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…

Premium Membership obtained: First impressions

It’s done! I went and invested in a premium creator’s club membership which means my game will officially be a waste of time and money if I don’t bother to finished it (how’s that for motivation?). Well it wouldn’t be a complete waste, because I’ve learned a lot already, but there’s still much to learn! I’ve been working on it, largely adding to the usability of the menus today, but that’s not what this post is about.

Premium membership entitles you to:

  • Deploy games to your 360*
  • Download premium content
  • Playtest games
  • Review games
  • Submit games

I’d completely forgotten about the premium content bit (now I can look into those premium samples). Okay there are only two, that’s less exciting and a bit disappointing. Maybe I’ll glance into the Robot Game though. The deploying-to-360 functionality was something I already had from my trial membership through Dreamspark.

So, submitting a game is obviously key, but I’m not there yet. That leaves playtesting and reviewing. I took a look at the games in the review queue, only to be a bit disappointed that many of them are just re-submissions of existing games. Regardless, I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp of edge cases to catch the important crashes (storage devices, purchases, extra controllers, etc) and thus I’m going to avoid peer review for the time being.

Playtesting is the real reason why I caved and bought a subscription early. Yes, that’s another thing. There’s very little incentive to buy a subscription before you intend to submit a game. The premium samples are probably the only reason, short of wanting to help the community. In my case, I actually want to do just that, but I wonder how many people are putting off the purchase, and thus their contributions to playtesting/reviewing, for a pretty straightforward financial reason.

Some people are thankfully using playtesting for what I hoped it to be: a place to get feedback on your game, from alpha through to almost release-worthy. I think it’s great to just grab a few games, take note of what the developer is interested in hearing about and then sitting down with the games and a clipboard. I looked over three games tonight,left a bunch of feedback for two of them and look forward to doing it again.

If only there were more games in the playtesting queue…