Giant Bomb News

69 Comments

Microsoft Finally Gives Independents Control Over Release Dates, But for One Game, It's Too Late

Years after launching a platform for independent developers, they can finally control release dates.

Microsoft first launched the service under the moniker of Community Games.

Earlier this week, Microsoft updated its Xbox Live Indie Games program to hand control over the release date to developers. No, that feature did not exist before. And no, Microsoft did not inform independent developers who were creating and publishing games for the platform that it was coming before the announcement.

Such information would have been incredibly useful for 25-year-old Jason Wishnov of Iridium Studios, who just launched Sequence on the notoriously underdeveloped service, launched by Microsoft back in November 2008.

"It's a fantastic feature," said Wisnov to me over email, "though [I'm a] bit bitter about its introduction literally four days [after] my game's release. I had a hell of a time coordinating a traditional marketing blitz when I was literally unable to tell people when my game would be available to the public. Without a focused date, all marketing for my game had to be done after release, as a race against the clock; indie games slowly slip from the new releases list within a week, after which their visibility is fairly wounded."

Sequence, an RPG with rhythm game mechanics rooted in Konami's Dance Dance Revolution, has seen less than a thousand sales since its launch earlier this week, despite great reviews. Wishnov was hoping Sequence would be his ticket out of his day job and into full-time game development, a common sentiment among developers publishing in the independent market. No one who releases on Microsoft's platform expects guarantees on success, but the lack of communication is seen as a big and frustrating issue.

== TEASER ==

Prior to this change, game developers submitted into a peer review system when the game felt done. Fellow developers then download the game, make sure it's up-to-snuff, rate the content inside for age appropriateness, and following a "sufficient" though undisclosed number of sign-offs, the game is live. The developer has no control over this process. Once the game passes, a few hours go by and the game suddenly appears onto the Indie Games channel. If you're not paying attention, you could just miss it.

Wishnov created much of the game on his own, contracting out some pieces, like the soundtrack.

This new change allows developers to halt the process at peer approval. If the developer wants the game to stay in the system for a while, providing time to build up a public relations campaign, it can.

Wishnov spent two-and-a-half years developing Sequence. He missed control over his release date by a few days. Had he been aware of the changes that were coming, he might have held the game back.

"The XBLIG [Xbox Live Indie Games] team isn't exactly great at keeping us informed of pending developments," he added.

He's not alone in that sentiment, either.

Serious Sam: Double D is one of several riffs on the series coming from outside developers.

"It's hilariously disconnected," said designer Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games, best known for Shoot 1UP and the upcoming Serious Sam: Double D. "They have no formal communication with registered developers. At most it's a post on the forums, or a news post on the app hub site. I had no idea the new feature was coming. In the past they say they keep us in the dark so they don't disappoint us. You know what disappoints me more? Getting kept in the dark. C'est la vie!"

Fouts left Insomniac Games to pursue his own games and has been one of the most vocal evangelists--and critics--of Indie Games, praising the opportunities it offers and cursing Microsoft for overlooking it. Fouts has been asking Microsoft to give developers control over the release of their games since Indie Games was called Community Games. Microsoft changed the branding to Indie Games in June 2009.

"If you consider how most games, movies, books, albums will say when the release date is, it allows fans to prepare," added Fouts, whose livelihood is based on selling his wares. "They can juggle what entertainment they'll be purchasing, or just to help them to remember when to look to download things."

There have been bonafide success stories on Indie Games, including James "Dishwasher" Silva of Ska Games, who's sold more than 200,000 copies of the intentionally goofy I Maed a Gam3 W1th Zomb1es. DJArcas, who doesn't disclose his real name, recently broke records with FortressCraft, a controversy-laden riff on Minecraft, selling more than 16,000 copies on its first day of availability.

Until I'd pointed it out, DJArcas wasn't even aware the change had been made.

"Wow, they finally added that?" mused DJArcas, when I brought it up over email. "Amusingly, it doesn't really bother me; it's more indicative of the failure of the system as a whole, the fact that being in the 'new releases' is paramount to sales. It does mean that you can setup your peer review a few weeks ahead of your release date, and have plenty of advertising showing the date of your release."

FortressCraft, while successful, has come under fire for being a bit too like Minecraft.

But while DJArcas might be shrugging his shoulders, Silva expressed frustration over how differently the Indie Games Winter Uprising might have gone last December, intended to be a month-long stream of releases via Indie Games. The promotion, developed separately from Microsoft, was mimicking other promotions of digital games on the service that Microsoft does run, ala Summer of Arcade. Sadly, the Indie Games Winter Uprising rollout was hurt by several issues, including mostly unknowable release dates.

"We basically had this 'the games will most likely come out in winter' approach," said Silva. "If we could get all of the games approved and then publish them on a well-publicized official schedule, it would look tons better."

