How strongly does Microsoft assess the ‘quality’ of a game? Taste are subjective, but do you have certain standards by which titles are judged?
We do try to set a quality bar, but you’re right to note that tastes are subjective, and we’re very sensitive to that. For XBLA to be a long-term success, we need to occasionally take chances on games that defy convention. Nobody wants to be the person who turned down Katamari because ‘the art was weak’.
When we judge ‘quality’ we try to stick with objective measures. For example: if the game being proposed is a multiplayer game, does it support Live? If not, is there a good reason, or is the developer simply unwilling to put in the extra effort?
Ultimately, quality is just one factor out of several that we weigh when considering a proposal. We also care very much about diversity of content. A high quality (but completely undifferentiated) clone of an existing XBLA title is no more likely to be approved than a ‘low quality’ title.
Are you able to tell us what the revenue share is like on an XBLA game when it comes to the amount a developer gets from a game bought from the service and the amount that goes to Microsoft?
We don’t publicly disclose that.
How much does that figure change when the developer’s game comes to the service via a publisher?
That’s between the publisher and the developer.
On that point: a) how does it work with publishers and XBLA? (do they get any preference/guaranteed slots in the release schedule, etc.) and b) would you recommend a developer go to Microsoft or a publisher on an XBLA game in the first instance?
We don’t give publishers guaranteed slots or preferential treatment. Their games must be approved, just like those of independent developers, and we have rejected publisher submissions in the past. The only major difference is that we don’t need to take into consideration our own internal bandwidth when evaluating publisher submissions. In other words, if a publisher submits a high quality game concept that isn’t overly similar to games already on the service, it gets approved. But since we receive more proposals from independent developers than our internal team can possibly handle, we need to filter submissions by additional criteria.
If a developer needs funding, working with a publisher is generally the right strategy. Developers who need substantial assistance with any part of game development (engineering, art) would also be better served by working with a publisher.
One of the key points of difference between developing XBLA and PSN games, according to Sony, has been the size of download. With 1GB limit for the game and up to four add-on 1GB packs, you can have a game of some 5GB in size on the PlayStation Store. XBLA’s file size limit is 150MB. Why is that the case – and do you have any plans to change the file size?
First, we are committed to preserving an ecosystem in which developers can thrive and take risks on innovative games. Second, we want XBLA games to be pick-up-and-play experiences.
Anyone who thinks you need 5GB to make a good game hasn’t played with a Nintendo DS recently. And anyone who thinks you can’t make a beautiful game in under 150MB hasn’t seen RoboBlitz or Undertow – both XBLA games that clock in around 50MB.
Nintendo’s WiiWare service is also claiming to let developers deliver smaller games, but offer more control on the release of the game – how concerned are you about this stealing away attention from Live Arcade?
The Wii is a great platform. However, XBLA has a big advantage vis-à-vis its association with Live; Nintendo is still working to flesh out the Wii’s online service. Furthermore, neither Nintendo nor Sony have an answer to XNA Game Studio and the Creators Club. Microsoft has put tremendous effort into creating a platform that makes life easier for hobbyists and professional developers, and I expect that effort to pay off handsomely in the near future. In fact, if you’ve seen the results of the Dream Build Play contest, I think you’ll agree that our bet on XNA is already starting to pay off.
Ultimately, we aren’t seeing any reduction whatsoever in developer interest in XBLA, so we’re pretty happy with the current state of things.
The service’s release pattern is currently structured around having one or two titles appear on a Wednesday – will that change/increase any point soon?
Xbox Live Arcade Wednesdays has been very successful for us, so we will certainly continue to bring one or two titles online each week. In general, you won’t see more than two titles a week anytime soon.
How far into the planning for 2008’s portfolio are you?
We definitely have a bunch of great games coming down the pipe. But as I mentioned earlier, if you submit a game today, the odds are extremely good that by the time the game is finished there will be an opening on the schedule for it within weeks at most.
How are you balancing the portfolio of games when it comes to putting retro titles versus new ones on the service?
Many recently-released retro titles are selling very well – and we get more requests for retro all the time – so you can expect retro to remain a healthy percentage of the portfolio. That said, we absolutely want a good balance of content – retro and original, action and non-action, single player and multiplayer. XBLA is and will remain a service that offers something for everyone.
I also want to emphasise that in many ways, XBLA is the perfect environment in which to experiment with innovative gameplay and original IP. Obviously, the lower costs of development and distribution help, but in addition, it’s worth noting that, as of today, every game we have ever launched has ultimately been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people at minimum. With that kind of exposure, so many creative opportunities open up to developers.