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Opinion: Is XBLA Past Its Prime?
Opinion: Is XBLA Past Its Prime?
October 3, 2011 | By Ron Carmel

October 3, 2011 | By Ron Carmel
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    26 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Production, Business/Marketing



[In this opinion piece, reprinted with permission from his blog, 2D Boy's Ron Carmel examines the health of Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade marketplace, and what can be done to make it more useful for developers and players.]

I recently read a Gamasutra article in which XBLA Portfolio Director Chris Charla explains that "With XBLA, we've consciously developed a curated portfolio" and that "The net result is that our customers know that every XBLA game is measured to the same bar – that the quality of games that indies like Signal Studios [Toy Soldiers] or Haunted Temple Studios [Skulls of the Shogun] bring us continues to get better and better, so the bar is always getting higher to get on the platform. I think that's ultimately beneficial to our customers. We want the best, most innovative, coolest games on XBLA."

I think striving to have the best games is very important for the long term health of a platform. The data I've collected, however, suggests that XBLA's health is actually flagging. The elements to which Chris attributes XBLA's ongoing improvement (a curated portfolio and a rising quality bar) are some of the elements that I believe are the biggest obstacles for XBLA's continued prosperity.

To be clear, I'm not finding fault with Chris. XBLA's take on content selection has been this way long before Chris joined as Portfolio Manager. I don't even know if it's within the Portfolio Manager's jurisdiction to change how content selection is handled, much less push for the changes that I will discuss later in this article.

I'm not finding fault with anyone else at Microsoft, either. Their content selection approach made a lot of sense when XBLA was launched 7 years ago. In the early days of digital distribution, there wasn't the abundance of high quality downloadable games that we have now, so weeding out the chaff was critical to creating a positive image for digital distribution in general, and XBLA in particular.

But things have changed quite a bit in the last few years and it might be a good time to reexamine some of the assumptions and reasoning behind how XBLA is managed. Newer, more successful business models have emerged, the number of talented game creators leaving their jobs to do their own thing is on the rise, and both the quality and quantity of games produced by small teams has increased dramatically.

I'm writing this article because I believe XBLA's popularity among independent developers peaked last year (2010) and Microsoft is not yet aware of this. I'd like to discuss why this is happening, what effect I think it will have, and what changes Microsoft can make in order to ensure that XBLA keeps getting the best possible games. As a developer I'd like to see as many healthy and prosperous digital distribution channels as possible, and I believe XBLA has not yet come close to fulfilling its potential.

Are Independent Developers Really Moving Away From XBLA?

Yes. In August of 2010, as part of my research for a talk I was preparing, I sent out a kind of "indie census" to about 200 independent developers. One of the questions I asked was which platforms they were developing for at the time (2010), and which platforms they had developed for in the previous two years (2008-2009). For this article, I sent out another survey to the same group, asking again which platforms they are currently (2011) developing for and which platforms they intend to develop for in 2012. It's important to note that only about half of the developers I sent the survey to responded, so while the results do have meaning and suggest certain trends, they are not definitive. I'm open (and wouldn't be shocked) to seeing data that suggests a different trend.

First, let's take a look at the number of these developers making games for PS3 vs the 360 over the last few years:

2boyxbla1.jpg


As you can see, in 2008-2009 Microsoft had more developers making games for XBLA than Sony had for PSN. The gap narrowed in 2010, and this year more of these developers are making PSN games than XBLA games. Next year, the number of games this group makes for XBLA will drop again, and PSN's lead will widen as the number of developers making PSN games rise to double what it was in 2008-2009.

Should Microsoft care about this relatively small group of developers? I think so. It includes the developers of many high profile, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful games.

To better understand what kind of games this group of developers represent, I took the list of XBLA games from Wikipedia and looked up each game's Metascore. I then split the games into two categories: games made by the group of developers I sent the survey to, and all the rest. Of the 400 or so XBLA games listed on Wikipedia, 33 were made by this group of developers. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Average Metascore for an XBLA game made by this group: 78

  • Average Metascore for all other XBLA games: 66

  • 3 of the top 5 rated XBLA games were made by developers from this group

  • 76% of XBLA games made by these developers scored 75 or higher

  • 31% of all other XBLA games scored 75 or higher

It becomes apparent that this group of developers makes much higher quality games than the average XBLA game, and represents a significant part of XBLA's star talent. It's unlikely, therefore, that the decline in the number of XBLA developers among this group is due to Microsoft turning them down because of a rising quality bar. It's much more likely that they simply choose, for whatever reason, to no longer develop games for XBLA.

