Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Xbox? No, not for now anyway.

Over the last few days I’ve been seriously considering making an effort to get Gratuitous Space Battles onto XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade). I have decided not to do so (I must send that email…) and here is my thinking:

  • According to wikipedia, the Xbox has sold 34 million units. I suspect that less than half are used by people who are happy to buy and play downloadable games. Most will be used purely for Madden and for Call Of Duty. So that’s 16 million, vs 25 million people with an account on steam. Lets round up the other digital dist sites and say there are 35 million people able and willing to buy PC games online?
  • Games on XBLA are cheap. people gnash their teeth about $15. As someone who sells a $22.95 game and a $19.95 game, this does not bode well.
  • On PC, I can sell direct, taking > 90% of the price. Through portals such as steam, it’s less, but still quite good. On XBLA There would be a Microsoft cut, then probably a publisher cut, and then I’d get the crumbs. All out of a smaller price.
  • The Xbox has a long list of requirements about how games should play. Obviously it must be played with a gamepad, which is awkward enough, but platform holders have a funny habit of insisting you use their latest feature, even if it makes zero sense in context of the game. I hate that.
  • On PC, there is no publisher involvement, and no approval process. I know 100% that at some point, someone somewhere at Microsoft would say that the game would be better if you could control the ships. They are wrong, and I’d have to waste precious hours of my life arguing the point. This would not be fun. I’ve heard numerous horror stories from fellow indies about this sort of thing.
  • There are up front costs, for ESRB, getting a dev kit and so on. I already have a dev kit for PC games development, it’s called a PC. This is a big chunk of cash I need to find on the off-chance that I’m ‘allowed’ to publish a game for less money, at a lower royalty, that I had to redesign to fit at a low resolution using a controller designed for beatemup games. hmmmm
  • Xbox gamers are not known for their love of slow paced heavy thinking text-based strategy games. GSB is not Halo, or COD. They may hate it.

So combine all that and I have no urgent need to get involved with the Xbox. Maybe this is a mistake and it would have sold 100,000 copies on there, but I suspect not. Maybe if you didn’t need the ESRB stuff, and the dev kits were the same price as an xbox, and they automatically approved any game that passed a basic ‘not offensive’ check, I’d be more tempted, but as things stand, PC beats XBox for me, and it beats every other console out there.

BTW I worked around the vertex buffer thing, patching both games to not use vertex buffers at all. This is slower, and infuriating, but it works. Grrrr.

15 thoughts on Xbox? No, not for now anyway.

  1. gsb would not make a good transition to consoles, it’s just not a console game.

    i love the game on the pc, can’t imagine playing it at all on xbox

  2. I think you are making the right choice. If for no other reason than PCs are much more common in house holds than game systems. Besides GSB is too good to dumb down and ruin for a console.

  3. The thing about PCs is that they do everything that a console does and more. I still wonder why people bother with consoles. The only advantage I can see is that they have exactly the same hardware so when people buy games they know they are going to work.

  4. I wouldn’t play GSB on my iPhone. But someday there will be giant iphones. They’ll have a cool name like iNewton. Oh, wait, maybe they’ll have a lame name like iPad. But I’d play GSB on that.

  5. I think you are right as well. I’m currently working on a couple of games for XBox Live Community Games, but that is different from XBLA.

    One other thing to think about though is that every one I know that would play and buy GSB, own both an XBox360 and a PC. I would always prefer the PC for strategy games and I think most would also opt for the PC version.

  6. For what it’s worth, the ESRB and dev-kit costs are a non-issue for XBox Live Indie Games. The sales stats haven’t been phenomenal on XBLIG though.

    It’s so easy to code for the XBox that if it weren’t for the differences in controls (which would require a pretty gigantic rethinking to make it work), it might be worth it just to see how it goes. But alas, the controls are vastly different than a PC so it probably isn’t worth it.

  7. Conceivably iPad v2 in the future, but I think you should definitely stick to PCs. Especially when the next ‘part’ of the concept comes into being, a 4X TB strategic layer, then consoles look even less likely.

  8. feck the ipad

    x2 are releasing a ‘proper’ tablet in two sizes.

    Cliff- good decision, GSB is a PC game (i.e. mouse driven) Although maybe a cut down version where you tool up a cruiser from one of the races and fight other races a la R-Type :0) upgrades include frigate support (AA, EMP, Missile Ion cannon etc) and Auto fighter/bomber launch.

    your graphics, ideas and explosions would look great ..

    hmm, maybe I should shut up, please continue with GSB.. theres nothing to see here .. move along..

  9. An interesting POV Cliff, I say fair play from your perspective.

    However, it all depends on your relationship with Microsoft, I’d say they can be really helpful and negotiable if you don’t let them boss you about, they aren’t all producer dick-heads who want to stamp their authority on a project. Depending on who you’re working with, they’ll bend over backwards just to get your game on their platform (and adjust pricing to accomodate) – of course, if you have no connections at MS then they really *are* the uber bastards of hell.

    You’re right that the game isn’t a typical XBLA game, that’s true, but also it might be it’s USP too, (an XBLA game with depth, crikey, you never know, it just might work) – your biggest problem I imagine is the multiplayer side of things (and probably the TCR’s – eek)

    Also, it’s about revenue streams vs effort, you practically have the game written, (and depending on it’s structure) wouldn’t be much effort to get on an xbox, and making a clunky ass – mouse pointer / joypad input system isn’t all that difficult, (adding a few short cut keys here and there) – and whammo, you’ve got an additional revenue stream which

    a) doesn’t require constant updates (as a PC game demands)
    b) is open to an *additional* 16 million people that may or may not be aware of your game. (Because they may or may not have PC’s, and/or Steam)

    I’m definitely not saying “you’re wrong”, but merely thought I’d play devils advocate…

  10. I could make you an Android Version of game. Would be fun to play that on a
    (plan, build, go in, play the ticket, and then watch the Battle in the Bus)

  11. Cliff- A few years ago I had the good fortune to work on two titles for xbla and for what it’s worth I’m in complete agreement with your logic about GSB. On the other hand, a fast, fun space shooter (like say Star Miner?) would be an excellent fit…


  12. Yeah you could re-purpose all your GSB graphics and make a shooter :-) I checked out XNA, C# and Visual Studio Express 2008 the other day and it’s really easy.

  13. Late comment, but its related: I believe the Introversion software team just went through the process of taking an existing game and porting it over into XBLA, or something similar to that. They might have an opinion on how “worth it” it is.

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