A mere 16 days ago I was waxing poetic about the opportunities for Indie game developers in the XBox360 Live Arcade download space. Community response to that article has been huge to say the least, with coverage from A-list blogs such as Major Nelson, and XBox Circle. For a while my traffic to MBG was about 25% of what GarageGames normally gets, which is huge for a new blog. While I do believe that this is still a huge opportunity for Indies, I don’t think many people read my statement about how hard this will be. To reiterate:
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.
Well, that was a prophetic statement, and the success of the channel is catching the eye of everybody, from the major publishers, to the major developers, to ex-publisher employees, to experienced Indies, to wanna-be Indies. They are all self-funding. All they want are development kits, and pre-approved slots. In other words, hundreds of titles will be vying for limited “shelf space.” Even though this is a download environment, there are only so many titles that can fit into the system the way the UI is designed in the XBLA “store”. Even if there was unlimited shelf space, there are a finite number of downloadable demos that a gamer can digest.
If everybody jumps in the pool at once, all of the water will splash out! But, since it looks like the stampede has begun, what can you do to get in on the gold rush?
First of all, be realistic. If you have never created a game, or have only created a small Flash game, or maybe a cell phone game, you are going to be out of your league. Sorry to say this, but you just won’t have the chops yet. This is the pros, guys. As an example, I’m watching the Winter Olympics as I write this blog. If you just started skating last year, you do not stand a chance of getting on center stage ice any time soon. You might be talented, naturally gifted, and have an incredible amount of promise, but you will need a HUGE amount of practice, coaching, investment, and sacrifice before you even have the ability to get a chance at the qualifiers. This is no different. Making games is HARD work, and the more you do it, the better you get.
If you do have talent and experience, then you probably don’t need much advice from me, but I’ll give it to you anyway. Depending upon your past track record, you are going to need to need to have something special to even get a development kit and approval slot. There is a huge amount of talent coming at this channel. Everybody wants to get back to “pure” games, and have fun again. They can see a place where the best selling games don’t have huge licenses, and all of the attendant BS that is going on in the box channel right now. Unfortunately, most of this same BS will come to this channel soon.
For instance, I can imagine publishers easily making the choice to use XBLA as a loss leader in order to establish a presence and branding now before the channel becomes over developed. Or I could imagine them using the channel as what my partner Jay Moore would call “self liquidating marketing”, i.e. overspend on a product that could just break even in order to support and market a box channel game. My own speculation is that development budgets for XBLA games are already eclipsing $300,000, and will very quickly climb to over $1,000,000. While this is a huge amount for Indie companies self funding their games, it is coffee money for the big publishers compared to the amount they spend for development and marketing of even a C-level box title.
This is probably a huge let down to many of you reading this article, but I don’t think you should let it bother you. Just make your games. Nobody is holding you back from making and releasing games on the PC and Mac, and there is a proven market there. You need to get better… a lot better. Practice your craft and make fun, innovative games. Don’t keep waiting around for the next big “bling” feature until you make your game. If you can’t make a fun game now, waiting for the uber physics engine or HDR rendering is not going to help you tomorrow (this is fodder for an entire article).
If you are experienced, then you already know that ideas are worthless and demos or nearly completed products are everything. Carrying your million dollar idea around in your head will get you nowhere. The only way you are going to get mind share is to have something to show Microsoft or a third party publisher in order to get your slot and development kits.
Get a game engine. Get a hot PC with a hot video card. Attach XB360 controllers. Make your game. Watch people play it. Make it better. Watch them play more. Make it better again. Don’t let the competition get you down. If it is a fun, innovative game, it will sell. It will rise above the competition, and it will make it to any channel you want. In fact, I can tell you that if you make a great game, there will be bidding wars to sign your game and your company.