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Five Reasons Shipping Marble Blast Ultra on XBox360 Is Important For Indie Game Developers, Part II

Publishers and manufacturers are starting to realize that Indie Game Developers are a legitimate part of the business. For more background, Part One of this article is located here.

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As a continued part of our amazement in partnering with Microsoft on the Marble Blast Ultra project for the XBox360, we ended up with the North American launch of the entire platform at our own little IndieGamesCon. A day after the European launch in Amsterdam, much of the Microsoft launch team were on red-eye flights here to Eugene, OR, USA. For the next three days, we had the world’s largest collection of XBox360′s in front of most of the US gaming press as well as 200 indie game developers.
Marble Blast Ultra

While Mark Frohnmayer and I were eating lunch with Greg Canessa, head of the XBox marketing team, I asked him if we should we mortgage our houses to make XB360 games for Live Arcade download. Of course, his answer was yes, but you have to remember that his job for the last two years was selling the XB360 concept up and down the food chain. Turns out, he is probably right.

As promised, here are the five reasons (plus a bonus) this is important for Indie games developers.

1. Consoles are opening up to Indies. This is huge. Finally, indie game developers get access to millions of hard core game players, great input devices, and dedicated machines! On the flip side, the competition for this channel will go up in a hurry. All of the major game publishers are starting up games for XBLA. A year from now, there will be well over 100 games vying for player’s attention. Future blog articles here on MBG will address how indies can stand out in this market.

2. XBLA success puts pressure on Sony to add a download channel. Rumors are flying that Sony is already showing signs of cracking. In addition, Nintendo has stated they are looking for smaller, more innovative games for the DS and Revolution. Having more channels will increase your chances of getting a game published. Even though there will be “gate keepers” you will have to get around to bring your product into these channels, there will be a lot of possibilities.

3. Experimental Business Models. XBLA back end allows for add-ons, downloadable content, and access to a a huge community of players. This allows you to consider interesting, innovative business models like giving the game away free and charging for upgrades or game objects. Much more to explore here in the future.

4. Console development technologies available at Indie price. Again, I’m not here to simply plug GarageGames’ products, but our Torque Shader Engine 360 is such a compelling value that I simply have to mention it. TSE360 allows you to develop your product for the XBox360 without even having a development kit. Over half of our development for MBU was done on the PC, and we could even test PC vs. XB360 in multi-player. I’ll cover a step by step approach of getting your project onto XB360 in the future.

5. Proves that small companies can have a hit. We absolutely love Geometry Wars and thought it would be the break away hit since we first saw it at IndieGamesCon, but it was developed by Bizzare Creations, the non-indie developer of Project Gotham Racing. GarageGames is much smaller than BC, but we still have a lot of ex-industry talent. I would like to say that anybody can make a successful title for this channel, but it will take a lot of dedication, talent, and perseverance. It probably won’t be your first game.

6. Downloadable Console Games Can Make Money. Why this is important for Indie game developers is because it finally proves there is a market for smaller titles that are not “match three bubble poppers.” MBU is selling!! Without breaking any NDA’s we can tell you that MBU is selling faster than any product that I have created in my career. By just keeping one of the lowest “high scores” on a level that is not included in the demo, we can tell that at least 20,000 MBU’s have sold in less than four days. Accoring to this article on Joystiq, Geometry Wars was at 45,000 units a week or so ago, and was the number one title in the channel, “our Halo” according to Greg Canessa. At 800 Gamer Points for MBU vs. 400 for GW, MBU should become the highest grossing title in the channel within the next week or so. Wow, a Halo beater?

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Makermakeitbigingamesgaragegames

  • mike

    congratulations on creating a great game that includes achievements, leaderboards and multiplayer that will keep it going for along time…

    i though i had donr a quick time on a course the other day looked at the leaderboard and i was 5 seconds off the best… oh back to it :-)

    thanks for a great and addictive ganme

  • Ian

    Thanks for making such a great game- it is so addictive on multiplayer.
    Still haven’t worked out how to get sub 6 seconds on the first level though. Good luck for the future

  • Matt D

    Congratulations! I remember back in the day of ZX Speccy “bedroom coders” where lots of stuff was published independently. Lots of it was tosh, but a few ganes were class.