You might say that quality is important but bottom line is what really counts. Microsoft, after all, is a public company and has a responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profits. So I reached out to Ryan Langley who periodically compiles sales estimates for XBLA games based on leaderboard data. Ryan was kind enough to share his estimates with me for 2010. It's okay that they're just estimates because we are only interested in a relative measure of one group of games against another, we don't care about absolute numbers. We are comparing how well games made by this group of developers sold relative to how well all the other games sold. With a reasonably sized data set, and assuming the results are dramatic enough, the fact that the estimates are imperfect shouldn't really matter. Well, the results are pretty dramatic:

  • Average # of copies a game developed by this group sold in 2010: 137,010

  • Average # of copies all other games sold in 2010: 46,281

So on average, a game from these developers sells 3 times the number copies than the average game made by all other developers.

  • Median # of copies a game developed by this group sold in 2010: 63,480

  • Median # of copies all other games sold in 2010: 13,899

The median number of copies sold by a game from these developers is 4.6 times greater than games from other developers.

As a side note, if we calculated the averages and medians based on cumulative sales figures from the games' launch through the end of 2010 (instead of sales just from 2010) the multiplier for average sales is 2.4 and the multiplier for median sales is 4.2, suggesting that these developers are even more important to XBLA's bottom line now than they have been in the past.

So these developers not only make much higher quality games, but they are also generate a lot more revenue for Microsoft relative to the average XBLA developer.

But departure of star talent is not the only obstacle XBLA is facing right now. This survey data makes it clear that both 360 and PS3 are, at the moment, second tier platforms in terms of popularity among these developers. Windows, Mac, and iOS are getting far more attention, a very positive indicator for their longer term health. The chart below shows what percentage of developers have been making games for each platform over the last few years. It also includes reported plans for 2012:

2dboyxbla2.jpg


Why Is This Happening?

I asked these developers to rate the importance of certain factors in choosing which platforms they will develop games for. The most influential factor was ease of working with the platform owner, with 69% of developers rating it Very Important. In 2nd and 3rd place were the platform's install base (63%) and how well the platform's controls match the game (58%).

Since ease of working with the platform owner was voted the most important factor in choosing a platform, I sent out a followup survey to ask how easy each platform owner has been to work with. Here are the results:

2dboyxbla3.jpg


Almost half of those who worked with Microsoft described the experience as "excruciating".

Given that ease of working with the platform owner was voted the most important factor in choice of platforms, it becomes perfectly clear why XBLA, despite being a very strong channel with a large audience and huge earning potential, is dropping in popularity among these developers.

What Does This Mean For The Future of XBLA?

At the moment, people are still lining up for XBLA slots. I've heard of developers giving publishers 15% of their revenue for the privilege of using their XBLA slots (publishers who make a certain number of 360 retail games per year are allotted a number of XBLA slots to do with as they please). So XBLA is not going to be hurting for content in the immediate future.

But if things keep going the way they are, and XBLA keeps losing talented developers, I believe the diversity of games available on XBLA will diminish, quality will suffer, and revenue numbers will drop as players start to move away from an unremarkable portfolio of games. We will see a lot more "genrefication" and big publisher franchises.

2dboyxbla4.jpgAfter a few years, XBLA might start to look like Big Fish Games, which is in an advanced state of genrefication. With XBLA, the genres would be different, but the overall effect would be similar.

Once players start to leave in large numbers it will be too late to late to turn things around. Given that it takes at least a year or two to make an XBLA game, no developer would want to start working on one knowing that XBLA is declining in popularity and could be significantly weaker by the time the game is ready. There's data suggesting this player migration is already happening, but my gut says this is a local adjustment forced by the arrival of social games, not a trend. I suspect a larger scale migration is still a few years away and that there's more than enough time for XBLA to change course.

