I don’t really have the time to comment on some of the rants about the Microsoft XNA Game Studio PC and XBox360 games tools initiative, but it cuts so close to home for GarageGames that I have to. Certain perspectives are so skewed and wrong that the only conclusion that I can come to is that they are either trying to get a little more famous for having another rant or they are truly threatened by opening up game development to indies, hobbyists, casual developers, or anybody that would like to experience creating a game for a console.
In spite of the rants, the combination of a managed code development environment that is free on the PC and $100 per year to access the XB360 is revolutionary. Add in the low cost of Torque X, a full C# game engine, and anybody that mows lawns or gets an allowance will be able buy one and make games for a next generation console. Having a unified development platform on managed code will allow many more people to learn game development methodologies. It is a nice step toward making game development easier. Personally, I am not threatened by having many more people making games. I welcome it and look forward to seeing the kind of vibrant and creative community we see from Flash developers.
People want to make games for consoles. It is a unified hardware platform, it is cheap, and their friends have one. Hobbyists will do it just for fun, educators will use it to teach game making, and even experienced developers will flock to this system just for prototyping. Any time in past history, prototyping your game on a console was “unobtanium”. Even if you could get approved, the cost of a development kit was out of range, so only large publishers could get access.
Imagine this scenario. An Indie developer, “Trying Really Hard“, spends two years of their life energy, using all of their spare time making a game, call it “My First Indie Game“, for lack of a better name. They sign it up for on-line distribution, and it quickly goes to the top of the charts. Not being a game that is appropriate for the casual portals, a hit game on the appropriate channels may sell 200 units a month (OK, I’m being generous). Some quick math. $20 retail – credit card fees – download fees = $19 (again, being generous). 50% of $19 is $9.50 * 200 units = $1,900 per month is the cut that TRH gets.
Even though TRH knew it was going to be hard to make a living as an Indie game maker and knew they would have to build a portfolio of products to make a living, this is tough. Hmmm. What to do? They can decide to wait for promises of raising venture capital for portals to build bigger markets, but that might not be in their best interests. Maybe exploring other markets would be appropriate.
So, they decide they would like to leverage their intellectual property and attempt to bring FIRST to the console market. Here is where it gets good, and is the part many people don’t seem to understand. TRH spends no money and downloads XNA Game Studio Express for the PC. Next they decide to spend a small amount for Torque X (GG have not decided how much yet, but it will be inexpensive) to save time rolling their own engine. Now, without even buying the $99 per year Creator Club subscription, TRH is creating a nice demo of their game that accesses shaders, game controller, etc. Development is going extremely quickly because of the managed code environment. Once the game is done, it is good enough they decide to pay up $99 for the Creator’s Club and actually demo the game on an XB360.
The next step is to either present the game directly to Microsoft or to one of the many, many publishers that are actively seeking content for the XBLA download channel (all of these publishers are easily accessible, and even Microsoft is incredibly accessible when it comes to XBLA for the XB360). Because the publisher gets to play the game directly on the XB360, there is little left to the imagination. All of the development risk for the title is gone. The publisher can easily do the ROI calculations, and it makes negotiations for TRH much easier, allowing them to keep ownership of the FIRST intellectual property as well as get a higher royalty rate and advance. At that point, they upgrade their Game Studio Express IDE to the professional version or negotiate with the publisher to loan them a full XB360 development kit or use some of their advances to actually buy their own development tools. In a few short months, they have made more money than they will EVER make on PC download channels. In addition, getting FIRST published on XBLA raised the profile of TRH and gets them offers to make games for the Wii, PS3 downloadable channel, DS, and other newly emerging platforms. How can that be bad???
GarageGames was founded seven years ago on the premise that tools and technology as well as distribution needed to be democratized for Indies to be able to be successful. We have done a great job on the tools side of the equation, but building up huge sales directly to the player has been harder, and we realize it will take a long time. With that in mind, we have advocated for Indies everywhere. We have worked hard to open new channels of distribution, to explore any and all channels and opportunities that we can find. Sometimes these things have seemed a little silly, Phantom anyone?, sometimes they are middle of the road (coin op), sometimes they are absolute hits. Helping pioneer channels such as XBLA on the original XBox or be first in line to get good products and technologies on XBLA for XB360, is good… no make that great, for Indies!
To wrap this up, I would ask people to really do their homework before coming to a conclusion on Microsoft’s XNA intitiative. Look at people that have a track record of shipping a lot of games and starting successful companies instead of ranting voices in the wilderness that make no sense.