    The games industy is suffering the same fate as the film industry. Only “Sure thing” huge scale projects go ahead, and we end up with only a few publishers pushing tired re-releases and updates to the same old games. Nintendo are one of the few companies that really try and innovate.

    Microsoft’s Xbox live arcade is an absolutly fantastic development. The fact we can “Try before we buy” & small scale developers can get product to market & make a buck is brilliant for everyone.

    Price point is a tricky subject, but in my feeling 800 credits seems a reasonable top price for this channel. Playable demos allow people to evaluate a game before they buy, and if you made 20,000 sales at this level, then you seemed to have hit the “sweet spot”.

    The other important aspect of this service, is that big publishers may see a new idea and pay to develop it further. If a game has done 40,000 sales already, at limited risk, then they know the idea can sell already.

    Thanks for this blog, & good luck with selling your games. MBU was pretty good, but I found the graphics too “Sterile” for my liking, and somewhat souless. I guess I am more of a Super Monkey Ball guy. :) Still a good game though, and worth 800creds.

    Cheers

    Matt

  • http://www.carambola.se Mattias

    It makes me glad that a small company can make profit from their creativity by using XBLA. When I buy a game through XBLA, I always get a good feeling inside, because I know that the small amount of money I pay for this entertainment, goes to a small developer company who’ll continue to bring us great games.

    Keep up the good work! I hope to see more titles from GG in the future.

    //Mattias, one buyer of MBU

  • copa

    Congratulations. Microsoft has publically stated that developers keep more than 50% of the revenue generated on XBLA. Do you agree with that?

  • http://www.geezergamers.com JameyT

    On behalf of a decent sized community of “mature” gamers (30 and over) I’d just like to say thank you. These smaller games must focus on gameplay first of all. In general they are great games to pick up and go and as a father of three little boys, they love these types of games and “the marble game” is their favorite at the moment.

    Can’t wait for another of your games to come out soon. As time marches on I’m more and more convinced that the 360′s “Halo” is actually Live Arcade.

  • Osiris

    Nice job.
    TRIBES FOREVER :lol:

  • Whiskydik

    Glad it going well
    I need an APC pick up btw

  • http://www.tribalwar.com DaJackal

    Well hello thar!

  • Psychosis of TW fame

    So, you guys will make enough off of this to buy the rights to Starseige: Tribes right?
    ;)

    Seriously, nice work… glad to see GG doing well.

  • SarcaStick

    Tribes IV

  • Sean Sicher

    Not to be a bit of a downer, but just because there are 20,000 high scores doesn’t mean there are 20,000 sales. Multiple profiles can post scores from one bought game. Not to say that sales aren’t great mind you just not quite that high.

  • SuMeRiaN

    MBU is great game worth every penny.

  • Raigan

    It’s great that smaller developers can now theoretically get their games on a console, but the fact remains that consoles will never be a viable medium for indie games while the content is gated/controlled/regulated.

    If you have to go through someone else, get approval of someone else, or make a deal with/sign a contract with someone else, then you’re not operating independently/on your own — you’re just a small-scale commercial developer.

    The reason most commercial games suck is BECAUSE the only games that are made are those that are approved by many different people. The very concept of requiring several executives to green-light something before it can be made is the central mechanism which causes stagnation!

    Just imagine if artists had to get the approval of some board before painting — we would never have even made it to paintings that use perspective, let alone cubism/surrealism/etc..

  • http://www.sykhronics.com PoV

    Geez. What a tease. 20k high scores ‘eh? I hope the kit waiting lists aren’t as bad as I’ve heard.

  • Shoki

    Glad to be able to support quality indie publishers. Hopefully it will bring some innovation and originality back into the sequel heavy videogames market.

  • http://www.garagegames.com Jeff Tunnell

    @Raigan,

    I have to respectfully disagree. We created Marble Blast totally as an Indie with no creative input from anybody outside our company. Of course, we were not setting out to create Cubism, and probably never even want to do that. we just want to make fun games that we like to play and, hopefully, other people will like them too. In my career I have been able to make some games that I feel were creative, yet were still commercially successful, e.g. The Incredible Machine, Trophy Bass, and Tribes to name a few. Some of them seem derivative now (Trophy Bass), but were genre making products that were huge creative risks at the time. Marble Blast was never meant to be a huge creative or design risk, but it has done well anyway. For about eight years I had been wanting to make a marble racing game, and one day Mark mentioned it. We all lit up, and said, “let’s go for it.” I don’t plan on cutting my ear off any time soon, but I do plan on making games that go in the PC download space, and, if we think they are good enough, in the XB360 space. i can tell you that the people running XBLA want innovative games. You all just need to make them, and there is absolutely nothing holding you back.

