Pick Your XBLIG Release Date Thoughts

What It Is

XBLIG developers can now opt to hold off on publishing a game once it has passed peer review. This gives them the ability to publish at a time of their choosing, within 24 hours.

Why It Helps

I see two big upsides to this change for developers. The first is that press coverage, reviews and general hype can now be coordinated with much greater certainty. On a small scale, this means that you can inform your audience about a title’s release date in advance without having to worry about a failed or delayed peer review. On a larger scale, it will now be much easier to coordinate events like the Indie Winter Uprising, which ended up spanning a month instead of a week.

The second major upside is that developers can now pick the day of the week to launch their game. It’s been shown that the New Releases list is of great importance to an XBLIG’s success, but staying on there is often a roll of the dice. In the past, you could attempt to time your release by submitting to peer review roughly 48 hours before your desired launch time, if you had a big enough following to review your game more or less immediately. It was an inexact science at best, but Luke Schneider of Radian Games managed to time some of his releases. It was never really an option for the rest of us though. If you missed your desired launch time, you could end up missing the weekend altogether and releasing your game on a Monday to a small audience.

Why It’s a Big Deal

Microsoft has taken (and ignored) a lot of flak regarding its support for the indie service. The fact that any change has been made is a reassuring gesture, but there’s more to it than that.

This change is to benefit developers trying to run a business with Xbox Live Indie Games.

The XBLIG market has not been terribly friendly to developers trying to make their living selling their games. Instead, it has often been touted as a hobbyist’s playground – somewhere where you can release your games to the world and maybe make a few bucks for the experience. This change is not for the benefit of the developer who wants to show off his game to his friends. It’s a step in the right direction for Microsoft to start treating XBLIG as more of a marketplace with real income potential. And that’s encouraging.

What’s Next

It will be interesting to see how developers handle the new power. I’m curious to see how a definite release date will affect the press coverage for indie games, if at all. After all, it will still be just as hard to send review copies to the people who need them: you have to create a PC build, or else send the .ccgame file outside of the XBLIG service. Will indies bother? Will I bother?

Release day timing will be interesting to watch too. Will everybody flood the New Release list on Friday morning in the hopes of getting a prime spot during the coveted Friday-evening-through-Sunday timeslot? How long do you play chicken before you publish your game in an attempt not to get bumped down immediately? What about trying to buck the trend and publishing on the historically undesirable Monday timeslot? Would you get more time during the week on the list? Is it enough to make it worth it?

Lastly, it will be very telling to see how Microsoft follows this up. This is a feature that has been requested for a long time now; many would say it’s overdue. Hopefully this is not just a token gesture to make up for the ratings fiasco of previous weeks. However, the Top Downloads calculation was also changed recently so it seems someone at Microsoft is looking out for the XBLIG market. With E3 just around the corner, I’ve got my fingers crossed…