Blow: 'Unnecessary' XBLA Hurdles Hurt Game Quality
Independent designer Jonathan Blow's award-winning Braid made its Xbox Live Arcade debut just last week, but Blow says Microsoft's certification requirements might have impeded the game's final quality.
Talking to Gamasutra as part of a larger interview to be published in the near future, Blow says the cert process for XBLA is more geared toward triple AAA games than perhaps is useful.
"They removed some of the requirements for XBLA games, but there are still a lot of requirements, and I believe that, at least for a single-player game like my game, the vast majority of these requirements are unnecessary," he says.
"I put in a tremendous amount of work meeting all these requirements, when I could have put that work into the actual game, and made it even a little more polished, little bit better."
Blow says Microsoft's XBLA certification process is intended to ensure a standard of quality for all titles on the service -- "But I feel like it actually decreases the quality of games, because people spend so much of their energy on these things that users don't even really care about."
Were the challenges of certification enough to deter Blow from releasing further games on XBLA? "I definitely had a couple of unpleasant business interactions with Microsoft," he says.
"Nothing horrible -- well, nothing quite bad enough to cause me to cancel releasing the game on Arcade."
And it's unsurprising, because publishing relationships always have negative elements, he says. "But what would keep me from putting another game on Arcade again is just that they've changed the business deal -- at least as I've heard."
Braid was signed over a year ago, Blow says, and with a new deal structure in play, he fears cost sustainment. "If it's as I've heard that it is, I couldn't even necessarily break even."
Blow adds that his development team consisted essentially of himself and artist David Hellman, contrasted with even slightly larger teams of a handful of developers, as with Castle Crashers' The Behemoth.
But now that Braid is out on the service, can players expect sequels or downloadable content?
"Money is not really my goal, so even if Braid does very well... that's not my concern. I'm not going to do a sequel to Braid -- I don't care how many copies it sells," says Blow.
"I mean, maybe in five years when I'm motivated, if I have a really fresh idea for it. But I'm not waiting in the wings with a level pack, or DLC or anything."
Blow says he has considered releasing Dashboard themes since Microsoft announced the redesign. "I didn't want to do them on the old Dashboard, because it's covered with ads everywhere," he says.
"Braid is about setting a mood and a feeling, and you can't do it while there's like, a Burger King ad there, flashing... I just felt that juxtaposition would have been bad for the game."
Responding to this article in the comments below, however, Blow said he also wanted to stress the positives of his interaction with Microsoft -- "they were also cool about a lot of things," he said.
"They didn't try to dictate the game design, as many publishers might -- they were very hands-off there, and what is in the final game is exactly what I wanted to put there."
"They also bent a lot of XBLA rules, in order to help me make the game the way I wanted, which was pretty cool of them," he said -- one example, the way in which Braid launches and places the player directly in the game is "technically illegal if you go by the book, but they saw what I was trying to do and went with it."
"For the most part, working with Microsoft has been great," says Blow. "There have been occasional problems, including one that I was very upset about -- but there are people at Microsoft who really got the game and worked very hard to help bring it to completion, and it would just be wrong to slight their contribution with some kind of blanket 'Microsoft = Bad' attitude."