    -Jeff

  • Raigan

    Being a big fan of TIM, I won’t ever forget the name that was under that weird marching-furry-intro-puff guy ;)

    My comments weren’t directed towards Marble Blast; I just think it’s important to highlight the fact that _because_ you’re Jeff Tunnel, you can just call up Microsoft, say “hey, i have this game…” and tada, you have a meeting.

    For unknown developers, the very process of getting a meeting, and the position that that puts them in when negotiating with Microsoft sucks.

    The very fact that they HAVE to go through any process other than [create the game->post the game] _is_ the problem. Compare independent music (where many amazing groups do whatever brilliant stuff they want, then put it out) vs. XBLA.. how is itindependent when you still need to please the people in control of distribution?

    It would be _ridiculous_ in the extreme to demand that a painter first “pitch” an idea to a board of executives before they are allowed to paint it.. and yet this is exactly how things have always worked in the games industry, and for some reason everyone loves it!

    I really feel strongly that there is a _huge_ difference between online/downloadable games (which cost very little to develop, and have completely unrestricted or regulated distribution) vs. XBLA.

    The former is an open system where free market dynamics ensure that cool, innovative games can be made by developers who don’t care about anything other than what matters: making the game they want to make (Chronic Logic, Introversion, etc.).

    The latter is a closed system, which is essentially run using a horribly stifling and inefficient socialist/communist model of “the state controls everything and has absolute power”.

    The former is a great platform for indies because they have very few limits and noone to answer to.

    The latter sucks because anyone doing anything that’s _actually_ innovative (Facade, Disaffected, [game about time-manipulation that's in the IGF this year]) will be filtered out of the system.

    Plus you’ll need at least $30k for dev kit, QA, HD-TV, etc.. vs. $3000 for Torque/Blitzmax/etc., a workstation, an internet connection, and webhosting. The more it costs to make the game, the more you need to care about whether anyone aside from you the creator will like it, the more likely the game will suck because you’ve compromised some aspect of your vision in order to stay profitable.

    At Slamdance there was a lot of discussion about the art and business aspects of games, and one thing I was convinced of is that having any sort of closed/gated system, where only The Chosen Developers are allowed to make games for the public, is A HUGE PROBLEM THAT SHOULD NOT BE IGNORED, and is really the reason why so many games suck.

    The XBLA model is the exact same model used by the rest of the industry;
    it’s a nice gesture, but ultimately this sort of thing really makes me frustrated since it will simply suck good, talented developers away from doing their own creative thing to deposit them forcefully into the land of “make whatever the market thinks it wants”: a land where for each Katamari there are 95746 games about breasts and/or running around shooting things

  • Joe

    @Raigan,
    Some have tried to make an “open console” (look at Phantom) but they simply could not and cannot afford to sell game systems anywhere near as competitive as the others. Not in hardware, prices, or in marketing.. The problem is, consoles are run by large companies who get funding elsewhere and then sell units at a loss hoping to make it back in game sales and licensing. Sony started with electronics, Microsoft with software. That allows them to deliver this high powered hardware at such low prices. Honestly, I’m glad to see that indi’s are getting this opportunity.

  • http://www.gameproducer.net Game Producer

    First of all, thanks for putting this blog online. I (we all?) appreciate that.

    I think the point #1 – “consoles are open for indies” is a HUGE opportunity (among other) – and I bet there will be huge amount of developers going in that direction. I presume xbox live is also available for indie developers?

  • http://www.garagegames.com Stephen Zepp

    @Raigan–

    I have to back Jeff on this one (and not because he’s my boss!)–what’s key about the pipeline to XB360LA that exists now (through our Torque Shader Engine) is that you, as an indie developer, can -not even worry- about the Xbox 360 endgame–instead, you can focus on making your highly innovative game at extremely low cost development outlay, and if the game works out, the pipeline to XBox 360 is simply a matter of finishing up the licensing. Yes, this last step costs money, but there is a subtle yet critical differentiation…your game is already (mostly) finished.