The more open platforms, like Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, are very attractive to developers. Take iOS, for example. Top hits on XBLA/PSN earn their developers millions of dollars. iOS hits earn tens of millions. When World of Goo was briefly the #1 top grossing iPad app it was earning upwards of $50k a day. Angry Birds HD has been hovering in the top 10 for about a year and a half. But that's not all, there's Angry Birds Seasons HD, Angry Birds Rio HD, and all three of these games have non-HD iPhone versions as well. That's six Angry Bird games in a top ten position. For a long time. Then, there's the Mighty Eagle you can buy with an in-app purchase. You do the math.

These hits are beyond rare though, and not a good reason to develop games for a platform. For that reason it's important to ignore the sales numbers of the top games on any channel and instead look at the sales/revenue of top 100, or 200, or even 400, a position that a good game is much more likely to hold than #1 or #5.

A couple of months after the release of World of Goo on the iPad, I wrote an analysis of the game's iPad launch, and among other things, created a scatter plot of the relationship between rank on the iPad top grossing chart and the amount of money the developer earns in a given day.

2dboyxbla5.jpg


As you can see, the top 10 games earn tens of thousands of dollars every day. Better yet, the dropoff from #10 (around $15k a day) to #60 (around $6k a day) is slow and gradual. Recently World of Goo HD's rank on the iPad's top grossing chart has been floating between #225 and #250 and it still nets us around $2,000 a day. That's what a healthy channel looks like. It can support an incredibly large number of developers and games, including some niche / strange / avant garde games like #sworcery, Game Dev Story, Enviro-bear 3000, and Eliss.

That the App Store can sustain such a large and diverse set of developers means there's something for everyone on iOS and developers feel more comfortable trying to innovate and take risks. This creates a positive feedback cycle, drawing more players, and in turn more developers.

Having unlimited shelf space is, after all, one of the great benefits of digital distribution, and consoles have failed to take full advantage of this.

10 Things Microsoft Can Do To Improve XBLA

It's extremely difficult to make big changes in large organizations. It takes a strong leader with a lot of organizational clout, and time. That's probably the biggest obstacle Microsoft would have to face if they're going to try to make XBLA as popular with developers as Windows and iOS.

For this reason, I'd like to divide these ten suggestions into two categories, a more easily achievable set I believe is required in order for XBLA to survive, and a more challenging set that I believe would make XBLA thrive, by drawing in large number of talented developers, a lot of great games, and new audiences.

To survive:

  1. Create a fair contract that doesn't require negotiation. Everyone I know who's been handed Microsoft's boilerplate distribution contract for XBLA was angered and offended. It's the most exploitative, one-sided distribution contract I've seen. I suspect it's a holdover from the days where Microsoft only dealt with large publishers/developers and contracts were handled by teams of lawyers on both sides. Lawyers are probably used to conducting this kind of adversarial negotiation that begins with an unreasonably one-sided version. Smaller developers that don't have a legal department are not used to this sort of thing. We each waste months of our time and Microsoft's time negotiating the same stuff out of the contract, over, and over again. All that time, and in some cases money, would be much better spent making the game better. Efficiency aside, it's a terrible way to begin a business relationship.

  2. Solve the content discovery problem. This issue has three components. First, is bringing as many 360s online as possible. Microsoft is already doing a good job here. Last I heard the 360 has the highest online connectivity rate among consoles. Second, making it obvious to players that they can buy and download games. Too many people still don't know what XBLA is, or that you can download games directly onto your 360. The dashboard should be designed in a way that makes it obvious that this is a possibility, and make it super easy to get into. Third, It's important to put the best content in front of the player so that they have a positive experience purchasing games and would want to do it again. There are many approaches to this: Steam's discounted promotions, the App Store's Featured section, Kongregate's top rated games list (top rated new games, all time top rated games, etc). The platform owner needs to make it SUPER easy for their users to buy software. This is how Apple, intentionally or not, solved the so called "piracy issue" (don't get me started on how wrongheaded it is to think of those that download a game for free as "pirates"). The purchase process is so simple, smooth and painless that it's easier to pay for an app than to "pirate" it.

