A few sites, including our own, received an interesting list of points suggesting that budding developers should seriously consider Xbox LIVE Indie Games as a good point of entry, and that the indie platform has far more to offer than it would seem. It was a list that came from a studio who've worked with XBLIG and XNA for some time. A studio that has built its name on pictures of hot girls and trying to prevent flatulence.
The prolific Silver Dollar Games have rattled off a number of XBLIG titles (some better than others), but have found themselves a couple of times in our weekly XBLIG recommendation roundups and they've been one of a few studios to ride indie success to a slot on the XBLA Marketplace itself with Blazing Birds (under the name Vector2Games). We've featured a fair amount of coverage on industry opinion surrounding XBLIG and Microsoft's commitment, or lack thereof, to indie developers. Earlier this year MStar's Dr. Mistry and Microsoft MVP George Clingerman put forward their rather contrasting, controversial perspectives, which made for excellent reading.
Now, though, we welcome Silver Dollar co-founder Jonathan Flook to the soapbox, giving a rather more uplifting, optimistic appraisal of the scene and challenging would-be developers to simply go for it...
I’ve read a few articles about the many problems with the App Hub and Xbox Indie Games, but I can’t find too many about how great it is. So I thought I’d give it a try. Silver Dollar Games would like to share eight reasons why you should make an Xbox Indie Game. This article is purely based on our experiences making Xbox Indie Games from the first day Xbox Indie Games launched till now. Additionally we didn’t consult any other developers while making this article.
1. A Great Place to Start
If you haven’t made a video game before and you’re not sure where to start, Xbox Indie Games is the place to go. The XNA framework is very easy to use. Additionally any problems you encounter, chances are someone has come across it before and they’ll be able to help you. If you’re looking for general knowledge on XNA there are dozens of reference books you can purchase to assist you.
More importantly the Play Test and Peer Review process can be relatively quick if you like. If you follow the guidelines provided in the App Hub forums you can get your game released in two weeks from the first day you submit it. Further to that, if you want extensive feedback on your game you can use the Play Test forums to get feedback from other developers as long as you wish. Xbox Live Indie Games is for everyone and everyone is welcome. The community is very helpful and very excepting of new developers. Give it a try, I’m sure you’re discover the same thing.
2. Helps Dreams Come True
Believe it or not, Xbox Indie Games have made many people’s dreams come true or at least one step closer to it. Each year Microsoft is gracious enough to host a competition with plenty of prizes. The Dream Build Play contest is used to find the best Xbox Indie Games out there. The winners could be offered a chance to put their game on Xbox Live Arcade in addition to cash prizes. Our game Blazing Birds was a lucky winner one year and is now on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s hard to explain how exhilarating it is to have an Xbox Live Arcade game out on the market, but just entering the Dream Build Play contest is exciting in its self.
Xbox Indie Games has also helped many developers get their game on Steam. From what I’ve read in the App Hub forums it’s hard to get an indie game on Steam, but many developers have used their Xbox Indie Game as a sales pitch to Steam. Beat Hazard, Defy Gravity, Your Doodles Are Bugged, Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death IIV are all example of games on Xbox Indie Games that are now on Steam. It’s amazing to see exceptional games get twice the exposure, I believe partly thanks to the amazing opportunity Xbox Indie Games provides.
From time to time there’s talk on the App Hub forums about Xbox Indie Games being a failed venture. People have come up with countless reasons why. Lack of exposure, no achievements and no leader boards are some of the reasons mentioned. It’s not all bad. There are plenty of games that have seen incredible success. Fortress Craft for example is well on its way to making a million dollars. I’ve also read that James Silva bought a house off the sales he made from his game, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!. The Impossible Game is still selling great two years after its release. In fact, if you go to http://marketplace.xbox.com and sort Indie Games by Best Selling All-Time you’ll see a hundred games from all genres that have sold well. All of these games are fantastic in their own right. It’s not impossible to make a buck on indie games. We’re not very good at it ourselves, but many others have been and continue to be each day.
3. Fans and Blogger Support
One of the best things about Xbox Indie Games is the endless support from bloggers and critics. There are many websites out there dedicated to showing the world all the great Xbox Indie Games. I won’t name them, but a simple Google search will turn up hundreds of sites. The passion people have for Xbox Indie Games is extraordinary. It’s not just bloggers and critics though. Thousands of fans take the time to write us developers. I myself have received dozens of e-mails about our games and I know, from looking at their websites, that other developers like Digital DNA and Stegersaurus Games have received much acclaim as well.
I assure you, if you make an Xbox Indie Game you’ll find someone out there that’ll enjoy it. I can’t think of too many things more rewarding than having someone finish your game and tell you how much they loved it. That’s reason enough to make an Xbox Indie Game.