    The difference here is that the design and development of the game was not funded by an outside agency, but purely independent…and that means that the game itself is still fully “indie”, and still has all the benefits an uncontrolled development cycle grants. Yes, at the end of the dev cycle, it has to be gated through Microsoft (and therefore has to be high quality), but the critical part to keep in mind here is that no one but the indie team controlled the game development–and to me at least, that’s what identifies a game as indie. By the time it’s being gated, it’s more of a “yes, this is awesome” state instead of a “we want you to do this, this, that, and that, and if you don’t the game is done for” which is the mainstream dev/publishing model for pretty much anyone that doesn’t self-publish.

    Quite honestly, who woulda thought (well, besides GG and MS!) that MBU would have hit as big as it already has? I don’t have any insider info (even though I guess I do qualify as an insider), but if I were to guess, I would guess that MS didn’t have any higher hopes for MBU than GG did–and I know in just the last week we’ve leaped beyond our (realistic) hopes.

    All sales numbers, conversion rates, and discussions about publisher control aside, what MBU accomplished is to trailblaze a path from an indie-accessable development platform (TSE) to the highest quality console platform available right now…and that empowers every single indie developer with a couple of hundred bucks to buy TSE, a revolutionary game idea, and enough drive to see it through to a playable game to reach the largest commercial game market in existence (consoles as a class).

    That’s history in the making.

  • http://www.Meridian59.com Q

    You mention the painter that needs board approval before he begins his work… that’s someone that is obviously in need of funding to complete his painting, so someone else is paying for its creation… so he has to accept that as a painter because it’s a situation he put himself into.

    Most game developers don’t want to pay the personal price for having artistic freedom. I’ve been doing it for years and have just about broke even and probably wouldn’t have made if not for a very understand and supportive ;) wife.

    The painters that do work for pay get paid. The painters that do work for art don’t. (There are a lucky few that do of course, and the same goes for game development.)

    This “problem with the industry” is really only a problem for the consumer because game developers can continue to make whatever they please and put it on the download channel. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to pay for something they’re not comfortable with or not what they’re looking for. Game publishers don’t have any sort of requirement to pay for game developers to build something that publisher doesn’t want. They have the money to pay for the projects so they get what games they want made. If you’re so sure your game is going to make back its money then take out a second mortgage and go get it made. If you’re worried about losing all that money… so are the publishers.

    Am I happy that nobody is paying me to make the games I want to make? Hell no, but I don’t go off on a rant that the world is broken. I suck it up and do my best to get my games made. Others make the choice of working for a game development company where they can at least have some input into something that gets into retail.

    XBox Live Arcade, from what I understand, isn’t a situation where Microsoft is paying out to have games made. They’re looking at submitted games and choosing which they put online. Yes they’re gatekeepers but they’re not a board of approval *before* the game begins. Develop properly and if they say no, you have a game to put up on the PC download channel, nothing lost. Because they’re running things this way they *do* have the ability to accept content with “more risk”. I don’t think MS would’ve paid to publish MBU or Outpost Kaloki X or Wik.

    XBLA is an incredible opportunity for developers that want to see the opportunity rather than sit back and whine about the industry being broken. There are very few comparable opportunities for small games to be offered to a huge hungry audience. If they like your game then you pay for your dev kit and get the game up on their service where *you* have smaller risk on losing your $30k =) If they don’t then put the game online and move on to the next one.

    If you’re looking for people to pay you to go out and create every idea you’ve written down on paper… not sure there’s any industry like that.

  • Chris

    Great job, and excellent game! I can’t wait to see what your team comes up with in the future.

    It would have been nice to work on arcade games, but out of all my friends, I have the most technical skill in programming, but I know nothing about 3D engines. Even the 2D games on XBLA all have 3D elements.

  • jmz28

    EXCELLENT post raigan.

  • http://www.zoombapup.com Phil Carlisle

    The thing thats really good about this, is that its pushing the other console manufacturers in the right direction too.