Alas, it's too late for the Indie Games Winter Uprising.

But Indie Games is not the end for Sequence's Wisnov, as he's preparing to submit to Steam. The experience appears to have left a bitter taste in his mouth, but given the timing, it's hard to blame him.

"Xbox Live Indie Games channel desperately needed this feature," he said, "and Iridium Studios desperately needed it just four days earlier."

Patrick Klepek on Google+
69 Comments
  • 69 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by Wibblewozzer

To the person that suggested that it should have just been published on Steam: It's not like you can just decide for yourself if your game is going to be put onto Steam. You have to submit it and pray that the Steam Gods favor you. It's tough for indies to get in there, especially if you're from a new studio and don't have some publisher behind you that's already on Steam. The developer of an indie PC title, The Oil Blue, has been vocal about his game's reception during the past year and despite good reviews from the few sites (and gamers' impressions) that were willing to check it out it got denied Steam while some truly shit games still make it on the service.


And for those asking about good reviews: I'm aware of a couple big sites that featured it. Eurogamer gave it Game of the Week ( http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-05-06-game-of-the-week-sequence-article)  and a 9/10 in their review while Edge gave it an 8/10, ( http://www.next-gen.biz/features/sequence-review). Fairly certain it saw coverage on Joystiq, as well. And I'm sure there's numerous smaller sites.

And for full disclosure, I'm merely a fan of the game. Followed it since I first heard about it while lurking on NeoGAF and now that I'm a member there I've had a great time in chatting over factors of the game.

In general I wish the XBLIGs got more coverage across the board and do my part in trying to get people to buy more and sharing the good titles. One of the few posts I have on the forums on this site was entirely about the Indie Games service. Perhaps one day I'll have the courage (and time/effort?) to get something on the service but for now all I can do is try to share my interest in it with others that are interested.

Good article Patrick. Sounds like you're a bit of a fan of the service so I'd suggest bringing up doing another Quick Look like before but if you have some favorite titles, either well known or hidden gems, you should be a part of the Quick Look and introduce the crew to a few titles while also entertaining us with more Quick Looks.
Posted by Terjay

I don't care at all, because I STILL CAN'T DOWNLOAD ANY OF THESE WHERE I LIVE.

Posted by cultofweaver

Indie Games continues to be a great service and really should be covered more in the press. While a big chunk of the games are rubbish there are good games released on there virtually every week, and for most of last year I found myself enjoying Indie Games way more than the stuff that was on XBLA. I mean Apple Jack was one of the best games released last year for anything (download or retail) and cost me 69p to buy. It was almost criminal how much I paid for that game.

Edited by Delusibeta
@Fobwashed: Honestly? Do a PC version. Even if you don't wind up getting on Steam, there's still quite a few digital distribution services (notably Gamersgate and Desura, and to a lesser extent Impulse) that will be happy to take your game on. And if you do wind up on Steam, then happy days. You'll probably wind up with enough money to get into XBLA.
Posted by redwing42

A couple of good ones I've found on Indie Games are Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves the World, both by Zeboyd games.  I also have Epic Dungeon, but haven't gotten around to playing it yet.  If nothing else, this article will make me find out more about Sequence.  Love the improved news reports on here now.
Posted by Vexxan

Indie Games...mjeh. I haven't really seen great indie games that made me go "Holy shit I gotta buy this game".

Posted by phish09
@Delusibeta said:
" @Fobwashed: Honestly? Do a PC version. Even if you don't wind up getting on Steam, there's still quite a few digital distribution services (notably Gamersgate and Desura, and to a lesser extent Impulse) that will be happy to take your game on. And if you do wind up on Steam, then happy days. You'll probably wind up with enough money to get into XBLA. "
See...to me that's the problem with releasing it as PC only, is that it's such a fragmented market.  Some people only use Steam to download PC games, so if you're not on Steam you're screwed, but I know that's not everyone, however I know most people don't check Impulse, Desura, Gamersgate, etc on a daily or even weekly basis.  You have all these different services competing with each other, and usually unless you're in the top 10 most downloaded games on that service at a given point in time you're game isn't going to get much screen space if any at all.  I'm not saying "don't release a PC version", but merely that releasing it on XBLIG is a way of hedging your risk since there is only one service on XBOX Live to download real indie games from.
Posted by JonnyNWR

Sequence is incredible. I got at least 10 hours of great playtime for only $3. If you're reading this article, you already know it exists, so there's no excuse not to try it out. Note that you can play the trial multiple times to get through the long (but necessary) tutorial -- it will even resume for you.

Posted by Burns098356GX


So these guys bitch and moan over a system that lets them sell their games that otherwise wouldn't see the light of day?

 

Posted by PeasantAbuse

They should just ditch the indie games thing, 99% of the games are horrible.
Posted by Kerbii

" In the past they say they keep us in the dark so they don't disappoint us."


