Elemental Focus

February 15, 2012

Leaving XBLIG
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 5:49 pm

As I hinted at in the Diamond Digger post mortem, I have decided to stop developing games for the Xbox Live Indie Games service. For the time being, I will be focusing on PC development, primarily for IndieCity. This little article isn’t supposed to be a complaint about XBLIG or what Microsoft is doing with it, but it is now clear that the service is no longer what I want to develop for or need to distribute my games on and is more effort than its worth.

So what follows are my main reasons for leaving the service:

  • Userbase
  • I first started working on an XBLIG game back in 2009 before the two most recent Xbox dashboard updates. While the sales figures of the top games weren’t as high back then (this is pre-minecraft clone time), there was debatedably a lot more people trying different games on the service. These days the sales figures are inflated by minecraft games and older games that already have a critical mass following, there aren’t actually many people trying the new games.

    The actual userbase of people who will try new releases (not even buy them) now seems to be down to well under 1000. Even with a relatively strong conversion rate, this just isn’t enough of a market to develop for. I know that theoretically there are over 10 million Xbox Live Users that could potentially buy the game, but these people don’t actively seek out the good XBLIGs and kotaku is pretty much the only major site that still does reviews (in the form of a fortnightly round-up).

    At the very least, most people I know own a PC and would be able to play the game, where as a lot of people I’ve spoken to interested in my games don’t even own an Xbox. By switching to PC I’m unlikely to be missing out too much of a userbase as most Xbox owners can also play the games on PC and a greater proportion of people who find out about the game are able to play it on PC.

  • Connection
  • Following on from the previous point, traditional forms of advertising seem to do little to affect sales on XBLIG due to the disconnection of media. People are likely to read reviews or see adverts browsing their computer so can’t easily download the game to play there and then. Even if they go to the marketplace link (which surprisingly few people do) and set up the download, people often forget about this by the time they get to their Xbox).
    This disconnection works the other way as well, as when browsing through games, it is difficult to tell which are the quality titles. I went over this a little bit in the pricing article a while back.

  • Updates and Peer Review
  • XBLIG requires all games to go through a peer review process where 8 other developers check over your game for bugs. This takes a bit of effort on the developers part because to be fair to other developers you need to review at least 8 other games yourself (although normally you have to do at least double this). It’s a necessary evil to stop broken games getting onto the service, although often some things will slip through. IndieCity has a similar system, but instead use a smaller number of selected testers from the community. The biggest problem I had with this with Diamond Digger however was that I’ve made less money from Diamond Digger than I would’ve done if I’d spent just the time reviewing other people’s games at a job with minimum wage, let alone all the time creating and porting the game.

    But most crucially, the peer review process causes an unnecessary faff when it comes to fixing small problems with the game. For a start, you have to wait at least a week before making a patch and even then you have to go through the 8 review process again. This means that its in a developers interest to put off fixing something in a game until they have a collection of fixes or not bother at all depending on the size of the problem.

    In contrast, IndieCity allows updates to a game to go straight to the player without any additional testing, which, although in theory is open to abuse, means that the time between a bug report and a fix for it is normally very short. If a developer accidentally introduces a new bug, then it only requires another quick update. If this were to happen on XBLIG, there’s a possibility that this could take a month of work to properly solve.

    Note: I’m against developing a game that NEEDS to be patched, but if bugs are present, patching is preferable to losing the full experience of the game. Especially as an independent developer with a limited time to test and only a couple of set-ups to test on, often things will only come up once the game is in the public domain and its very important to me to be able to fix this sort of thing quickly.

  • Features
  • While I don’t intend for all of my games to be high score based, I think its really important to cultivate competition in the community. In a game like The Cannon, I think it adds a lot to the game when you’re competing against other people for the top spots on the high score list. Its impossible to create anything more than hacky implementations of high score boards on XBLIG, where scores are shared between people online.

    Being able to use the achievement system IndieCity offers is a nice touch as well, as from my point of view it lets me see how people are playing my games.

    I’m not a huge fan of releasing the same game but with different sets of features, so having to cut high score and achievements from an XBLIG version of the game seems like a shame.

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