Be Wary WP7 Developers, Lessons Learned from Xbox Live Indie Games
Be wary Windows Phone 7 developers of the lessons learned from Xbox Live Indie Games, less the rug be pulled from under your feet too.
Xbox Live Indie Games started as a wonderful opportunity, create and sell games for one of the most powerful consoles ever known to man. For many growing up wishing to create games, this was a dream come true. Microsoft showered us with free tools to make the games, educational materials to help us along, charged only a small fee to do so, and made distributing the games easy. They created a website and forum for us to use. "Wow, this is great!" we all said in unison as we danced around the Microsoft supplied campfire.
Somewhere along the line though, Microsoft lost interest in us. Maybe we weren't creating the level of games they hoped for? Maybe gamers weren't buying as many copies as they expected? Maybe jealous Xbox Live Arcade publishers saw XBLIG as competition and pressured Microsoft to back us off? Or maybe something shiny and new caught Microsoft's eye (Windows Phone 7, Kinect)? Exactly what happened is all speculative but you cannot ignore the fact that Microsoft has largely abandoned Xbox Live Indie Games for other ventures.
For months we requested a permanent fix to regular broken sales data problems that cost New Releases significant amounts of sales but nothing was done. Not only was nothing done but Microsoft wouldn't even comment on the issue. In fact, they wouldn't comment on any issue we brought up. We even lost our community manager, our liaison to Microsoft, and she has yet to be replaced (and maybe will not be replaced).
We got a surprise a few weeks ago when our previously functional website and forum for XBLIG development was replaced with the eyeball-melting "AppHub" (I say "eyeball-melting" because the whites are so bright, just like on the Quick Menu of the new Dash, that staring at the pages for any extended period of time will turn your eyeballs to goo). Apparently we were all supposed to be Windows Phone 7 Developers, everything XBLIG was pushed to the back of the line in favor of the shiny new toy. The new AppHub clearly wasn't ready to be released; for example several of the pages to do things such as editing profile information blew up with errors when you tried to use them. But WP7 was coming soon so our good website got integrated into something half-baked.
The new Dash update promised some hope. Better sorting, 50 items instead of 20 on all the different Top Lists (Top Downloads, Top Rated, New Releases, etc). Then came the sucker punch. Early previews of the Dash had Indie Games getting a lot of love... On the main Dash, in the Games Section, and under Specialty Shop. The final version ended up with Indie Games only in the Specialty Shop, an extra click away wedged in an area designated for Avatar clothing and new Rockband songs and completely separate from the rest of their game cousins.
By the tone of this article so far, it shouldn't be surprising to hear that this new placement hasn't been good to developers. While it's just two days in, several prominent developers have already reported sales decreases of 40% to 50% (I can attest personally to similar poor sales numbers for my three games)*. We Xbox Live Indie Game developers were vocal about our disdain, so much so that websites like Eurogamer.net posted about our plight.
Microsoft choose to address these concerns via a press release issued to Eurogamer.net. It seems apparently Microsoft would issue a statement to clean up bad press while continuing to ignore the developers. We didn't get nary a reply on our "AppHub" forum to address this concern or the many others we have.
"In fact, since the launch of Avatars, Xbox Live members have made more than 290 million customizations to their Avatar's clothing, so we expect many people to regularly visit the Specialty Shops section."
The above is Microsoft's rational for moving us. It was good for us because somehow people looking to update the look of their Avatar are also the people wishing to play games. Those people certainly wouldn't be looking in the Games category. That would make too much sense.
And this is really where we stand now. Most of us really like developing for the service, we like the other developers and have a strong sense of community with each other. Microsoft has ignored us, ignored our requests to fix issues and to better the service, and now pushed us into the closest where we can't be seen. This is a very sad day for Xbox Live Indie Games and it should worry all you new Windows Phone Developers too. This is who Microsoft is and this is how they operate. Don't say I didn't warn you.
* I just want to be clear that 2 days is a small sample size for this data. Other factors could contribute to the lower than normal sales. I've followed sales data on XBLIG for a year and a half and this is the most dramatic drop I've seen from one day to the next. I believe there is something more to that than just external factors such as game releases or large public events. We'll get a more clear picture of this as the days, weeks, and months pass by.
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