    Basically everyone will have to compete in the downloadable games market on consoles.

    I dont think there’s anything wrong in the people who own a platform having requirements for that platform.

    As it is, the fact that GG, who is still a relatively small company has gotten a great opportunity. Obviously its *not* impossible for non-publisher backed companies to become console devs.

    I look forward to creating games for that platform, but I realise that it wont be my first few games that necassarily deliver enough to be a “must have” for the platform.

    Its like anything, make something compelling enough, then you WILL have opportunities. The whole alien homenid->ps2 thing springs to mind also.

    This *is* a positive move, no matter the politics involved.

    .Z.

  • http://www.harveycartel.org/metanet Raigan

    I’m not looking for people to pay me to do what I do — that’s _exactly_ the problem!

    The very notion that you should only do something if people will pay you is analogous to gated content in XBLA — the notion that you should only do something if it will be approved by a group of people.

    You should be making games because it’s what you know you need to do, and what you love doing. What else matters? If you have the skills to make a game, you’re resourceful enough that you can find the money to support making at least one game a year.

    To balance all of my ranting, here is a useful thought: the independent music industry is huge, incredibly financially successful, and full of vibrant, terrific music. Why is it like this?

    Because there are independent music labels! Because there is a distribution model outside of the small set of gigantic corporations which control and regulate the mainstream.

    Indie music would _suck_ if the only way a band could get distribution was to go through Sony/EMI/etc.. this very fact was what gave birth to independent music labels in the first place!

    And yet what is being proposed in this thread is that it’s GREAT for indies to go through the big labels. What i’m trying to point out is how wrong that is.

    XBLA is a great opportunity for small developers who want to maximise their returns on their next game. However it is incredibly dangerous for indie games because it draws potentially independent developers into the commerical industry, preventing them from creating self-sustaining _independent_ models which compete with and challenge the commerical industry.

    Movies and music both have great independent industries which keep the mainstream fresh through _competition_. An important part of competition is that money the audience gives to the indies is money that the commercial industry doesn’t get — which provides the commerical industry with a solid financial incentive (the only sort of incentive it responds to) to stay vital and un-stagnant.

    XBLA is a pre-emptive strike against this sort of competative independent industry, and ultimately it’s a bid to keep things the way they are: heavily controlled by a rigid hierarchy of power which is very slow to innovate or respond to change, where there is no real threat of competition. Didn’t the cold war teach us anything? I thought it was obvious that the socialist model was flawed.

    Looking back at artistic movements, none of them were getting paid. They met in coffee houses, they did drugs, they were isolated from each other, some may have been insane — however they did it, they certainly didn’t do it contingent on approval of a board of people who didn’t even know how to paint!! Nor did they care about the public, who are just as ignorant about painting. They listened only to their peers, and they did it because they felt they needed to, because they were inspired.

    Microsoft is as far from being a peer of indie developers as possible. I repeat that the very concept of GATED CONTENT is anathema to a healthy, creative artistic community.

    I submit that if you have financial obligations which require you to have a profitable game business, you’ve already put a huge barrier between you and independence. The notion that you need to risk $30k to make a game is ludicrous: if you have a computer, you can make a game for the cost of living for X weeks!

    The only reason you’d need to risk anything is if your goal is to generate a significant profit.

    In that case, you’re already off the path of independence since you’re subscribing to the same ideology as the mainstream commerical industry. If you’re a small team who just mimics bigger developers, then you’re not independent — you’re minor league.

    p.s – I _do_ have someone who will pay me to create the ideas I have: myself. If you look at independent music labels like Elephant6, Morr Music, Arts&Crafts, Dischord.. that is exactly the model they have used to become successful: “noone is going to invest in us but ourselves, however this is perfect, because it means that noone but us will have any say in what we make”

  • Willy

    Raigan, do you enjoy being “independently” broke?

    This is a gift horse to those who have been dreaming about being published and selling cool games. Don’t try and turn it into something negative. No one is telling you that you have to take part. Just a new avenue for those of us that do.

    I can tell you I am tired today because I have been up late every night the last few weeks playing Geometry and Hexic. These games are puzzle ‘crack’.

    Keep up the good work boys…Games don’t need to be big, just fun (and addictive)

  • http://www.garagegames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Good stuff Raigan.

