Dustforce Sales Figures

A really great writeup I found on the website for Hitbox Team, which created the wildly successful Dustforce platformer which made it big relatively quick. They discuss their sales numbers, costs, and exactly what it took to get their indie company going. It’s a must read for ANY indie developer.

Please visit the original post on the Hitbox website, as there are some great comments in the discussion there, and tons of other good content on their blog.

by Terrence Lee (via Hitbox Team)

Dustforce is just over a year old now. How well has it fared in the past year, and what does that mean for Hitbox Team? In this article, we discuss in great detail the financial performance of Dustforce, in the context of our own goals for the game. Come and learn about some of the financial issues of a tiny development team, such as how we funded Dustforce, and how much it costs to make a game.

FINDING GAME SALES DATA IS NOTORIOUSLY HARD. Video games have traditionally been a “hits driven” industry – the majority of revenue for a publisher comes from a handful of big commercial successes. With so many non-hits being made, publishers try to keep sales numbers a trade secret, as the more disappointing figures can be worrisome to investors. This trend has made discussing sales figures an uncomfortable topic, akin to talking about your salary.

When we first started working on Dustforce, it was frustrating to not be able to find much data about whether indie game development is a realistic thing to do with your life. The closest thing out there were unofficial sources, like VGChartz, that gathered retail information, but lacked in digital sales data. Fortunately, independent developers don’t have the same financial obligations that publishers do. There was a series of helpful articles [parts123] by David Galindo that talked about the financial details of his game, The Oil Blue. It was just one data point, but a valuable one. Now that we’ve finished our own first project, we’d like to contribute our own data about Dustforce to the growing trend of transparency in indie game development.

Beginnings

Left: The original prototype of Dustforce, made in GameMaker.
Right: Dustforce as it is today, built in our own engine.

Dustforce started out as the project of the first half of Hitbox Team, Lexie and Woodley. They built the Dustforce prototype during the summer of 2010, motivated by the deadline of a game contest. For four months, they worked in an outdoor shed, living on cheap frozen foods and bulk soft drinks. Lexie worked at a second job during the day, and joined Woodley at night to build their prototype. They finished the game by August, in time for the contest deadline.

In the few days after the prototype was posted online, an article on IndieGames.com drew some positive attention. Woodley and Lexie received an email from Valve, inviting them to put Dustforce onto Steam. This was the motivation they needed to work on Dustforce full time, to turn it from a prototype into a full game. It wouldn’t be an easy task – the prototype was far from the final vision, and would take more than just two people to finish the game.

It would take at least a year to do it, and of course it costs money to live during that time. Where would that money come from? Working a second job would cost precious time and energy, and borrowing money from a publisher or investor comes with obligations that can be creatively detrimental to the project. Fortunately, the answer came easily: the Dustforce prototype won the competition, and along with it, a $100,000 grand prize.

The cost of development

$100,000 USD is a significant amount of money, but is it enough? Well, let’s look at a detailed list of all the costs critical to developing an indie game:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Internet

All you really need to make a game is a computer and basic living expenses. Time is money, as they say, and we needed roughly a year and a half to finish Dustforce. How much does a year cost? We were all living in different areas of the world at the time (Brisbane, Tokyo, New York, and Cincinnati) – on average, it would cost us around $20k per person per year to live frugally. A lot of the prize money went to paying existing bills, debts, and traveling expenses. Between three people (the fourth lived off his own savings), the remaining money would last about one and a half years.

This was just enough time to finish the game, but it was cutting it a bit close – you don’t want to finish the project with zero dollars in the bank. It can take up to 90 days to receive the first payment from sales, and of course it’s possible that the game might not sell well at all, so it would be ideal to leave a few months of money in reserve.

People often ask: how much does it cost to make a game? Well, the answer is straightforward:

minimum cost to make a game = cost of living × time needed × team size

Bear in mind that we had no formal business structure, no salaries or benefits. We were just four kids who really wanted to make Dustforce, and were lucky enough to have enough cash to not worry about anything else for a year. Also, it’s important to note that money is not sufficient to finish a game – there are intangible resources, like motivation and patience, which are just as consumable as cash.

Expectations and results

A year and a half has passed since development began. It is now January of 2012. How is progress on Dustforce going? A few months prior, we gave ourselves a hard deadline of January 17th. It would be too financially risky to work much longer past that date. In addition, motivation and patience are running low, after fifteen long months of hard work. Now, by some miracle, the game is ready to launch on Steam. With a nervous click of the mouse, we upload the final build and await the launch.


