The Broken Hearts Club – Xbox Live Community Games

An editorial regarding the recent Xbox 360 Community Game sales figures.

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At first it seemed like the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Microsoft, for a small fee, provided independent developers with the XNA framework tools and had set up small competitions on who could create the best game. Slightly over four months ago it appeared Microsoft was prepared to fully commit to supporting an independent community with the Xbox Live launch of Community Games. This new service allowed those who created games with the XNA framework to publish their games on Live and make money off of their creations. It was a time of hope and possibilities for the future of the service.

Then developers received word of how their games sold during the first four months. It’s wasn’t pretty. A few titles sold very well, like Word Soup, which made around $32,000 in four months. Not bad for a three person team. I’m glad to hear they did well as my wife loves the game.

For the majority of the Community Games, though, the sales figures were not very good.

It is heartbreaking to hear the sales figures for many of the titles. It boggles my mind that one game in particular, Weapon of Choice, did not sell better. The game is is a fantastic title that is half the price of most Xbox Live Arcade games.

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Come on, doesn’t this screenshot look cool?

To those who would say that that this is the beginning of the end for the Xbox Live Community games service, or to the disheartened indy developers who worked hard on their games I only have one thing to say; take a deep breath and calm down.

XNA existed for years before the ability to publish games on Xbox Live became an option. While it would have been nice if the service had launched smoothly and became an overnight success, that did not happen. However, it has only been four months. Now is the time to figure out what works with the service and what doesn’t work, then try to correct the mistakes that have been made.

Here is a list of things I would like to see changes with the Xbox Live Community Games Service in the next few months:

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity
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Just ask this guy

Publicity is a major factor for any video game. It is impossible to sell a game that no one knows exists. This I believe was one of the first mistakes made with XLCG. The service launched with the NXE update and was lost within all of the other new features. This also happened during the busiest video game season of the year when AAA titles were fighting for exposure. Small teams with little to no budget for advertising cannot compete against the millions some companies were spending last holiday season.

The problems with publicity extend much farther than that as well. Unlike developers for XBLA titles, the independent reviewers have no way of giving out review codes to magazines or websites in order to entice publications to play and hopefully cover their games. Some independent developers where stuck with buying MS Point cards and sending them to reviewers in the hopes of getting a mention about their game.

So there was almost no coverage of the Community Games in websites and magazines, access to the service was lost within the new menu system of NXE, and there was competition against well known winter releases.

Microsoft needs to step forward and promote the service better. Right now there is an ongoing, multi-week Xbox Live event aimed at promoting different Arcade titles. Something similar for Community Games would go a long way at boosting consumer knowledge of the service. Maybe mentioning a new Community Game from time to time on Major Nelson’s blog. Instead of highlighting an Xbox Live Gamer one week, why not highlight one of the Community Games developers? A number of small things would go a long way at educating people that these games exist.

Think Microsoft has done a decent job telling people that they can access this service? Think again. When you compare the number of Xbox Live user accounts, to the number of people who have actually tried just demos of Community Games, and you’ll see that possibly less than 5% of all Xbox Live users have even tried a Community Game.

This Game Sucks
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One of the most common complaints I hear about XLCG is that there are few good games on the service worth playing. In the last four months there have been more than 200 community games released. With over 200 titles to scroll through and little information on websites or magazines about these games, the only option for a consumer is to try them out one at a time. This system can be dramatically improved by letting people who have purchased the game give the game a rating in the same way people can rate Youtube videos.

Let’s face it, video games aren’t exactly meant for those with long attention spans. Sifting through the Community Games isn’t an option for most people, and there are very few reviews online for people to try and read to make an informed decision as well. Allowing user reviews will help people sort through the games on the service.

Nothing Like a Good Massage

Much like the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, people have found more uses for XNA than just gaming. These include a few different applications, like a wall clock application, a calculator, a virtual fireplace, and, uh, a way to use your controller as a vibrating massage tool. There has been some discord within the XNA community since technically these are applications and not games. Also the rather unique nature of both the fireplace and massage applications have gained more publicity than many of the games on the service, and when you work hard on a game only to be beaten by what is essentially an animation of a fireplace, it’s not the best feeling in the world.

I imagine it’s like working on a radical new iPhone application and being ignored for iFart.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for these applications. There is obviously an audience for them, except I don’t think there is enough of a separation between the applications and the games. I’d like to see another tab added, like New Applications, or something so that it will be easier to navigate through the games and the applications. These applications are a great addition to the Community Games and find new ways of utilizing the system, I just do not believe they should be mixed in together with the games.

Thinking Outside of the Box
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I’ve been mostly mentioning different ways for the system to evolve, however some of the evolution has to come from the developers themselves. There are some great games on the service, but for every great game there’s a bunch of games that are clones of games from different genres. There’s no reason to try to make the next Mario or Geometry Wars, why not try to make a game using an under utilized genre for the system? There’s only one point and click adventure game on the service. There are a ton of puzzle games, but very few in the way of role-playing. The Community Games service could be a great place for those looking to play niche games, like dating games.

Let’s hear it for the games

I just want to say that I still have a lot of hope for the future of Xbox Live Community Games. The service hasn’t had the greatest start, but it’s only been four months and during those four months there have been several changes and additions to try and make it a smoother experience. If the iPhone has taught us anything is that there is a place for user generated content, with patience and some interface issues smoothed out Xbox Live Community Games could become a major part of the New Xbox Experience.

In the meantime to help dispel the idea that there is nothing but junk on the Community Games service, here are some of my own personal recommendations:

CarneyVale Showtime
Cost: 400 points
You just have to check out the demo to understand how the game plays. Believe me, it’s worth your time.

Weapon of Choice
Cost: 400 points
A side scrolling Contra like shooter with some great ideas and beautiful artwork.

Biology Battle
Cost: 800 points
A dual stick shooter that’s fun to play and is well polished

ZP2K9
Cost: 200 points
A side scrolling 2D online deathmatch game that is crazy fun.

ZSX4 Guitarpocalypse
Cost: 200 points
A platform fighting/brawl style game that’s simple but fun.

Word Soup
Cost: 400 points
A variation of a classic pub puzzle game that asks you to spell out words from a screen full of letters

Easy Golf
Cost: Was 800, now 400 points
A good golf game with a great course editor.

Johnny Biscuit
Cost: 200 points
A graphically simple game with some good platform puzzles.

Supercow
Cost: 400 points
A surprisingly decent platform game

Solar
Cost: 200 points
Hard to describe really, but it’s kind of got the same vibe as flow.

Jackpot Stadium
Cost: 400
A neon filled arcade type of air hockey.

Artoon
Cost: 400 points
It’s like a next gen Qbert mixed with a variety of art styles.

Smashell
Cost: 400 points
An arena platform game.

Type Attacks
Cost: 200 points
It’s a mix between Typing of the Dead and Missile Command

Blow
Cost: 400 points
A relaxing puzzle style game.

In this day and age, money talks. While I’m optimistic about Xbox Live Community Games, if people continue to not purchase the games then the service or the developers will disappear. Don’t let such an opportunity go to waste.

Please check out The XNA Creators Club and my previous week long feature on the Community Games with interviews from several of the developers.

2 Comments
  1. Matt Yeager

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