    One last little comment from me. I have been preaching and looking for original, creative, artistic game content since we started GarageGames over six years ago. If you have read any of my IndieGamesCon keynotes, it is always about looking for great content. The bottom line is this: the Indie community has not delivered. There is nothing stopping Indies from making great, innovative games. The download channel is completely open, the technology and tools are free or nearly free, the art development tools have made huge strides, but WHERE ARE THE GAMES? Where is the Cubism? Hell, I don’t even need Cubism, just show me some fun, innovative games.

    GarageGames will definitely publish those games and bring more attention to the artists. We love products like Gish. Bring us me more!

    At the end of the day, if these games look like something that will work on XBLA, we’ll do everything we can to help get them into the channel. Until there are games, all of this talk is just that… talk and theory. Theory about how the big guys are screwing up (well, maybe that isn’t theory) and the little guys are the great, creative, unsupported geniuses that just need their big break. Bring on the games. Let’s see the proof.

    -Jeff

    P.S. Wow! This sounds like the subject of a future blog post.

  • http://www.oldschoolgameguys.com jabbertrack

    I just wanted to say that MBU is my favorite game right now :)

    Raigan: I can’t help but notice your excessive whining. You use the ‘music’ analogy… and I find that humorous because I have been in and around some groups trying to make it and have met guys like you who will never make it and who don’t even WANT TO ‘make it’ in the same way other people do.

    So here’s what you do: stop complaining

    Those guys I knew would never shut up about bands who ‘sold out’ and how his personal goal is ‘all about the artform’ etc (when actually he had very limited talent). I have been around some extremely talented people who HAVE made it to commercial music, and some who just don’t want to… except they usually shut up about their own choice. Won’t you please do the same ? _thanks_ (because underscores around words is so cool)

  • http://www.harveycartel.org/metanet Raigan

    Perhaps the concept of an indie game being “x-blah’d” hits a bit close to home for us.. and it just feels wrong somehow.

    I wish someone would hurry up and start a _real_ indie games label — indie bands have been making a decent living creating great music for years! And they don’t have to pursue labels — the labels that are interested come to them, because there are dozens of labels competing to find the best talent (as opposed to hundreds of developers competing to please 3 console manufacturers). In the worst case, they start their own label — instead of having to change their work to get it out there.

    If one label turns you down, there are many others to choose from; this _is_ “gated content” of a sort, I suppose, since terrible albums aren’t likely to be picked up by anyone.. but it’s a far cry from a monolithic single corporation. Really great music, no matter how weird, gets distributed.

    Anyway, my real beliefs may lay somewhere in the middle, but I think that it’s important to acknowledge and discuss the _negative_ repercussions of XBLA, instead of just running lemming-like towards an opportunity to make money. And it’s _very_ important that we realise that great art is hard to create if you care more about making a profit than making something that’s true to your vision.

    p.s – to willy: i’d rather be broke than supporting a system which rewards pleasing boards of executives more than creating inspired work. I agree that if “publish[ing] and selling” games is what’s important, XBLA is a great thing — personally, i think _making_ games is what’s important.

  • isthmus

    “The bottom line is this: the Indie community has not delivered. [...] WHERE ARE THE GAMES? Where is the Cubism? Hell, I don’t even need Cubism, just show me some fun, innovative games.”

    what do you mean? every year several great games are produced by Indies and entered in the IGF and now the Slamdance games competitions, and that’s just two, in North America.

    What about the work done by those involved in the Indie Game Jams? What about the games mentioned in last year’s Experimental Games workshop at the GDC? What about Japan’s doujin games?

    I’m confused.

    “GarageGames will definitely publish those games and bring more attention to the artists. We love products like Gish. Bring us me more!”

    Ah so, are you saying they just don’t come to GarageGames to be published?

  • http://www.garagegames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Not at all. I don’t care if they are published by GarageGames. I am offering to help if somebody does make something interesting.

    What I am saying is that there are not that many fun, innovative games being created. Sure, there are a couple of games from GDC or the IGDA contests, but not many. Several is not many.

    -Jeff

  • http://www.Meridian59.com Q – Rob Ellis II

    Mmm, moderated Blogs hurt my brain.