  3. Stop requiring independent developers to publish through MGS. All you're doing is adding overhead to the process by assigning a producer to the game and making developers unhappy by giving them a lower rev share (to cover MGS' added overhead costs). For the most part, everyone I know who has worked with Microsoft said it was not only unhelpful to have a producer, it actually became yet another thing that needed to be managed and took focus away from developing the game. I'd like to note that Kevin Hathaway seems to be an exception. I keep hearing developers say positive things about him. Every other distribution channel allows independent developers to self publish, without a producer, and I see no evidence that having a producer on a game makes it better.

  4. Drop the TCRs, make updating easy. TCRs add months to a game's development time that could be better used polishing the game. Many of these requirements hardly ever come up or could be dealt with behind the scenes by Microsoft instead of requiring every developer to write their own solution. I don't see any evidence that enforcing these TCRs results in better games. PC games are of comparable quality despite the much wider range of hardware they run on and there's not TCR list. Instead of enforcing time consuming and expensive compliance testing, Microsoft could make it trivial for developers to release updates so that whatever issues come up after launch can be easily and quickly addressed by the developer. This model is working wonderfully on both Steam and the App Store.

  5. Get rid of the exclusivity requirement for independent developers. This is really an aspect of creating a fair contract, but it's important enough that I thought it should be mentioned separately. XBLA is no longer the king it use to be. Microsoft is no longer in a position to demand exclusivity now that PSN has more developers and is growing, while XBLA is losing developers. Exclusivity was very popular among casual game portals in the mid 2000's. If you put your game on Yahoo Games, Big Fish Games wouldn't touch you. For whatever reason, this practice has since disappeared in the casual space. Those who believe requiring exclusivity is a good business strategy might want to ask the casual portals why they no longer do it. I'm sure there's a good reason, and I'm sure it's somehow connected to the fact that exclusivity requirements are not good for developers or players.

To thrive:

  1. Drop the greenlight process and open up development to everyone. Is the quality of the average game on XBLA higher than the average game on the App Store? Probably. There's a ton of crap on the App Store, but the App Store has hundreds of thousands of games, compared to mere hundreds on XBLA. There are many, many more great games on the App Store than there are on XBLA. If done right, the curated approach may result in higher average quality, but it definitely results in fewer good games because of the overhead involved with bringing in each game. Players judge the quality of a platform by the quality and quantity of the BEST games available on it, not by the AVERAGE quality of all games. Even if you disagree with this assertion, Microsoft's current approach to a curated portfolio is broken in two ways: First, it's very difficult to know which games will be good based on what the people at Microsoft see when they greenlight the game. Second, 360 retail publishers are allowed to put whatever games they want on XBLA. That's how you end up with XBLA games like Yaris, NBA Unrivaled, Crazy Mouse, and Beat'n Groovy, which have Metacritic scores of 17, 25, 28, and 29 respectively.

    You might ask, then, why Steam has done so well despite its curated portfolio? Other than being the easiest distribution channel to work with (see above), Steam is just one distribution channel on an open platform (Windows / Mac). Developers can make PC games without permission from Valve, they can distribute them directly to an audience they build up or via other distribution channels. World of Goo generated as much revenue via direct sales as it did via Steam. Minecraft generated pretty much all its revenue via direct sales. Open platforms also create room for innovative distribution models like the Humble Bundle.

  2. Make every console a dev kit. Windows and Mac, by their nature, have always been that way. Apple and Google have done a good job of it with iPhone and Android. It may require a lot of work, but there is nothing stopping Microsoft from doing this as well. This is actually one of the reasons Microsoft is the console maker best-poised to undergo this transformation. XNA Creators Club already allows people to make games and run them on their 360 at home. There are a few things that need to change though. First, signing up for the Creators Club has an awful user experience. It took me a while to figure out where to sign up and how. Second, the followup identity verification process was so complex and invasive that I actually couldn't bring myself to get all the way through it. Third, developers are restricted to using XNA for developing 360 games as part of the Creators Club. With iOS, Objective C presents a similar obstacle, but it's easy to compile C++ code along with some minimal Objective C to create iOS apps. This makes porting games to iOS a lot easier. Rewriting a game in a different language is a much more daunting task.

  3. Automate everything. Automation has to be utilized in order to handle the high volume of games being added to an open distribution channel. With the App Store, everything is automated and a developer can release a game without ever talking to a human. The registration process, distribution agreement, game submission, financial reporting, releasing updates, setting prices (as well as temporary promotional prices), and setting release dates and regional availability are all done via a simple web interface.

