Indie Games’ Forgotten Step-Child

Oh, there you are!

Over the past few years, the rise of games released by independent developers has been clear to see on the PC and mobile platforms, thanks to the likes of Steam and iOS. However, in the background, there is the forgotten step-child of indie gaming: welcome to Xbox Live Indie Games, coming to an Xbox 360 near you now! Unless you live in Ireland. Or Australia. Or most of the world, pretty much.

When the platform was released to the public in November 2008 under the title of ‘Community Games’, everyone had such high hopes for a place where every Tom, Dick and Harry could, in theory, release a game of their own for people to play. Then they found out that the lowest price point was 200MSP ($2.50/£1.67), that the games’ trials only lasted four minutes and, most importantly, that the games didn’t have achievements, annoying achievement junkies worldwide. Nowadays, of course, you can get them for the low, low point of 80 virtual spacebucks ($1/£0.66), while trials now last eight minutes (a luxury, I tell you!). As for achievements, well… let me put it this way, those junkies are still annoyed.

Over the years, Microsoft hasn’t exactly helped bring attention to the indie games. When the new dashboard was released in 2010, indie games were moved to the ‘Specialty Shops’, along with the amazing success that was Game Room (1000 retro games in three years? Yeah, right…); developers rightfully complained and Microsoft eventually put it back with the other titles. However, only a year later indie games were again moved, this time behind multiple menus and the vague title of ‘Game Type’. This time, indie games weren’t the only victim, with XBLA and Games on Demand also moved there. Great job all-round there, Microsoft.

It can hardly be said that some of the service’s content promotes it in an amazing light, though. I mean, if I asked you what came to mind when I mentioned Xbox Indie Games, I bet there were five things: zombies, twin-stick shooters, avatars, massages and Minecraft clones. Hell, if someone releases a twin-stick shooter where you kill zombies in a Minecraft world while playing as your avatar, all while the game gives you an amazing back massage, it would most likely make the gaming industry implode from the shock. So, developers… please don’t.

That’s not to say that the service doesn’t have some amazing games hidden within. Off the top of my head I can name ‘Cthulhu Saves The World’ and ‘Breath of Death VII’ by Zeboyd Games, ‘Wizorb’ by Tribute Games, ‘Dead Pixels’ by CSR Studios; ‘Volchaos’ by Fun Infused Games, ‘Growing Pains’ by Smudged Cat Games and pretty much anything anything by Radian Games. Some other developers even started out on the service: Halfbrick Studios, the Australian developer of ‘Fruit Ninja’ and ‘Jetpack Joyride’, who actually released their first game, ‘Echoes’, as a Xbox Indie game as well as a PSP Mini.

However, most developers who hit it vaguely big as a Xbox indie soon find that they can hit it even bigger on the PC and iOS platforms. Zeboyd Games released their two titles on Steam and beat their Xbox revenue within the first week; they are now making the long-awaited third part of the Penny Arcade series.  Fun Infused Games’ top-selling release is actually an iOS port of another of their titles: ‘Hypership Out Of Control’.  Radian Games ported their most popular release, Crossfire, on to iOS and, more recently, PC and had it exclusively bundled in the Indie Royale New Year Bundle, which sold over 30,000 copies.

It’s easy to see why these games sold so much better on other platforms. On the PC, Steam tends to promote any and every game upon release, be they huge like Skyrim or little indies like the Zeboyd games, giving them a whole new host of eyes to peek upon them. Even the Radian game ‘Super Crossfire’, which currently isn’t even on Steam, had the support of the Indie Royale bundles to promote it. As for the mobile platforms, iOS also does a great job in promoting great indie releases, separating the wheat from the chaff – an issue Xbox indies have yet to get around. Even if games aren’t heavily promoted by Apple, the availability of the App Store worldwide is sure to lead to some kind of increased sales, as was the case for Fun Infused.

This isn’t to say that all indie games on the Xbox sell badly. ‘Fortresscraft: Chapter 1’, a Minecraft clone, became the first game on the service to gross over a million dollars (even after removing the 30% cut for Microsoft), for its developer last year. Digital DNA Studios also recently grossed over a million dollars thanks to their Minecraft-inspired creations, ‘Castleminer’ and ‘Castleminer Z’.

In the end, it’s safe to say that I haven’t really shown Xbox indie games in the brightest of lights here, instead showering praise on the other superior services available. However, I’m not saying that Xbox indies should go away – if anything, I’m trying to say the exact opposite. It is one of the easiest ways to develop and self-publish a game on the Internet, with possibly the most exposure of any service of that kind. Also, without Xbox indies, would any of the developers I’ve mentioned, who have since moved on to greener pastures, be well known enough to be allowed on a more elite service like Steam? Most likely not.

