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Opinion: Lack Of Monetization Control On XNA Platforms Will Drive Indies Away

Opinion: Lack Of Monetization Control On XNA Platforms Will Drive Indies Away

August 23, 2011 | By Kristen Bornemann

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, WB Games and Kindling Games' Kristen Bornemann argues that Microsoft is driving indies away from its Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live Indie Games platforms by limiting monetization control.]

Our indie team, Kindling Games, is currently developing a game for Windows Phone 7. We're in the final throes of getting this thing out the door and the other day we had this simple, well proven idea for generating a little more revenue and adding a different dimension to our game.

For a small fee, you would be able to customize your rainbow duder (we need a better name) with a few skins and also be able to customize your levels. For example, you'd pick up a Zeus skin, a tiny Zeus then sits on top of your rainbow cloud, and extra lighting particle effects rain down terror on the townspeople.

Essentially, the purchase would include a small bit of additional functionality along with the cosmetic change. We're well beneath the maximum package size so we thought this would be a great way to add extra content and some extra fun! After having this idea, I had the sudden realization that Windows Phone 7 does not support microtransactions. Arrrrrggggh!!!

I can't say that I'm really surprised, but it definitely made me reflect on the platform as a whole. With the current state of the games industry, Microsoft continues to lag behind. Microsoft wants an ecosystem that is friendly to developers, but so far they haven't made it easy for developers to make money on their platform.

In order to truly be successful and move past the "hobbyist game maker," indie developers need to be able to control their monetization. The extreme popularity of free-to-play games recently has certainly shown us that non-traditional ways of gaining revenue work. In fact, free games with microtransactions are the best at monetizing apps and games on mobile platforms.

Additionally, some mobile gamers will spend more than $50 for a game they enjoy. That means some players will pay almost as much as a retail AAA game for a small indie dev's game. Without the ability to implement different ways of monetizing, indie developers are missing out on crucial, nontrivial amounts of cash. Cash that could fund another title or even allow you to quit your day job.

Microsoft's development environment is fantastic for beginners, and I can't say enough good things about XNA and the ease of use. However, until Microsoft's game development platforms (Windows Phone 7, Xbox Live Indie Games) become easier for developers to control more of their monetization schemes, they will continue to lose dedicated developers once they grow beyond "beginner" level.

There are a few key things Microsoft can do:
  • Implement microtransactions on both platforms
  • Improve discoverability in the marketplace on both platforms (this includes getting rid of the monopoly on players that live enabled games have on the Windows Phone 7)
  • Allow downloadable content on XBLIG
  • Allow developers to sell their game for free on XBLIG
There is some hope for the future. Microsoft is testing microtransactions for live enabled games right now. Unfortunately, as a developer I need to see more from Microsoft. I need more care and consideration for the indie developer before I ever return to the platform after this game... and that's just not happening right now.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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