Over half a year has passed since Radiangames released its first title, JoyJoy, on Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG), and founder Luke Schneider hasn’t yet turned a profit. But he’s really rather upbeat about it.
“In September, I almost made money,” he says brightly. “October, I was a little further off, but not too far off. November will probably be about the same – and [in] December I think I’ll make money, but I’m not sure.”
Now with five of the finest games on Indie Games Marketplace, he’s managed to average $50 a day. Each game sells for 69p and Microsoft takes about a third. It sounds like unrewarding work for a developer with Schneider’s CV – a veteran of 13 years, he cut his teeth on Descent 3 at Outrage Games before moving to Volition, eventually becoming the technical designer on Red Faction: Guerrilla – but he seems quite content with the way things are progressing. Temporary poverty, it seems, is a small price to pay for total autonomy.
“I knew that the monetary possibilities weren’t that high on XBLIG,” he says. “But I still wanted to make lots of console games without having to do an approval process. This is pretty much the only way you can do that. Spending a lot of time talking to publishers hasn’t worked out very well for me so far – I’m not a sales guy in any sense. That’s why I like the Indie Games stuff – there’s no one to talk to! I just put stuff out and it gets approved really fast, and then I see how it sells. If it sells OK, I keep going and eventually it adds up.”
Another part of the problem when dealing with publishers is the scale of the projects he’s able to create: the economy of XBLIG enforces a quick development turnaround, and this doesn’t lend itself to creating a portfolio of games that might convince the moneymen.
“I tried to submit Fluid through the whole XBLA system,” he says. “Microsoft said it looked like a good mobile game, but weren’t interested in it for Arcade. Which I understand – the scale of the game I submit there needs to be larger, but it’d take me two months to build a prototype that I think would get their attention. That’s a long time for me right now. All my games are small, pretty contained. They’re not something you could expand into a huge game. Inferno is probably the only one; the others are close to their maximum potential – you couldn’t turn them into a five- or ten-dollar game.”
Schneider’s five games released at the time of writing – JoyJoy, Crossfire, Inferno, Fluid and Fireball; prefixed by the name Radiangames if you’re looking for them on Marketplace – each riff on old standards. That’s hardly an unusual approach among indie developers, but Schneider’s recombination of their principles is invariably slick and smart. JoyJoy is the most conservative – a twin-stick shooter of obvious Geometry Wars providence – but the others are more hybrid. Crossfire does eye-watering things with the Space Invaders paradigm, Fluid turns Pac-Man into speed-run score attack, and Fireball takes Geometry Wars 2’s Pacifism mode and runs with it. Inferno, meanwhile, recalls Gauntlet to create an elegant and compact exploratory shooter that, given its sparing design, is hard to fault. It’s his fastest seller so far, and has the best conversion rate from demo to purchase, with its overall sales likely to eclipse JoyJoy’s by the end of the year.
“Maybe it’s a little bit easier to enjoy Inferno than my other games,” says Schneider. “You don’t have to play your best to enjoy it. I’m going to explore if that can be expanded to Crossfire’s sequel, so it’s more about progression, and upgrades, and getting further in the game, and feeling good about that rather than just measuring yourself against a score.”