We had no idea what to expect. We could only speculate, using sparse data points and ballpark figures. Was the past year and a half worth it? Of course it was – we worked the hardest any of us have ever worked, and we created something we were truly proud of. Yet, there was a lingering uncertainty of financial expectations. Our goal was to just make enough money to be able to do it again. If we could work on our next project independently and without being restricted by a financial cut-off date, then we’d consider Dustforce a financial success.

So if it cost us almost $100k to work for a year and a half, we’d have to make around $67k for every year until we release our next game. However, it would be nice to live a less frugal lifestyle than before, so ideally that figure would be around twice as much. With a rough estimate of three years for our next project, plus a bit of a buffer, we were looking at around $300-400k USD as our final goal. Was that realistic? We had no idea.


After a few hours of mashing the refresh button on the sales page, we were able to sleep knowing that sales were doing just fine: on the first day, we sold 4,796 copies – a revenue of $44,141. It was hard to extrapolate this into the long term – obviously we wouldn’t be selling this many copies every day, but how long would the initial surge last? After around two months, the trajectory of sales took shape:

As expected, the sales declined steadily after the launch. The first three days of sales accounted for half of our cumulative revenue for the first three months of sales. By the end of the second month, we were selling around 30-50 copies per day. Our running total by then was around $243k. Remember, this is just the revenue. After deducting withholding taxes, Valve’s cut, returns and fees, we’re left with around 63% of that, so that figure is closer to $153k. With that taken into account, Dustforce was profitable (in that it made over the $100k put into it) by January 25, or 9 days after its launch. If you take into account personal income taxes (between 28-36%), then we were personally profitable by around a month after launch.

By the end of April, sales have tapered off into a trickle of a dozen or two sales a day. However, Dustforce was slated to be on a Steam Midweek Madness promotion, at 50% off for the first 3 days of May. At the same time, we finished porting the game to Mac, and also added in the custom level editor and server. Here’s what happened:

Over the 3 days of the promotion, we sold 17,462 copies of the game, more than the amount we sold during the first 3 days of the January launch. Of course, at 50% off, the revenue was a bit less, but it was still an instant 37% boost in lifetime revenue. We were thrilled: it looked like we’d hit our financial goal pretty soon. As a side note, we thought that the huge increase in the player-base would help the long tail with more word-of-mouth sales, but it seemed to taper off back to their original rate within just a few days.

Humble Bundle

Soon after our January launch, we were contacted by the fine folks from the Humble Bundle. They were interested in putting Dustforce on a future bundle, as well as helping us port the game over to Linux. In mid September, the Humble Indie Bundle 6 was released, along with some other great games. Here’s what happened:

(Note that for the number of Humble Bundle units sold, we just included the number of copies of Dustforce that were activated on Steam.) The Humble Bundle was a great success: we made roughly $153,915, and unlike the last promotion, we did notice an increase in Steam sales afterwards. With such a huge boost in the number of people playing Dustforce, the amount of daily sales jumped up from under a dozen to around 50 or 60 copies per day.

After the Humble Bundle, we also had three other promotions to end the year on: 50% off during the Thanksgiving sale, a daily deal, and the holiday sale. Although none of them were as dramatic as the previous events, they cumulatively had a big impact, netting $76k in the 45 days between the beginning of the Thanksgiving sale in November, to the end of the Christmas sale in January. This was over three times as much as the revenue in the 45 days prior to that.

Final numbers

The final figure for our income after exactly one year of sales is $489,404 USD (from a total of $668,490 in revenue). Of course, there are also costs to running the business: legal and accounting fees, software licenses, server costs, and some travelling expenses have added up over the past year to take a good $36k or so out of our total income. When you take that into account, along with personal income taxes, we are left with around $295k. In the end, this means that for every $10 copy of Dustforce sold, $4.41 of it ended up in our pockets. We then split this between the four of us.

For every $10 copy of Dustforce sold, $4.41 of it ended up in our pockets.

Dustforce was our first finished game, and we went into it without much experience, especially in the business side of things. Through this project, we learned firsthand that time is money, and that sacrifices have to be made when resources are limited. We were also surprised by how critical promotions were for revenue. We are really grateful to have a strong start, and are very happy with how the game turned out.

We’re putting all our earnings back into making our next game, Spire. By being able to remain financially independent, we can continue to develop the game as artists and not as businessmen. Like it was with Dustforce, it is of utmost importance that we make design decisions based solely on making the game better, not on making it sell more.

We are all humbled and elated by how well Dustforce has been received. The joy from our players is enough to keep us making games – the financial success is just an incidental blessing.


