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[Should developers drop Microsoft's online services in favor of Steam or even the open web? We speak to independent developers and Microsoft itself to discover what developers should be weighing in their decisions when choosing platforms.]
The digital landscape is shifting, and the current platform of choice may not be the same as it was just a short time ago, say several developers recently interviewed by Gamasutra.
They suggest one is more likely to find success by heading over to Valve Software's Steam digital distribution platform than to rely on some of the other digital mainstays, like Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace or Apple's iOS.
Case in point: Robert Boyd, founder of Lake Arrowhead, CA-based Zeboyd Games, whose first RPG – Breath Of Death VII: The Beginning – came out in April 2010 and sold about 50,000 copies on Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) at $1 each.
After toiling another eight months, he released a larger RPG -- Cthulhu Saves The World -- on Dec. 30, again on XBLIG, this time charging $3 because of the additional work that went into it.
"So far we've sold about 16,000 copies," he says, "which means it's earned just about the same amount of money as our first game -- even though we spent so much more time creating it."
Disappointed in the outcome, and encouraged by other developers to drop XBLIG and shift from Xbox 360 to PC games, he spent the next few months adding new features and porting the two RPGs over to PC. He released them – bundled together for $3 -- on Valve's Steam platform on July 13.
"In just five days, our Steam revenue had already surpassed our annual revenue on XBLIG," he reports. While he prefers not to give exact figures, he estimates his five-day Steam earnings to be over $100,000 -- "which, as you can imagine, really impressed us, and has motivated us to make PC games much more of a priority than Xbox."
Cthulhu Saves The World
In Boyd's opinion, the advantage of working with Steam is that it treats indie games and AAA games "pretty much the same. When we released our titles on Steam, we got a front page ad that lasted about a week, and we were placed in the 'new releases' and 'top sellers' lists, which gave us a huge promotional push that XBLIG never gave us."
Boyd says his experience with Steam isn't all that unusual, having heard from other developers that they had similar experiences – not selling well on XBLIG and achieving much more success with sequels or other games on Steam.
"XBLIG is a good place for beginners," he says. "The software is all free and there's a lot of documentation online to teach you how to use it. But it doesn't really pay well for most people unless you get lucky, have a couple of standout games, and sell hundreds of thousands of copies. My recommendation is to start with XBLIG, get some experience and exposure, and then move on to Steam or to the official Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) platform."