    Raigan I am 100% about the games. I started in the garage doing what I want to do, sold out to the corporation when they liked what we were doing, left the corporation when we didn’t like where they wanted us to go, bought the first game back from the corporation to rescue it, etc

    I have told players to cancel their 5 accounts on my subscription game service because they didn’t like how a feature worked and we weren’t going to ever change it. I have never seriously worried that a feature would cause players to quit. I have even removed a major system that was very popular because it was implemented poorly (off my watch) and very broken. I make money from my games but I make the games I want to make. I don’t make HUGE amounts of money but I am happy to accept the payment of any player that thinks my game is worth their money. I pour large amounts of my own cash into getting the games developed and I’m happy to get some or even all of that back. There is nothing un-artistic about that.

    There is no need to be black and white about it. One does not have to care *more* about making “money” than “great art”. One can simply care about how they can make some money with their great art. (I mean, if it’s great it should be worth something yeah?) I admit I got all flurried when I considered the possibility of getting onto XBLA… however I never considered how I would need to fit my game to their service, instead I realized how well their service fit my game. It’s fully possible that level headed developers that enjoy making fun games may well benefit from XBLA. Don’t rush off to fast yelling “sell out”. =)

  • Dave Myers

    There will always be game devs out there that will shun the XBLA’s of the world. They will be creative folks and come up with interesting games. Some of those games might even make money. And then there will be a lot of game devs that will try to not only make games, but also try to make money doing what they love to do. The most likely way to pull that off is to use the XBLA’s of the world as (at the very least) a starting point to your own world domination. Either way you proceed is fine.

  • isthmus

    okay, what about all the games produced in countries outside of North America that we don’t have access to by not being able to understand other languages?

    I was just trying to point out that you’re painting with quite a broad brush there; just because you haven’t seen the fun, innovative games, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist.

    I think though, to get back on topic, that this and the other developments happening now (eg the Cinemaware Indie label, and Manifesto Games etc) have the potential to be very beneficial for indie developers, and that can’t be a bad thing. it’s an exciting time, for sure.

  • http://troygilbert.com/ Troy Gilbert

    @Raigan:

    I think the music analogy is a bit thin. First, there are some critical differences between games and music that play into this debate: the modern music industry has been around 2x to 3x longer than the video game industry; the potential audience for music’s products is 10x to 20x larger; and the number of products that the average music consumer purchases is probably 10x that of the average gamer (how many albums have you purchased this year? how many games?).

    But more importantly, the economics of the creators of music is quite different. First, my experience is that there are way more unsuccessful musicians than there are successful (financially speaking). Second, most musicians earn a living through performance, not through distribution of their albums through labels. Third, many musicians still have a “day job” and perform in their free time.

    Game developers, on the other hand, primarily earn a living through the distribution of the game (no one is paying to watch me program!). And that distribution of the game doesn’t happen until the product is finished. Thus, while a musician may be able to support themselves through their craft until such time they produce an album, a game developer cannot reasonably do that (unless it’s the whole day job / hobbyist route, which is certainly viable).

    Just because a label magically “exists” doesn’t solve the problems of distribution. Most labels cannot get distribution in major retailers unless they have some kind of deal with a larger label. Same goes for game development: if you want distribution in major retail chains you’ll have to have a publisher, even if you’re a small studio with a fantastic, completely finished and polished game.

    The music industry, because of its orders-of-magnitude larger customer base and orders-of-magnitude larger amount of content, is able to actually support independent retailers (though more or less successfully these days). Independent video game retailers are a rarity, and can really do no more than provide a wider range of titles from other territories or from older stock, but they are all still largely “gated” through the major publishers. Not so in the case of indie music retailers, many of whom would graciously take a few CDs from a local band and throw them on the counter.

    There’s dozens of other ways in which the analogy fails. Labels don’t take on crap music in much the same way that XBLA won’t take crap games. Yes, painters don’t have to get permission from a committee, but as mentioned previously, they do if that committee is paying for their work. Same applies to games: XBLA is not paying for your creation to be made, so no one is approving anything on the creative side. XBLA is a “gate” for distribution, but that’s the only sensible thing for them to do, otherwise the channel would become dilluted with a lot of bad and/or broken titles.

