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In regards to the innovation coming from independent developers, do you think that helps consumers’ perception of the service?
I do, and here’s how I think this is – we actually had people give us direct feedback on this: they appreciate the range of games that are available on Xbox Live Arcade, and they attributed it to the creativity that people can exhibit with these smaller titles. It doesn’t cost 10 or 20 million dollars to make an Arcade game, therefore you get some pretty wacky and unconventional gameplay mechanics, and they’re really fun.
I mean, take a look at Eets: Chowdown. That’s not necessarily a game you’d see someone producing at retail. Or Outpost Kaloki or Cloning Clyde - those are all different gameplay mechanics that haven’t been done at retail and might not have ever seen a chance at it, given the risk management associated with making a $20 million title.
What’s interesting is that, as more major publishers are doing it, we’re seeing teams rolling off of their retail projects and saying, ‘Can we make an Arcade game in between games now?’
That’s pretty neat. Now they can do something a little more creative, rather than just sticking to the mechanics that are known and needed to make a retail game a success – they’ll try something new. The really interesting thing I think we’ll see – in terms of forward looking stuff – is that those teams will be able to make companion games for the retail title they’ve just made, maybe using some of the same art assets, maybe even interacting with the game in some way.
I think what that will do for people working on a retail team is it will allow them to say, ‘Well, you know what? We had all these fun ideas for what fun gameplay might be but we couldn’t do it for the retail title’. Now they can think about adding it into a Live Arcade title.
Allowing them to extend the life of the IP as well.
It is. It comes back to allowing the developers to experiment and try and make something that’s fun. Some of them are going to flop, sure, but some of them are going to be great – things you wouldn’t have seen without service like Xbox Live Arcade.
How important is developer feedback for the service?
I think it’s something that we do a lot of, and I hope that we listen well to their report cards. Not everybody’s always happy with the pace with which we’re able to innovate, or change things.
What changes have you made based on developer feedback?
Well, the size limitation is one. Another was looking at how we can do the background downloads, and essentially deliver more of the demos to people interested in getting them. Even though it doesn’t take that long to download an Arcade game, the combination background along with the automatic Arcade downloads is something that developers are very happy with, and has met their requests in terms of being able to get the downloads to more people.
There’s probably been a number of improvements in the XDK [Xbox Development Kit] over time – some of the underlying stuff used to work with Live. Those have been good improvements for the development community.
Some of that ends up showing up to the player in ways like seeing more games that are socially multiplayer enabled; seeing more games that you can join in with a friend; seeing more games that have a couple of different gameplay styles that you can measure yourself against. These are all improvements based on work with the XDK, or work with the conditions for Arcade development.
Going back to what your were saying about the multiplayer, I recall there being a bit of criticism regarding lag in games like Contra. Is that something that you are aware of, and are trying to address?
Oh, absolutely. Lag occurs in many cases and in many games, whether it be an Arcade game or a retail game because of the way the game is developed and so forth. We do test fairly extensively and that’s why we’re not happy when something like that does happen. In Contra’s case, we’re actually working on fix, and there’s other games that have had lag problems at one stage or another that we’re working on fixes for.
We try to find as many of those as possible before they get out to the consumer, but developers aren’t always happy when we pull the game out of cert on something because, in many cases, looking to launch as quickly as possible. Still, we want to deliver the best quality games that we can.
At the end of the day, it is a function of how the developers code the game and I’ve seen – over the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been in the games industry – games that are written and have no lag on dial-up modems because they’re architected well for communication. I’ve seen games bring a LAN to a standstill because it’s sending out one packet for every bullet that’s coming out of a chain gun.
It’s partly the experience of writing multiplayer, and peer to peer and optimizing for communication, and some of it is how extensively it’s been tested ahead of time. there are some great teams that get to a point where they’re like, ‘Ahh, if we’d switched this slightly, it would have been a much higher performing game’. Multiplayer, as you probably well know, is something of an arcane art. [Laughs]