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Why Should Microsoft Invest in Marketing Xbox Live Indie Games?
Date 12/21/2009    Tags XBLIG, Rant    (0)

Microsoft has done a great job of setting up a framework for Xbox Live Indie Games to succeed and has done a lot to foster the community, but they seemed to have stopped one step short to make this a truly successful endeavor for everyone involved: marketing.

Q: Why should Microsoft market XBLIGs?
A: It will make them money.

I don't think any of us are naive enough to believe the Microsoft's Xbox Live Indie Game initiative was done for any other reason than to make money for Microsoft, either in upfront sales or indirectly by creating a new army of Microsoft developers to do their bidding.

Apple's App Store is rumored to have cleared more than $2 billion in sales in 2009. Microsoft has to look at that and see a huge potential for digitally distributed, consumer made products. Right now that is XBLIGs, in the future that likely includes Zune and Windows Mobile games developed with the XNA framework (which could in many cases be easily ported from existing XBLIGs).

More visibility for XBLIGs (brought about by marketing the service) will bring in both new gamers and new developers. Developers benefit with more purchases of their games, gamers benefit by having a larger number of higher quality games to choose from, and Microsoft laughs all the way to the bank.

Q: Why should Microsoft market XBLIGs?
A: They need happy developers to make games.

Shovelware aside, creating a game is hard work and takes a lot of time. In order to make these products that Microsoft will be collecting a 30% royalty on, Microsoft needs developers to make games. In fact, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously made such a claim in regards to Xbox developers and I see no reason why this should be any different for the success of Indie games.

The euphoria of creating and selling a game only lasts for so long. If you want to keep a developer coming back (the best games are not realistically going to be made by first time developers), he needs to be rewarded with large numbers of people playing his game (isn't that what we all want after all?). A large number of sales doesn't hurt either (and can be especially beneficial to game quality when it comes time for follow-up games that may need purchased assets like artwork or music).

The major success stories on XBLIGs are few and far between with most developers making a good deal initially before falling into a black sales abyss. With better advertising of XBLIGs, that fall from New Releases / Top Downloads to just another game won't hurt so much and won't turn away serious developers (who are likely the ones to create the highest quality games and thus bring in the most gamer dollars).

Several developers have been soured by low download numbers already and have left the service for other platforms. Many Indie developers never came over in the first place, largely for fear of such low numbers. There is a vast Indie game community out there and the number that develop for XBLIGs is a small portion of that and will stay that way until XBLIGs is seen as a truly viable source of income.

Q: Why should Microsoft market XBLIGs?
A: The service needs marketing more than the games.

Every time this sort of question arises on the XNA website forum, someone inevitably comments that it is the "developer's responsibility to market their game". For the record, I really hate this argument... it's like blaming developers of Atari Jaguar games for the failure of everyone's favorite toilet-shaped console

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