...what? If you're in the indie gaming business I think you have to be pretty geared for disappointment anyways...
Posted by AlexW00d

I still don't know why people develop indie games for the 360, they will always get fucked over by Microsoft, just like Team Meat :(


Steam on the other hand will give you a handy for every sale you make.
Posted by Delusibeta
@phish09 said:
" @Delusibeta said:
" @Fobwashed: Honestly? Do a PC version. Even if you don't wind up getting on Steam, there's still quite a few digital distribution services (notably Gamersgate and Desura, and to a lesser extent Impulse) that will be happy to take your game on. And if you do wind up on Steam, then happy days. You'll probably wind up with enough money to get into XBLA. "
See...to me that's the problem with releasing it as PC only, is that it's such a fragmented market.  Some people only use Steam to download PC games, so if you're not on Steam you're screwed, but I know that's not everyone, however I know most people don't check Impulse, Desura, Gamersgate, etc on a daily or even weekly basis.  You have all these different services competing with each other, and usually unless you're in the top 10 most downloaded games on that service at a given point in time you're game isn't going to get much screen space if any at all.  I'm not saying "don't release a PC version", but merely that releasing it on XBLIG is a way of hedging your risk since there is only one service on XBOX Live to download real indie games from. "
It's interesting that your complaint is that "if you don't get on Steam, you won't get much screen time" which is the biggest complaint I've seen about XBLIG. Honestly? Spread the word. Contact RockPaperShotgun (once you've made a PC version, obviously), try to get on the various indie blogs (e.g. Indie Games, DIY Gamer, TIG Source [although again, this last one's specialises in PC games]), make a demo, etc.etc.etc.
Posted by vinull

I'm glad to see this article on GB - good job Patrick!
I'm an editor over at GameMarx.com (we cover just XBLIG) and it's good to see these guys get some love from the mainstream gaming sites.  One reason game journalists site for *not* covering indies is they don't know about them.  Asking someone to cover a game already out isn't the norm either, GB sites like to have a review ready the release day, and being able to know when that day is... well, that's kinda key.
I'll make a plea to see more XBLIG covered here on GB with the others.  There are many good games, but Micsosoft has a epic failure in making that clear on the dashboard.  They recently had a major security flaw in the ratings system and games were getting up voted and down voted on hacker whims.  The closed the flaw, but sadly did not restore the ratings.
This is why getting more mainstream visibility into the service is key.  There is no pressure fans and developers of XBLIGs can put on Microsoft to do the right thing, or even push them to stop blocking indies from achievements, leaderboards, or stupid rules like not letting you play XBLIG offline (you must be connected to Live to play).
Once again, really glad to see more XBLIG coverage on GB!

Posted by Fobwashed
@Delusibeta:  The way XNA works, you basically will always have a PC version of the game. If only because it's easier to test on PC rather than pushing every single change to the 360. There are only a few minor changes needed to have it on PC.

In regards to releasing a PC version, well. . . I plan on it, but only after I release on the Indie Channel first. Reason being, PC shit gets pirated. Period. There's no way around it. I'd rather release it on the Indie Channel, and hope I make some money there first followed by a PC release further down the line. If I were to release on both at the same time, people would just download the pirated version off the internets and not even bother with the 360 version. What with there being no achievements, and me not doing anything awesome like 5.1 sound, it'd just make more sense to get it on PC. I suppose if somehow I got it to get distributed via Steam, if it's cheap enough, maybe it'd be easier for people to just drop a few bucks and grab it. . . but like, seriously. Pirates.

I for the most part consider PC to just be the last option. I'm trying to think of ways to work around piracy that fight it since I have no idea how to make DRM nor do I care to learn since I'm doin this on my own. The best thing I came up with so far is to maybe put a note in the game asking to please pay for it so that I can make more games with a paypal link or something. . . Iono. I'll think about it more when/if I ever get there.

Steve
Posted by JJOR64

I'm glad people are still making games for this service.  I really need to check out more of the games on the service.

Posted by Delusibeta
@Fobwashed: Eh, not going to argue with that. Although rates of piracy tends to be proportional to the popularity of the game, and DRM's basically a waste of time and money for everyone involved (exception: Steamworks. Largely because it's free for developers to use if Valve gives you the go ahead. Still doesn't prevent piracy, however. Another exception: online CD key registration. But then again, you're screwed if someone comes up with a key-generator).

I would question your fears of PC piracy canibalising XBLIG sales, however (360 gamers tend to game on their 360, PC gamers tend to game on their PC, and genuinely multiformat gamers are comparatively thin on the ground).
Posted by MrBrian

Whoa, XBLIG coverage on GiantBomb!  Hurray for Mr. Klepek!

Posted by ryanwho

PATRICK MADE THIS STORY PERSONAL WITH JOURNALISM