make the game a good candidate for the service?
DE: It's a long list, so I'll give you a few examples. We're looking for games that are easy to get into and don't demand too much of your time (of course, if you choose to play them for ten hours straight, that's your business!).
Xbox Live Arcade games are great for the more casual gamer, or for that matter, the hardcore gamer who's looking for a break between sessions of Gears of War
. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; for example, we think that XBLA customers appreciate a good board game, and many board games simply can't be reduced to bite-sized experiences.
We're also looking for games that take advantage of the Live service, which is clearly a major differentiator for the Xbox 360. This includes multiplayer games, but especially multiplayer games that bring players of all kinds together (for example, a non-combat, cooperative multiplayer game).
And of course, we're looking for innovative gameplay! The wonderful thing about Xbox Live Arcade is that it provides developers with a low-risk, low-cost environment in which to experiment. Risks you would never dream of taking in retail are more palatable in XBLA. Over the past year, as developers have come around to the value XBLA has to offer, we've received more and more innovative proposals. I think our customers will be really pleased with the games that are scheduled to come out in 2007!
What is the most common reason a pitched title doesn't make the cut for Live Arcade?
DE: I'm not sure there's any top reason. One common issue is that a proposal simply doesn't fit the XBLA model -- we're not trying to compete with retail.
Looking at this from the other side, titles most likely to "make the cut" are those that have really put some time into thinking through the potential of the 360 platform and Live service. That might mean a game developed from the ground up for the platform (like Geometry Wars
), or a game that has come from another platform but has developed considerably from its original incarnation in terms of graphics, multiplayer, use of achievements, etc.
Outside of the realm of retro-releases, is there any idea too 'small' for Live Arcade? Too big (the current size limit guideline aside)?
DE: I try to avoid generalizations of this nature. What exactly should we consider too small? All that really matters is that the customer feels they got their money's worth (and in the case of a $5 game, that may or may not be a large amount of playable content.) Of course, the game has to be "big" enough to justify conversion from trial game to full game.
Size limits aside, I can only reiterate that we don't see ourselves as a competitor to the retail channel. The next Grand Theft Auto
won't be found on Xbox Live Arcade. However, we look forward to many, many more successes along the lines of Geometry Wars, Marble Blast Ultra, UNO
, and Street Fighter 2
(as well as more recent successes like Assault Heroes
What's been the average balance between established developers and publishers pitching games to the service and true independents hoping to make their break on XBLA?
DE: Initially, we were seeing far more interest from independent developers. However, publishers large and small have absolutely gotten the message that Xbox Live Arcade matters, and lately we've been seeing a real surge of proposals from them as well. I'd call the balance very even at this point.
How long does it take for a game to make it from initial pitch to final release?
DE: Six to nine months, give or take. Which, of coure, means that it takes us at least that long to adjust our portfolio of games in response to customer feedback. For example, we've heard the message loud and clear that XBLA customers want more original games, and let me tell you -- those games are coming.
Do you have any tips for developers hoping to pitch a game to be released on Live Arcade?
DE: As I mentioned earlier, Xbox Live Arcade customers crave variety and innovation. So developers should be asking themselves: how is my game proposal different from all the other console content available to XBLA customers online or offline? And what am I doing to take advantage of the unique ways that Live enables me to excite the Xbox community? For example, I was really pleased with the "Six Degrees of Small Arms" viral achievement that Gastronaut Studios used to drive interest in Small Arms
Are there any types of games or particular titles that you think are perhaps under-represented and would like to see come to Live Arcade?
DE: There are definitely specific games that we're looking for, and game types that we're looking for more of. Some examples:
1) Non-combat, cooperative multiplayer games (as I mentioned earlier).
2) More board games.
3) More "experimental" games and models of gameplay, in general.
Apart from the obvious breadth of selection that the past year has given you, what would you say Live Arcade's advantage is over the recently launched competition?
DE: We're very lucky to have a big head-start and the support of the Live platform team. Our support for multiplayer and achievements is unmatched. Our purchase process is definitely more user-friendly (as much as I enjoy downloading Sony eDI titles twice -- once for the trial and once for the full game -- I'd rather spend that time playing games).
Our developer tools are superb. Our experienced program management staff knows how to help indies achieve success with a minimum amount of fuss. I could go on, but I think it's pretty clear that XBLA is the leader in this space.