In a talk at the Digital Distribution Summit in Melbourne, Australia, former XBLA portfolio manager David Edery discussed opportunities for creators on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and WiiWare, suggesting that though the market is "smaller than a lot of us would like", it's growing quickly.
Starting out, Edery, who now runs consultancy Fuzbi, sketched the size of the market for console digital download. He commented that, according to his sources, Xbox Live Arcade was the top in terms of market right now, PlayStation Network is "still lucrative, but potentially smaller", and WiiWare is the smallest of all.
He particularly suggested this is because the WiiWare service is "buried in the Wii dashboard", with no demos and no user ratings, so you can really only depend on word of mouth and external website reviews for creating buzz.
He pointed out that the inverse is true regarding approval and funding -- it's "reasonably difficult" to get approval, funding or a publishing deal for Xbox Live Arcade platforms, and it's much easier to get approved for WiiWare. So this is important to weigh when looking at systems to target.
Edery did comment: "The market is smaller than a lot of us would like at this time" - but it's growing quickly. He cited the recent 300,000 unit sales for Trials HD, and said: "these [digital distribution] ecosystems are going to be the future" -- if perhaps not dominant in this console generation.
Tackling the pitch to the platform holder or publisher itself, Edery commented: "The longer your pitch, the lower the chances of your success is", since many of those who get pitched a lot "don't really have a lot of patience and time". In fact, he said: "If you can't describe your game in a single sentence, than you have a problem."
Other potential pitfalls were also listed. It's also vital to be able to describe your target audience. Edery noted that many Xbox Live Arcade pitches sent to him either didn't have an audience named, or was incredibly broad. Having a specific age and interest range in mind is quite important.
In addition, incorrect information can wreak havoc with approaches. For example, Edery noted that "we would get pitches from developers for card and board games" by citing Carcassone, which, according to disputed chart creator VGChartz.com, had sold a great deal of copies. But VGChartz bundles in free copies of the game, something that the pitches had misconstrued, and much of that revenue was in fact not there.
How about current development budgets for Xbox Live Arcade games? Edery estimated that when he joined Microsoft soon after Xbox Live Arcade's start, the averange title had a $250,000 budget. The average when he left was $500,000, and perhaps now, he thought, it was $750,000 -- so as sales increase, the budgets are getting larger quite swiftly.
Moving on, Edery noted that "understanding the platform agenda" is important. For example, in the early days of PlayStation Network, Edery believes that games were not greenlit if they didn't show they were pushing the PS3 hardware forward. For XBLA, Microsoft was looking for bite-sized, especially casual and retro titles. For WiiWare, making novel use of the Wiimote was key.
The consultant said that these agendas changed more often that you think. Edery said that there were 7 re-organizations in the 3 years he was at Xbox Live Arcade, and at least 2 major changes of direction, with many more minor ones. So you "really really have to stay in touch" to make sure everything is similar to before.
Edery then warned about 'The Long Tail' concept for digital downloaded games, noting that "hits are still what drive the business". And the importance of marketing is paramount, as he quipped: "Do not make a great game, and presume that because it's great, you're all set."
Finally, apart from announcing your game early and communicating with your community often, Edery commented that get friendly with the platform holders is important. He notably cited NinjaBee's A Kingdom For Keflings, which was the first game to properly integrate Avatars into their Xbox Live Arcade game, and became enormously successful, partly due to this and Microsoft's support of it.