    I think the point Jeff is trying to make is that XBLA is an *additional* opportunity for indie games when it comes to distribution. It’s also an incredibly unique opportunity as it’s really the first time there’s been a channel like this for indie developers. Sure, I could imagine a scenario where MS was presented with a title that they had content issues with (violence, overtly political, sexual, etc.) and it would be their perogative to decline to distribute the game. I assume MS has already built parental controls into the XBLA and would hope that they’d be willing to apply those controls to allow content that could be deemed questionable. Regardless, if they declined to distribute your stuff it doesn’t preclude you from distributing it online or by burning discs yourself.

    To return to your music analogy, think of XBLA like radio. There’s lots of music that’s not appropriate to radio, either due to content, style, popularity, etc. But that doesn’t make some of the music on radio any less independent, it doesn’t make musicians any more restricted, and it doesn’t make radio any less of a viable channel for successful indie musicians.

    Yes, XBLA is not a wide-open channel, but that will only serve to improve its quality. I’ve judged IGF games for the last 3 or 4 years. I think it would be safe to conjecture that the titles submitted to the IGF represent a fair sampling of the indie game scene (I remember playing yours fondly, Raigan). I would also conjecture that those who felt their titles were good enough to compete in the IGF would certainly consider their titles good enough to be on XBLA if it was a wide-open channel. *BUT*, if XBLA was crowded with all of the titles from the IGF it would significantly dillute XBLA’s appeal to the larger console audience because, let’s be honest, there are an incredible amount of bad indie games.

    Gates aren’t always bad things. Some gates confine people and limit their freedom, some gates protect folks and keep out the bad stuff. Let’s just be happy that our Gates gave us the XBLA (and $29billion to charity!).

  • http://www.gameproducer.net Game Producer

    That “not-wide-open channel” sounds fine. Thanks for clearing this.

  • http://www.garagegames.com Tim Aste

    Another awesome article Jeff, keep it up! I love these.

  • http://www.zoombapup.com Phil Carlisle

    Hey Jeff,

    Regarding the “there are not enough games” thing. Why not post a blog entry about WHY you think thats not the case?

    Ive got my own theories, but I’d like to know why you think its the way it is.

  • http://www.garagegames.com Jeff Tunnell

    It’s coming. I still have some foundational, house keeping articles to write, then we’ll start tearing into deeper articles like that.

    -Jeff

  • HighDef Edition

    I have only played the Demo and while I enjoy it, this game is freaking me out man. I have somewhat of a Height problem – as in Im a bit terrified of heihgts.

  • Jan Gruetz

    BEST XBLA game so far! bought it within minutes of seeing it :)

    how about some add-on maps? ;)

    keep it up!

    Jan

  • John Wagner

    Any chance of more content? Maps, gametypes, more custom marble designes?

  • Jim

    Awesome. Marble Blast on the XBOX360 and more. It great to hear Garage Games is making a name for itself for both the Indie Game Community and for games on a a large platform like the XBOX. I sense good things for you guys in the future.

    You guys could become something the game business needs. Not just a company that provides a supportive community to indies and a commercial grade game engine, but a game publisher run by folks who know and love games.

    I think your work with Microsoft can pay off greatly.

    And by the way, When you make the big bucks get your baby back! Look at todays games. They are all moving in the direction of Tribes, and Tribes was doing all of that in 1998!. Its gameplay still has not been matched.

    To more good things in the future.

  • Matthew Overlund

    @Jeff,
    I’d be interested in seeing an article discussing ways to evaluate various genres from a marketing standpoint, and different approaches for garnering market share for Indie products that compete directly with commercially funded titles. As an example, my design notepads are filled with notes on a motorcycle racer that I’d love to see published and eventually pushed to XBLA, however MotoGP 2006 is slated for release later this year. As the arguable reigning king of moto games, both on PC and console, would you say a ‘quicker gratification’ style game on XBLA would still attract players, and what advice would you give to someone considering such a project? As an aside, I’m not asking for the best way to push a title to the point I can quit my job and fill my bank account, for me it would be more rewarding to see a published title with my name on it being well recieved by the player base.

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  • http://www.naturalgames.com Darius Young

    This is an awsome game and a GREAT step forward for Indie game developers. Casual game downloads seem to still be on a strong rise!