When an Indie Game is no longer a game
The latest Xbox Live dashboard may appear to relegate Indie Games to a sub menu, but could this spell the dawn of a shift in focus for XBLA’s independent developers?
It feels almost apt that Xbox Live Indie Games should be displaced by a launch as corporate-focused and family-centred as Kinect. A peripheral that brandishes games full of T-Mobile-branded bowling balls or javelin contests that erupt into choruses of Lady Gaga, has seemingly little in common with the ragtag array of Pong clones, experimental physics sims and virtual girlfriend sims that makes up MIcrosoft’s independent gaming channel.
Still, the decision – which became evident with yesterday’s Kinect-driven Live Dashboard update – to effectively relegate XNA developers’ work into an area known as “Specialist Shops”, where previously it possessed its own tab under “Games”, is a move proving surprising and disheartening to many of the service’s devoted community.
“Looks like all the Devs who made XBLIG apps had it right all the time, and we “Game” developers were the ones who had it wrong,” says a forumite on App Hub. “As the new dashboard clearly shows, Microsoft does no longer consider XBLIGs to be “Games” (at least not “Games” enough to merit a place in the “Games & Demos” section). So please stand with me in a minute of silence to mourn the passing away of Xbox LIVE Indie Games.”
Quite dramatic, to be sure, but this poster raises an interesting point. Would it in fact make sense for Microsoft to, if not put Indie Games out to pasture, rather shift the focus of its homebrew platform and the ernest minds who develop for it?
After all, with the Windows 7 Phone warming up, and its primary development platform also happening to be the XNA environment, would Microsoft benefit from encouraging developers not to focus so much on making games, but perhaps to steer them toward the app market? As it stands, Indie Games has hardly been the most profitable venture for Microsoft.
Rob Miles, lecturer in BSc/MEng Computer Software Development at the University of Hull, and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, told games™, “I’m pushing (in fact I’m kicking) my students towards Windows Phone development in preference to Indie Games on XNA. The path to a proper Marketplace (with real money) is much more well defined, and Windows Phone apps go out there with a decent provenance so that your average user is much more likely to take a punt on a 79p “disposable” game.”
As the 360 Marketplace and Windows 7 Phone Marketplace stores increasingly overlap, as planned, in time, it seems a fair assertion to predict that such a direction would make commercial sense for Microsoft. And, sadly, though it’s always excellent to help champion the endeavours of independent developers, those feeling so downhearted today would do well to remember that, in many ways, hosting Indie Games in the first place was more a kindness by Microsoft than a duty.
“Folks who get uppity about being “side-lined” like this should bear in mind that doing this at all is a considerable expense (and definite risk) to Microsoft,” Miles told us. “I remember being at some meetings way back where everybody (including the Microsoft developers present) expressed amazement that [indie developers] were being allowed to do this at all. My take on the Indie games scene is that mostly ‘the fun is in the journey’.”