The support goes beyond blogs, reviews and fans though. Have you heard about the Indie Games Winter Uprising from 2010? How about the Indie Games Summer Uprising? Well... people like Dave Voyles and Kris Steele are just a few of the many people working overtime to make promotions like the Uprisings happen. Everyone I know and spoken to do all this work for free. No one’s getting money from promoting Indie Games. I’m guessing they’re all helping out because they believe Xbox Indie Games something special.
4. Making Friends on Twitter
Twitter is bustling with talkative developers, all sharing ideas and concepts. All you have to do is look around the App Hub forums and get a few peoples Twitter accounts. Most developers I’ve come across have been very helpful on twitter. Sharing links to articles, reviews and promotions. Good news travels fast on Twitter, but especially within the Xbox Indie Games community. Part of being indie means doing things without corporate backing. That includes promoting your product. With many App Hub developers cheering on your game via Twitter, it tends to create a new form of marketing. It’s the ultimate word of mouth. It’s really exciting to see the buzz circulating on Twitter when a new game is released.
5. Seeing Your Game on Xbox
There are plenty of places to find flash games on the net and many iPhone/iPad games out there. But there’s something special about telling people you have a game on Xbox. Some developers have talked in the App Hub forums about how the Indie Games section is hard to find on the Xbox Dashboard. Well we made a fun little video to help people find Indie Games easier. The video features games other than our own because we wanted to help promote other developers on Xbox Indie Games.
Even with Xbox Indie Game’s seemingly hidden status, it’s still great to tell your friends you have a game on the Xbox, whether they can find it or not. I feel the fact that anyone has the capability to distribute a game on the Xbox is a huge accomplishment for Microsoft.
6. Creative Freedom
So you don’t have a team of programmers and artists? You don’t have huge budget for development and marketing? You have to make the coffee yourself? So what’s so great about being “Indie”?
The answer is “freedom”. Because an indie game developer has less overhead and comparatively low development costs, they can assume greater risk. This allows the indie developer to create a project that has the potential to completely tank in the marketplace and still remain is business. A few thousand dollars in labour and assets is nothing compared to the tens of millions of dollars many AAA games demand.
To make the most out of being “indie” you need to explore your unique advantages. Making extremely low budget versions of XBLA or AAA games is fine but you’d be neglecting the most important opportunity the indie developer has.
It means creating concepts that players have never been exposed to. It means introducing new ideas to the gaming community and watching the reaction whether it be good or bad. It means thinking “I have no idea if this will work” and doing it anyway because it’s unproven.
7. Why So Serious?
Xbox Indie Games is a great place to get goofy and have fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of serious games on the service, but if you’re looking to make something you wouldn’t normally see on Play Station Network or Xbox Live Arcade it’s the place to be. There are dozens of developers on the App Hub trying out new things all the time. If you don’t take Xbox Indie Games with too much reverence you’ll be able to have a lot of fun making games. We at Silver Dollar love games that make us laugh. For example, our latest game ‘Xbox On The Go’ is a joke about unpractical applications for the Xbox.
Another example of goofiness in indie games is the really cool song in I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!, which I read was sung by the programmer himself. Also Baby Maker Extreme is a hilarious physics game that will have you laughing. There are plenty of other examples of fun and experimental ideas people have tried, just look through the catalogue and you’ll see what I mean. If you have a goofy game idea, Xbox Indie Game is a great place to try it out.
8. Jim Perry and the Other MVPs
Jim Perry, Mach X Games is his App Hub name, is a MVP for the App Hub and a huge supporter of Xbox Indie Games. He’s been an App Hub member since the beginning, when it was called Community Games, and knows the system inside and out. He has over twelve thousand posts on the forums, most of which are helping others in need. I’ve read a few posts in the App Hub forums about the lack of support Xbox Indie developers get from Microsoft. From my experiences, Jim Perry and the other MVPs really have filled that gap. Jim Perry has been on the front lines of every problem, listening to every complaint and he’s done everything within his power to make things right.
In my opinion they’re two kinds of problems new developers can have when working on The App Hub. The first problem is figuring out how the whole process works. What content can you have in a game? What are the rules of the Peer Review process? How to summit a game to Play Test? The second problem is technical, which encompasses every question you could possibly have about XNA. Both of these questions Jim Perry has helped out with hundreds of times. His well rounded knowledge makes him one of the most valuable people involved in XNA and Xbox Indie Games.
I should mention that all the MVPs on The App Hub are extraordinarily helpful, but I wanted to highlight Jim Perry because I feel his efforts go far beyond the call of duty. I’ve seen activity from him almost every day for the last three years and all he’s tried to do is help make Xbox Indie Games a special place for everyone. I didn’t consult Jim or any of the other MVPs when I wrote this and this comes purely from our experiences.
- Jonathan Flook, Silver Dollar Games