In City Tuesday, a puzzle platformer game to be released as part of the Indie Games Uprising promotion, you play a man trying to prevent a terrorist attack by reliving the same five minutes over and over. Image courtesy Return to Adventure Mountain
Several of the top developers for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) service are pooling their efforts this week to sell their games with a promotional blitz called Indie Games Uprising.
Uprising is a necessity, not an indulgence: Four years after it launched the Indie Games platform for its Xbox 360 console, Microsoft’s indifference toward the service has left it undiscovered by players and commercially infertile for the developers who bought into it. Uprising’s organizers say they’re not simply trying to sell their own games, but make Xbox owners aware that the Indie Games section even exists.
“We’re really trying to raise awareness for everyone,” says Michael Hicks, creator of the indie game Sententia and co-organizer of the event. “It would feel great to see other non-Uprising games benefit as well from what we’re doing.”
Xbox Live Indie Games was launched in November 2008, and Microsoft has acted ambivalently toward the service ever since. XBLIG is a self-policing community: The approval process is handled through peer reviews by other game developers. Although Microsoft is listed as the publisher of all of the games on the service, there is nothing in the contract concerning marketing. Turn on your Xbox, and there’s barely any indication that thousands of indie games, including high-quality stuff like Penny Arcade Adventures, is there to download at bargain-basement prices.
The nine games that comprise the third Indie Games Uprising cover a wide variety of genres:
It’s been left up to developers to promote the Indie Games channel, and even to expand on its functionality: A team of devs has created an official “XBLIG Companion” app that will soon be launching on iPhone and Android devices. The app allows users to view and rate every game available on the XBLIG service. Users can purchase games from within the app that are automatically downloaded to their Xbox consoles.
The first Indie Games Winter Uprising was organized by Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games (Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 3) and Ian Stocker of Magical TimeBean. The goal of the promotion was to do what Microsoft would not: draw eyes to the service and promote some of the best games available on it.
Most games in that first Uprising failed to sell more than 10,000 units, and nearly half of the games weren’t released on time thanks to technical issues with Microsoft’s submission process.
Microsoft has done a little bit to promote the previous two Uprising events, going so far as to give the campaigns a promotional ad slot on the Xbox 360′s main dashboard. Hicks says he hopes the company will do that again this time, but notes that Microsoft’s recent shift in focus toward promoting video and music content on the Xbox dashboard might prevent that.
Microsoft did not respond to Wired’s requests for comment.
Uprising co-organizer David Voyles says that he’d like to see Microsoft revamp the Indie Games store to help users discover the best content, perhaps by doing something as simple as adding a “featured games” section to the store. But, he says, he doesn’t think it’ll ever happen. Although he believes that there are many individuals within Microsoft who want to help with XBLIG, he says that Redmond’s bureaucracy often gets in the way.
“They’re extremely helpful when they can be,” says Voyles. “But there are a lot of legal reasons [why] they can’t, say, make changes to the dashboard.”
The real problems with XBLIG, says Michael Hicks, lie with the developers. He says that he’d like to see more developers creating “sincere” games for the service, instead of pumping out countless zombie games or “Minecraft clones.”
Even Voyles, who loves the idea of XBLIG and works to help promote it, admits that the service has a poor offering of games.
“There’s a lot of trash on there,” he says.
Voyles says that the team at Microsoft that used to work on the XNA development platform at the heart of the Indie Games service has now “disbanded.” Because of this, he’s unsure whether Microsoft will even support XBLIG in the next Xbox console. Voyles isn’t even sure if gamers will want to support another XBLIG Uprising after this one: “My concern is people getting burnt out by these.”
Hicks remains an optimist, saying that the service will continue to evolve, and hoping that Microsoft will evolve with it.
“As we grow even more, it will be Microsoft’s turn yet again to make some changes,” he says.