The ID@Xbox self-publishing platform continues to go from strength to strength. More games, more developers and, perhaps most importantly, more success for everyone involved. At a presentation in central London, the European regional lead for the platform, Agostino Simonetta, walked through a lot of big numbers which continue to increase at an exponential rate.
If numbers aren’t your bag, don’t fret. Simonetta also had plenty to say about the role of independent developers, alongside some advice for those looking to get the most out of the platform.
“This has been another year of growth for ID@Xbox,” Simonetta says. “We’ve talked about the nearly 800 games launching from 477 partners in the program today. Last year at Gamescom we were talking about 600 games, so there’s been a growth of titles. And also in terms of customer engagement, I just revealed that 450,000 years have been spent playing games on Xbox by players. At Gamescom 2017, we announced that we broke $500m (£358m) of revenue lifetime to date. At GDC we announced $1bn of revenue. That’s been an exponential growth for the program and, most importantly, for our partners.”
Delving deeper into the numbers, it’s clear that this success isn’t just for the top one per cent. Partners across the board are experiencing better sales and income than last year.
“When we compare the performance of the titles of the Top 20 this financial year to the same period in the previous year there is a massive growth,” Simonetta explains. “All the titles from No. 1 to No. 20 have been outperforming the titles that where there last year. We’re comparing apples and pears in the sense that the titles are not the same, but we’re still comparing the Top 20 best performing titles.
“When we analyse data we have packets of performances. So we look at how many titles have generated half a million in a single financial year, how many titles have done one million and how many titles have done one to five million, and so on. In some of those categories, we have seen an over 300 per cent increase in the number of games. What it means is that there are more titles making substantial amounts of money year-on-year. More and more, we are learning that there is a very, very long tail. So even if your title doesn’t launch in the Top 20 there is a big opportunity to keep the game selling through discounts, platform initiatives and DLC releases for a long time.”
MAKING LIFE EASIER
The success of ID@Xbox titles comes not just from the strength of the games themselves, but the way Xbox can make development smoother, both when it comes to promoting the games but also assisting during the development process.
“In general our focus is always ‘how can we make developers’ lives easier’,” Simonetta says. “That’s one of our pillars. How we can help our partners promote their games?
“We always say to everybody ‘You are the publisher, ultimately you will do your marketing, you’ll do your PR, but what can we do as Xbox to help you guys?’ So now there are various things that we can do.”
“We run monthly promotions, highlighting ID@Xbox content on the store. It’s also events. At GDC we had 50 games. We were at PAX. We are doing this event here today. In Europe we’re going to do about seven or eight of these events, PR events, to showcase to ID@Xbox products between now and Gamescom. We are also actively working on E3, where a large ID@Xbox presence can be expected.
“We run things in a very democratic way. Before the big events we email everybody that is an ID partner and say ‘Are you interested in being part of these events with us?’. And this goes to everybody. Then we ask them to send a video, we make a shortlist and then we get demos in and we select the final demos. We want to make sure that we give everybody an opportunity to take part.
“We get hundreds of applications, we can’t have hundreds of titles on the show floor but we try to support as many partners as we can. When you look at the European events there is always a local slant. So in the UK you might see a few more local developers. When we go to Italy we are going to bring some of the titles that we know the press or influencers want to play. There are headline titles but we always want to support the local development community.
“We host the events and they just need to show up. Effectively we leverage our resources to help them, and our gamers get very, very excited because they have all these games that are coming out. Being a platform, having a bit more financial resource, we can make those resources available to the developers. They pay their travel and accommodations, but we make all the rest of it.
“I always say ‘When you’re doing your PR and you want to go to events, first try to spend somebody else’s money’.”
THE DEATH OF ‘INDIE’
When asked about the role of ‘indie’ games in the industry today, Simonetta recoils slightly.
“We like to call them independent games. ‘Indie’ as a term was very useful at a specific time and place, but I think now it also has some negative connotations sometimes? ‘Independent developers’ gives a better picture of what those guys are. I think the role they play, call them what you like, is the same role they always play. They come from leftfield. They don’t respond to shareholders. They’re not afraid to innovate. So a lot of the breakthrough changes in the industry, in games or the monetisation models come from independent developers.
“They have been in the forefront of the free-to-play model. Xbox Game Preview, or Early Access on Steam: independent developers have opened the door and sometimes the bigger players, or what used to be called bigger players, learn and adapt some of the learning into a triple-A or retail model.”
For aspiring independent developers, or those looking to get involved with ID@Xbox, Simonetta has some valuable words of advice about what ‘success’ looks like.
“You need to define what your success is,” he says. “Success could be commercial. If your title needs to be a massive seller, that’s fine. But your success might be actually one man making a salary working in a shop, but wanting to make games. Or your success could be completely personal success: ‘I always wanted to create this experience.’ And then it could be critical success. That’s very very important because that will dictate the way you approach your development, the funding, the publishing model, the platform you approach... That is the first thing developers need to decide.
“If you need to be commercially successful because you’re investing a lot of money and you really believe in your project, then you need to think seriously about your PR and marketing and finding investors.
“If your success is critical success, maybe you don’t care, maybe you’re doing it in your spare time. For some people it might be absolutely fine to do a thousand downloads if they always wanted to create that experience.
“Look at how many people write music or books, their success is actually printing copies of their books for their family. We are creative animals.
“The moment that the barriers for digital distribution, creation of content – Unity and GameMaker and Unreal – became very accessible and free, as creative animals, we wanted to create interactive experiences. Same as we write music or write poems or books. That’s the way we live now. People can write a book or they can create a game.
“And as a lot of people are happy writing a book that only the family will read, maybe some developers will be happy to just do that.”