What I’m trying to say is this: yes, the indie game service found on the Xbox isn’t exactly the best you’ll find, and Microsoft should really do more to promote it. And yes, developers who publish their games on there shouldn’t be expecting to be the rare case that makes tons of money, but should rather be doing it as a stepping stone to one of the bigger, better services out there. Gamers shouldn’t look down on the service either, just because it doesn’t have achievements. Instead, they should be checking out the service every so often, and giving a couple of games at least a demo, while taking a massive detour from the massage games and other such shovelware. I mean, if you don’t like it, you may have wasted eight minutes but, if you do like it, it’s only some virtual spacebucks to keep playing, right?




Last five articles by Ellis

  

7 Comments

  1. Debz says:

    I had no idea that the indie marketplace still existed on XBox Live. I used to play a lot of indie games when they first came out but then they disappeared from where I expected them to be and so I just moved on. I think I need to get into gaming on the PC if Steam is doing a lot of indie stuff. I just never thought about gaming on it as i see it for work.

  2. Steven Thomsen-Jones says:

    A good read sir. I wonder, do any of these games make it onto Windows Phone? Not exactly a massive market I know, but perhaps a place were they would find greater favour.

  3. Ellis says:

    @Steven: Depends on how it gets to the Windows Phone. ‘I made a game with Zombies in it’, for example, got the full achievement treatment with it’s WP version, ‘Z0MB1ES (on teh ph0ne)’, and as far as I know sold very well.

    The previously mentioned ‘Hypership Out of Control’, however, was also released on WP without achievements and as such without MS promotion, and in around the first 8 months only made around $60 for the developers, even though the free version was downloaded more than 10,000 times (http://gamasutra.com/blogs/KrisSteele/20111101/90514/Comparing_Hypership_Sales_Across_All_Platform.php).

  4. MarkuzR says:

    I rarely get to game much anymore, and if I didn’t get roped in to Shoot Many Robots it would probably have ended up being a year since I last boot up my Xbox. I’m on the PC most of the time but, I have to admit, I don’t really browse the store much, if ever. I have a very select taste in games, so I tend to just know what I want. That said, there was a great little indie game I used to play on XBL but I can’t remember what it was called… it was like Asteroids but all hand drawn with a lined-paper background. Very addictive.

    I do love indie games though, and played the hell out of Tesla The Weather Man last year. May even revisit it. Next time I’m on Steam I’m going to have a look through and see what they’ve got. Great read; one of my faves from the contest!

  5. Ste says:

    I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with this, I didn’t even know Xbox had an indie section. Sure I know there was an XBLA section but that’s about it. Just shows what a good job Microsoft are doing on this front. To be honest though I always thought that the indie games lived in the PC realm and no where else. I think I’ll just shut my mouth now before I say something else equally stupid.

    Good article Ellis, I look forward to seeing more from you.

  6. Lorna says:

    I remember the Indie Arcade being launched, but never really got the chance to take a good look. I don’t get a great deal of time to play the games I have on my pile, let alone delving into the indie section, so I suppose I have pretty much neglected it. Oddly enough, however, I do browse through indie stuff on Steam (albeit indirectly – I just look in the various genres and there are many indie titles in those that interest me, such as adventures). Perhaps I look more on Steam because it is easier? I think that when I glanced at the service on XBLA, it seemed very messy and it made it touch to actually find anything.

    I do love to support indie games, and GL has a policy of doing just that – many of the games I play are adventures, which often come from small devs. Amnesia was one of the best indie games that I have ever played. I have just, for some reason, never ventured into the Xbox indie scene for more than a brief glance… perhaps because now it is impossible anyway as I can’t even find my achievements on the shitty new dashboard, let alone anything else :(

  7. Edward says:

    I love the idea of an indie market, but I also know how terrible Microsoft are at marketing it, to the point where someone released a game parodying the difficulty of trying to find the indie games marketplace from the dashboard. I remember it was something like 17 menus you had to go through.

    Though one thing you touched on that gets me is the fact people just clone other people’s games. I also remember the guy who “created” Fortresscraft being incredibly rude to one of my friends just because she couldn’t get to grips with it in comparison to Minecraft. So I guess I love the idea of proliferating the little guy, but not all of them are worthy of the attention.

    Great article though, Ellis :D

Leave a Comment