  4. Drop the ESRB in favor of a self administered rating system. This is another advantage the App Store has over consoles. It takes weeks, and thousands of dollars, to get a game rated by all the domestic and international ratings agencies needed to launch a game globally. The ESRB in particular is a nightmare to deal with (If you Google around, it's easy to find people speaking out about the ESRB behaving like a bully — and I've had personal experience with that). If consoles switch to a self administered rating system similar to Apple's system it will save developers a significant amount of time and money.

  5. Make avatar related requirements optional. I don't know a single developer who wants to make toys for avatars. It's not fun and it inflates the game's budget. If Microsoft wants to keep adding new toys to avatars, they might want to hire people to do it in-house, or offer incentives for developers to do it. Kongregate, for example, gives developers a larger share of ad revenue if they integrate with their APIs. They'd have a lot fewer games if they required developers to do this instead of providing incentives for them to do so.

A Final Thought…

XBLA played a pivotal role in the popularization of independent games. Most of the early indie hits were XBLA games, starting with N+, then Castle Crashers and Braid, and continuing with Limbo, Super Meat Boy and others.

Microsoft proved that indie games can be million sellers on consoles, and then sat on its laurels for half a decade as more nimble and innovative companies like Valve and Apple took the lead.

I would love to see Microsoft rise to the challenge of adapting to new digital distribution landscapes. More healthy platforms means more interesting, creative games that push the limits of our medium.

For players and developers this is an end in itself. For the industry as whole, it means growth through the discovery of new audiences.

Many thanks to Nathan Vella, Matthew Wegner, Kellee Santiago, Kyle Gabler, Andy Schatz, and Ryan Langley for their feedback and assistance with this article.

If you believe I've made any errors in the collection of data or its interpretation, I would love to hear about it, send me an email, my address is ron at 2dboy.


[Gamasutra has reached out to Microsoft for a response to the issues raised in this piece, and will post that response in full if and when we receive it.]


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Comments


Jamie Mann
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I agree with most of the points in this article - and there's some good analysis there. But the points you've raised in the "thrive" section are virtually all addressed by Microsoft's existing "indie-friendly" channel, Xbox Live Indie Games. The problem is that for several reasons - including limited marketing support from Microsoft - this channel simply hasn't managed to attract much player attention: there's been some excellent games on there, but with only a few exceptions, sales on XBLIG have generally significantly underperformed.



(admittedly, the article does touch on XNA and the Creator's Club, but still. I think the existence of XBLIG - and it's under-performance - is something which needs to be explicitly mentioned when making comparisons between channels such as XBLA and Apple's App Store...)

E Zachary Knight
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I think his point was to make XBLA more like XBLIG. Or even to merge the two platforms into one. Keep it as open as XBLIG is now while offering all the perks of XBLA.

Ian Uniacke
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Isn't XBLIG more like a club than an open store though? That's my uneducated understanding of it. So that's limiting right there in that you have to "opt-in" to XBLIG, possibly including some fee?

Randy Napier
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@Ian Anyone with an XBL gold account has access to and can purchase games from the XBLIG channel. It's just so buried in the dashboard that it's hard to get to, let alone find good games to play.



You have to go through Games Marketplace -> Games and Demos -> Indie Games to find them. Rarely there is a dashboard promotion for them, but that's usually only during one of the "Uprisings" or to announce Dream.Build.Play winners.



To develop with XNA is free, but to be able to deploy to the Xbox for testing or to sell the game on the channel you have to pay $99 annually. The channel is in many ways similar to some of the suggestions listed in this article:



1 - Doesn't use the ESRB for ratings, but has its own rating system instead

2 - Doesn't require approval/certification from Microsoft to publish. Instead it uses a peer review system with guidelines for the pass/fail conditions laid out by MS (which certainly has its own fair share of issues).

3 - Every console is a dev kit... as long as you use XNA.

4 - No required avatar toys.



The major downsides:

1 - No support for achievements or leaderboards.

2 - The rules required to pass a game can be pretty inflexible at times.

3 - Peer review can take a long time, particularly in games with multiple language support.

4 - Peer review doesn't always catch major bugs.

