When Microsoft released the XBox 360, they added a new feature to their online “live” service called “Live Arcade.” The idea behind the arcade is that smaller independent developers (“Indies”) can develop lower cost games, and market them at lower prices to consumers without having to get shelf space at the local GameStop. In principal, this is a great idea, and it sounds quite helpful to startups or even the home hobbyist programmer.
For some of those paying attention, this might sound sort of familiar — in fact, it is almost exactly the same approach Verizon and Qualcomm used for handset-based games — the ones you play on your cell phone. What happened there was that, yes, in the first 6 months or so, just about anyone could produce a video game. However, as time went on, it became more and more expensive to produce games — not because of your own costs, but due to purchasing a development kit, paying for validation costs which go up regularly, and the increasing costs of attending developer conferences. That last one might sound like a luxury rather than a requirement, but the way things work in the phone software industry is very much like an Adventurer’s Club. You’re either a member or you’re not. And the gates to get your software actually listed on a phone are controlled by a very small number of individuals. Oh, and by the way, they won’t even tell you if they will carry your game until you’ve already eaten all of these costs.
As you can see, it’s not a very conductive environment for small or independent developer. And it’s not meant to be. Despite a lot of talk about how this deployment model “levels the playing field” for large and small developers, take a look at which companies are actually creating the games you might find on your phone. Typically, there are only a handful, and you wont find many you haven’t heard of: Konami, Sony, Jamdat (which is actually mostly owned by Verizon). Virtually no small developers. And why should there be? The phone companies would rather carry several games from one developer than one game each from multiple developers. The paperwork is simpler.
Let’s get back to the XBox 360. Microsoft is pushing the Indie developer thing much harder than Qualcomm ever did. OK then, where are all the games from these Indie developers? The 360 has been out for almost 8 months, and there are hardly any things to choose from. Microsoft has some PR-speak about the issue.
Well great! I’d like to develop games for the XBox! I’ve worked with Direct X before! I have some free time! Where can I get started? As long as I can make something good quality (which is a reasonable restriction), I can expect to have a reasonable chance to get my game on there, right? Sorry, here’s Microsoft’s response:
“The The XBox RDP is open to established professional game development studios with a history of shipped titles and good industry references. If you represent a startup company, you may be considered if the team is made up of experienced individuals.”
Does that sound like they’re encouraging Indie developers to you?