A prominent independent developer has told us that Microsoft must do more to promote the best games on Xbox Live Indie Games or risk losing the service's most talented developers to other platforms.
The warning comes from Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games, whose two RPGs, Cthulhu Saves The World and Breath Of Death VII, made their debuts on the service. Last week he revealed they had grossed more revenue in their first week on Steam than in a combined 18 months on Xbox Live Indie Games.
He was also the organiser of the Winter Uprising, an initiative launched last December in an attempt to promote some of the better games available on the service and dispel the myth that it was "filled with massage apps, clones and garbage.” In an interview, he called on Microsoft to do the same.
"XBLIG is a great solution for new developers," Boyd says. "It's cheap, easy to learn, and has a great community of people that are willing to help each other.
"However, from a perspective of actually making good money, I do not believe it is a viable platform. The greatest strength and greatest weakness of the service is that it's the most open platform we've ever seen on any home console. Just about anyone can release an XBLIG title, and just about anyone does. As a result, the service has got a reputation for being full of garbage.
"XBLIG basically has the low price expectations and flood of product that the Apple App Store has, combined with the low visibility of Nintendo's digital stores – it's no wonder most titles sell poorly. Greater visibility for the high-quality titles on the service would be a great help."
When the Indie Games service was first announced in 2008, Microsoft's Chris Satchell said the initiative, then called Community Games, would "no doubt act as an incentive for game creators to continue to develop the best, most innovative games for Xbox 360." Boyd, however, believes that unless Microsoft does more to help the wheat stand out from the chaff, the talent will head elsewhere.
"I believe Microsoft always intended for XBLIG to be a stepping stone for new developers: prove yourself on XBLIG and then find real success on XBLA," he explains. "The problem is that right now it is more of a stepping stone to finding success on other platforms like the PC and mobile markets, and not on the Xbox 360 itself. Microsoft should be doing more towards making Indie Games a scouting ground for future talent."
So, will Microsoft heed Boyd's call? The firm hadn't responded to a request for comment at the time of publication, but it has shown willingness to accede to the demands of disgruntled developers before. When last autumn's Xbox 360 dashboard update moved Indie Games from the 'Games & Demos' section to 'Specialty', Microsoft quietly returned it after a developer backlash.
It then revised the ratings system for the service after it was found – by Boyd himself – that the developer of College Lacrosse: The Video Game asked its Facebook fans to boost the game's ranking by giving it positive votes. Said fans did so but, at the same time, gave low scores to the more popular games on the service. Microsoft changed the system to only allow Gold Xbox Live members to rate games, but Boyd said its failure to remove suspect votes was "highly disappointing."
Despite his concerns, Boyd insists he has no regrets. "I believe that starting out with XBLIG was the correct choice for us," he says. "Without the experience and positive reputation that we gained from making XBLIG titles I believe it would have been much more difficult to get approved for Steam."
While he says Zeboyd has no plans to stop releasing games on the service, Boyd admits that his success on Steam means "the PC has definitely become a priority for us…I would not be surprised if we ended up as a PC-only developer at some point in the future."
In the meantime, it's left to the developers themselves to promote the service as a home to high-quality games: to that end a second promotion, the Indie Games Summer Uprising, is set for next month.