5 - Ratings manipulation is an issue since these games usually don't get many ratings, meaning you can easily knock a game off the top rated list with as few as 10-20 manufactured 1 star reviews.

6 - Very little visibility or promotion from Microsoft.

7 - 150MB game size limit

8 - Pricing restricted to 1, 3, or 5 dollars (80, 240, 400 MS points).



If Microsoft could resolve some of these issues I think merging the two markets would be a good idea, particularly with offering achievements and leaderboard support and removing or increasing size limits.

Diego Leao
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@Randy Napier You talked about it, but forgot to include these points in your listing of major downsides of XBLIG:

- ONLY people with Xbox Live GOLD account has EVEN ACCESS to the XBLIG channel.

- You can only PLAY the games WHILE CONNECTED to Xbox Live (we all know how much gamers love those "connected only" game experiences)



I believe the above limitations are by design, to "protect" the XBLA channel (I imagine the big MS partners wouldn't like a flood of new games on their nice closed channel)..



2D Boy's suggestion is to just open XBLA to Indies, to open the "tried and proven" channel for everyone.

Randy Napier
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@Diego I'm pretty sure the reason is actually to give MS the ability to pull a game if offensive material is found that somehow made it past peer review. Since MS doesn't certify the games themselves they don't fully trust the peer review system.

Jamie Mann
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@Ephriam: I'm not sure about that - you can't make a point about something you haven't mentioned ;)



@Diego:

1) You don't need an Xbox Live Gold account to access XBLIG and buy/play XBLIG games: you can access them just fine with a Silver account. Some games do have multiplayer features which can only be accessed if you have a Gold account, but this is true of all games on Xbox Live, not just XBLIG.



2) Yes, you have to stay connected to XBL to be able to play the games, and this can sometimes be inconvenient. However, there is a good reason for it: it allows Microsoft to block access to games which are deemed to contain stolen IP and/or breach XBLIG content rules (e.g. adult content). In turn, this "kill switch" presumably makes it easier to defend the service's "anything goes" ethos.



Admittedly, this does feel a bit like overkill - Valve, Apple and Sony seem to do just fine without a similar mechanism - and to my knowledge, Microsoft has never barred people from playing an XBLIG game (though they have delisted games which have broken the rules, preventing people from downloading/buying it). But at the same time, i wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of game-channels all feature similar authentication requirements...

Megan Fox
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The conclusions you draw from the iOS graphs are very different from what most indies trying to make a profit on iOS seem to say. Namely, that discovery is a massive problem, due to being a massively open market. There's also the significant problem of the pricing race-to-the-bottom, which shot straight into free.



What you see in iOS isn't massive experimentation, it's massive risk minimization. Dev cycles of no more than a few months, since you can't afford to spend much more time per-title, and a flocking toward the hot trends (birds, cute graphics, etc) along with a bunch of other less than desirable tactics. Those that do try risky things... well, sometimes they succeed, but more often, they disappear into the morass. You also see near abandonment of any genre that won't fit nicely into F2P, since that's all but required these days.



Steam does an excellent job of demonstrating how a curated model can work, and your numbers up there speak to that perfectly. Despite the explosion of popularity of iOS with indies, despite it being far easier / cheaper to go iOS, there's still more of us focused on Steam. That's because the market is at least somewhat stable, and can actually support development budgets of more than a few months of ramen. Steam even demonstrates how free and premium content can exist side by side.





... which isn't to say that iOS is necessarily a bad choice (especially if you also hit Steam first or in parallel), just that the curated marketplace isn't something to be abandoned. Microsoft has a lot of work to do on XBLA, but that should not include the stripping of all submission requirements / opening the flood gates.



PSN can also be a decent choice, depending on whether you can make use of the Pub Fund, or what arrangements can be made. It's still a lot of work, but I've been told they're better to deal with than XBLA.

Wylie Garvin
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"The median number of copies sold by a game from these developers is 4.6 times greater than games from other developers."



Are you sure? Looks more like its 3.6 times _greater than_ the games from other developers, or equivalently its 4.6 times _as much as_ the games from other developers. Its the difference between "360% more" and "460% more"...

