Dissecting Download Numbers on XBLIGs
Below are the downloads (not sales) for Nasty thus far. As you can see, they start off sufficiently high (the first day of release saw 1,241 downloads) but quickly taper off.
This graph illustrates rather well what I feel is the biggest storm cloud looming over Xbox Live Indie Games and why I think we'll see fewer and fewer large games ($3 and $5) and a lot more $1 games released.
When you first release a game to XBLIGs, you're placed onto a "New Releases" listing that is visible in the Indie Games marketplace on the Xbox 360. This is the reason for Nasty's high initial download numbers, it is the first list that gamer's see when they go to view Indie Games. There are several other listings available too, including "Most Popular", "Best Rated", and "Contest Finalists". Each of these listing has 20 games on them.
Nasty appeared on the "New Releases" list until sometime on 9/2 (10 days after initial release). It also had a brief appearance on the "Most Popular" list, which likely coincides with the download spike on 8/29. As other games were released, Nasty was pushed further and further down the "New Releases" list and eventually off it completely. Without being on "New Releases" list to bolster the download numbers, Nasty quickly dropped off of "Most Popular" list too.
In the first ten days Nasty was available on XBLIGs, it was download a total of 5,284 times (528 a day). In the 32 days since then, Nasty has been downloaded 415 times (13 a day). In the past month, Nasty has not been downloaded as many times total as it was in a single average day during the first 10 days of release. The high day for downloads after the initial 10 days for Nasty was 28 and the low day has been 3.
The biggest issue (the storm cloud alluded to earlier) with XBLIGs is the lack of exposure for games once they are no longer on one of the "Top" lists... few gamers browse the archives or even fewer find your game among the 450+ games currently available.
If you can stay on one of those lists, you can do great on this service as several games have already shown. The problem is, as more and more games are released, those spots on the lists are going to be harder and harder to maintain. Each list has 20 spots and several games show up on multiple lists. And once your game drops off these lists, its download numbers are going to tank badly.
The fact that making money on this service is so precarious makes investing the time / money / effort in a large scale game an extremely risky endeavor. What if you spend months or years on a game and it doesn't make it onto a list? Chances are, you will get a lot of sales right away and then very little for the rest of the life of your game.
This is why $1 games work so well... a small game can recover much (maybe all) of its cost to develop in those initial ten days (give or take) when you are guaranteed a lot of downloads. Any time longer than that on a list is going to yield you a lot more profits. Even if it doesn't make that money back, you're not all that bad off. A long to develop game virtually needs to stay on one of those lists for an extended period of time to break even and that is easier said than done (and getting harder to accomplish by the day). A long to develop game that flops badly (which I think is highly likely on XBLIGs) could single-handedly kill a small development company.
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