How Are You Doing Mr. Community Games
About five months ago, Microsoft went live with its Community Games initiative, allowing indie developers to sell their creations over Xbox Live. Creators were left in the dark as to how well their games were doing until this past week.
The sales results mostly seem to range from slightly disappointed to completely crushed. Novaleaf Software for instance spent $100,000 developing Biology Battle and yet likely made only around $30,000 for it. The game Weapon of Choice seems to have made similar profits which are good if you're an indie developer doing this on the side but not so good when this is your main business.
One of the more unexpected developments is the number of apps that have done well on the service... things like Fireplace, Aquarium, and Rumble Massage. Many non-games that have consistently been atop the list of most popular XNA games. This has turn off several gamers though who are given the impression that Community Games aren't developing any quality games but rather cheap one-off productions intended to garnish a quick buck.
The sales numbers are good enough for indie developers to keep working on their games and likely spur the production of even more non-games, but the low amounts are going to chase away bigger development studios which simply cannot produce a game for the kind of shoestring budget that would be required to be profitable. I'm perfectly okay with that... I'd rather these games be developed by the community plus there is no way our games would be able to compete if any big developers started throwing their weight around.
There seem to be a couple underlying reasons for the low sales numbers. The first, and perhaps biggest, has to do with promotion of the service. Too many gamers simply do not know what Community Games are nor do they know how to access them. This should be addressed by Microsoft by placing some sort of link to the Community Games in a much more predominate location rather than buried inside the Games Marketplace.
Should a gamer find the Community Games (no small feat in itself), good luck finding the good games unless you happen to already know exactly which they are. The Most Popular list is ridden (as previously mentioned) by non-app screen savers and apps to turn your controller into a handheld vibrator. The Latest Release list is just that, latest releases, and can be hit or miss depending on when you visit. These two tabs are unfortunately where most gamers will look and quickly be turned off from the service. A rating system for the Community Games is desperately needed.
Community Games also lack the traditional XBox Achievements, which add to a gamers gamer score. Personally this matters not to me, but several gamers have expressed displeasure to a point where they don't even want to play these games because of it. Some people apparently take arbitrary, meaningless numbers very seriously.
Lastly developers need to look themselves in the mirror. Is your game all it could have been or was it just put out there because someone gave you the tools to make a game and you did? Many of the games out there now could have benefited greatly from more time in development, more time play testing, and generally spending more time polishing the finished project. If more games were of a higher quality, we wouldn't have to be discussing the fact that gamers can't find high quality games. Unfortunately it is easier to develop a system that can filter out bad games from good ones than to make bad games into good ones.
After reading these sales numbers, I'm more optimistic than I was before... some people made $30,000 after all and other lesser games still made thousands. I'm not expecting iPhone like sales nor for this game to make enough money for me to retire (on that note, I think a lot of people that wer
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