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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developer.WindowsPhone.com



I've thought making a very basic 2D C# game... I dunno... I'm lazy

Marcus Miller
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Most developers that I know have dropped their XBL development in favor of the iPhone. Can you blame them? The iPhone has a much larger user base and higher visibility compared to XBL.

Simon Carless
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Ron, if you're reading this, what's the response numbers for the 'how easy are platforms to work with?', roughly, and did those people who answer actually work _with_ the platform, or are they people who had unsuccessfully pitched, for example? Unclear what 'working with' means here...

ron carmel
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28 people responded to the question of how easy microsoft is to work with and some of them might be from the same studio / same game. so i would guess that between half and two thirds of the developers from this group who have an XBLA game responded to this question.



i didn't have the foresight to be more explicit about what "work with" means. i talk to a lot of developers though and i hear a lot of stories, and i'm surprised that only 48% said it was excruciating.

Jonathan Murphy
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Microsoft's priorities have been towards Kinect, Comcast, and any other service. It was known as, "The Hard Core Gamer Console." Instead of expanding an archive of good indie games they raised their monthly fee. I don't know what they are doing for core gamers anymore?

Pieterjan Spoelders
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It's a good read and I think quite accurate, but what still isn't clear to me is why the iOS platform ranks so well. I've heard (well, read) in the recent past that getting past the app store review process was excruciating (getting almost no feedback) and now it would be somehow a better experience than publishing on android? Anyone who can clarify on this? Am very interested in the matter.

Cody Scott
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Microsoft needs to advertise their indie channel so those indies could one day be AAA studios.....kinect isnt going to take off and bring in profits like the wii did with motion gaming.

Sherman Luong
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I worked with both XBLA and other Cell Phones I have a combine 105% Excruciating level. The problem is a lot of them still have the mentality of a dev is a dime a dozen. Its not longer that. There are too many different outlets that developers have to pick and choose who to support.



Even though I got learning curves on Kindle what is great about it both sides have civil dialogues with each other.



its just a matter of communication and helping your community out. Without a dev community the platform dries up quick.

Anatoly Ropotov
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Hey, really? Deleting my comments once again?



Whatever = who really cares about going through the process if committing yourself to a year+ long release cycle to have an unpredictable marketing push?

Adam Bishop
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If you don't care, why bother commenting at all? Why not leave the discussion to people who actually want to discuss?

Matt Coohill
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Please Ron, I beg you, add to your "To Survive" category "abolish the MS Points program." Make it NUMERO UNO (not an extra sentence in #2).



From a consumer perspective, there is no bigger barrier to entry.



"Oh cool, Kinect Fruit Ninja! Buy!



Wait, it's 800 MS Points? What are they? How many points to a dollar? I have 110 point in my account, so I need to buy 690 points, but I have to buy points in groups of...



Eff it, I'm not interested."



Sale lost.

Russell Watson
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This.



Its the hotdogs & buns situation. I hate always having left over points I cant spend.

Randy Napier
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@Russell But that's exactly why they do it, and in a way it makes sense from a business perspective. If you know you have buns, you'll buy more hot dogs. If you know you have hot dogs, you'll buy more buns.



If you know you have some points you'll want to spend them, but if you don't have enough you'll add more to your account knowing you'll have some left over for your next purchase.



I'm not saying it's consumer friendly, but I'm sure it does help them move games. I just want to know how I somehow ended up with 70 points on my account. That's 87.5 cents. /boggle

Russell Watson
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@Randy



I understand the reason why they do it, thats precisely why I quoted the Hotdog & Buns situation. But its because of that why I dont buy more games over XBL.

Axel Cholewa
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But players can actually save a lot of money by simply buying retail cards on eBay. It is, actually, cheaper than e. g. PSN because of this (though you also get cheap PSN cards).



Example: you can easily get 4200 MS points for less than 40 euros (and, I assume, dollars). Probably not the thing most players know about, so I agree, the MS points system remains a barrier.

Christopher Thigpen
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Great Article!

Kunal Majmudar
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You have to also keep in mind that since PSN has a smaller marketshare of Indie games, it is natural for Indie developers to want to jump on PSN and have claim a larger and more visible placement on PSN vs XBLA, which has a significantly larger Indie portfolio. It's easier to stand out in a smaller marketplace than a larger one.



So I think there is some normalization that has to be factored in for that, but great article nevertheless!


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