As many of you know by now, I’m always keen to champion the Xbox Live Indie Games scene. Admittedly you have to wade through some real crap but it’s finding that hidden gem for 80 Microsoft points that makes it all the more worthwhile for me.
Over the last twelve months there have been a few welcome improvements such as Avatar support, an entirely new name, and new pricing structures, so I was very interested to read Major Nelson’s Top 20 XBL Indie games for 2009. Thanks to the official XNA forums, many of the developers also went on to list the sales data for their games over the year, and GamerBytes were able to work out the bigger picture. This lead to headlines such as “Xbox Live Indie games earn six figures” which is fantastic, but under closer inspection it’s not as black and white as the headlines would have us believe.
It was of no surprise to see my personal favourite ‘I Made a Game with Zomb1es’ from James Silva which more than deserved to be the best-selling game of last year, after being downloaded over 160,000 times. After Microsoft take their cut of 30% it still leaves $112,000 (£69,366) for a game that sold for around 68 pence and lets face it the song alone was worth the cost of the download.
RC-AirSim was the second biggest seller with 74,000 paid downloads, making an impressive $129,000 (£79,880). All this looks very impressive and incredibly promising until you look outside of the top twenty sellers list where profits on games range between $17,500 (£10,835) and $500 (£310).
Considering there are now over 700 indie games on the market place, this would suggest that one game in every thirty eight would make more than ten thousand pounds and the rest closer to the lower £310 ball bark which is somewhat short of the headline grabbing six figure profits recently announced.
There are probably many developers who use the indie scene as a virtual CV where companies can see their previous work and maybe even a few hobbyists, but people looking to get rich quick would be more than a little foolish to throw their life savings into an area yet to flourish, despite so much potential.
Microsoft now desperately needs to market this area differently and seize upon this fantastic opportunity which could encourage more developers to setup on Xbox Live Indie Games. Doing so will increase the quality of these games. Many of our friends across Europe in places such as Belgium are also becoming frustrated at being left out of the indie games party as it only currently available in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, which falls somewhat short of the 26 countries that enjoy Xbox live.
I am probably in the minority of people who enjoy wading through truly woeful games in hope of discovering something special, so they really need to be a little more careful what they allow on the service as there are far too many cheap, crass games and applications that would struggle on the iPhone apps page on iTunes, so we certainly don’t need them on our Xbox. Many gamers have reported that the XBLIG section feels a little like a cess pit of gaming that they stumble across, which is probably down to the increasing amount of so called ‘sexy games’ like the dreadful Who Did I Date Last Night? Which promises lots of rude fun but is actually a ‘Guess Who?’ like game with pictures of attractive women. The novelty wears off after around 35 seconds, and this kind of trash needs to remain on Facebook not our game consoles.
Digital distribution has the potential to unleash a new generation of bedroom programmers like that of yesteryear and give them a platform to shine with games that value gameplay over graphics; there is proof of this on the XBLIG market place already but you have to search hard for it. My hope is that 2010 will see indie games flourish, and I urge you all to give them a try.
Have you uncovered an indie hidden gem? Let us know your favourite finds!