Update: We’ve been asked a few questions since posting this article. Here are some answers to the most common ones.

How did you market the game?

Our friend Mary, from IndieViddy, helped us market Dustforce by sending review copies of the game to numerous reviewers and bloggers. She also created and sent out press releases, as well as helped make Youtube videos for us at a time when we were most busy.

Was it worth it? The numbers don’t seem to translate into a very good salary.

Without a doubt, yes, it was worth it. It is true that the final earnings, spread out among four people to account for almost 2 years of development is not particularly impressive, considering that more money could have been made at normal jobs, without taking the considerable risks that we took. However, it’s important to note that the entire time we were doing what we loved, not for the goal of a monetary reward, but in order to make something beautiful come into existence.

It’s not that money isn’t important – instead, it was simply that the pleasure of making Dustforce was worth far more than the opportunity cost of working somewhere else. Instead of accumulating the means to an end, we just went straight for the end.

Lastly, our relative success of Dustforce was a fantastic foundation for us as a studio. We now have the financial means to work on a new project for some time; we also have a proven reputation and a community of challenge-loving players. It sets us up to really turn Spire into the best thing it can be. That’s something worth more than just the money we made.

The Dreaded Ten Percent

This is our experience with trying to push Produce Wars through the last ten percent of production. Please send me an e-mail or contact me on Twitter to tell me about the last ten percent of your game.

Every game developer knows what it is. The experienced ones plan for it. The big studios sometimes pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.

The last ten percent.

FezIt’s that point you get to in game development where the game is ready to go, but it’s not perfect. There’s just a couple of those things nagging on you that make you want to tear the entire game apart and start over. Most independent game developers are familiar with the neurotic five-year journey that Fez took from inception to launch, and how the game mired in the infamous ten percent for at least a year before it was released.

2012-01-16-the-last-ten-percentIt’s not just in gaming either. Rumors have it that during post-production director Tony Kaye tried to sabotage American History X because he didn’t feel like it was ready for release. The film went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of all-time.

We are currently at this point with Produce Wars.

We have been at this point for the last three months. While it has been incredibly frustrating, it has also been incredibly educational. We had considered pushing Produce Wars out the door in early January because the frustration had built up so much that we had become sick of the game. In fact, we could have released a fully playable version of the game in October.

Yes, like five months ago.

It’s a good thing we didn’t though. A month ago, we sat down to play test with a couple of people who had never seen the game before to get their raw and painfully honest perspective about where we were at. This play test session was revolutionary, because it revealed to us just how far away from making a complete game we were.

Many of the stages had unrealistic expectations of the player’s skill. Up to that point, the only person that had significantly tested the stages was…well, me. Not only did I design all 95 stages in the game, but I have been testing and working with Produce Wars for almost a year now. Because of this, the difficulty was heavily skewed towards “throw the controller at your cat” instead of “cat sitting on lap purring happily and gouging your thighs with its claws”. Either way, you’re pissed at the cat, but we don’t want you to be pissed at our game.

controller catThis led to the complete redesign of almost half of the stages in the game, a balancing of the shot values for players to earn certain medals, and a gazillion other small upgrades that we would have overlooked had we released the game early.

I mean, we had a friggin’ typo on our main menu that none of us saw for six months.

It made us understand how necessary the last ten percent is, no matter how frustrating it may be. Seriously vetting your game before release could be the difference between a hit and a flop. Even if your game isn’t the next Fez, Braid, Spelunky, or Super Meat Boy, the effort you put into the last ten is subconsciously appreciated by the player.

Perception is often greater than reality. If the player perceives quality, it often times can mask many of the inherent flaws that your game inevitably has. It’s not to say that if your game is crap, you can sell on appearance alone (you can’t polish a turd, so they say). But low lighting and appropriate make-up can get even the ugliest of girls a one night stand (thanks for the help here Jenna Marbles).

And for gamers, that’s what cheap indie games are: a one-night stand.

Produce Wars Box ArtYou can create this quality by paying close attention to detail and being cautious about launch. At some point though, you have to strike that balance between improving and moving on. That girl isn’t waking up in another person’s bed unless she puts herself out there, and the same is true with your indie game. You have to find a way to cut yourself loose from the ten percent and get the darn thing published.

So our promise is that Produce Wars will get published. We’ve been on the treadmill for long enough, and we’re almost ready to put ourselves out there. We’ve officially defined the remainder of our improvements so that there is no more feature creep, no more surprises.

Produce Wars is coming soon. No doubt about that one.

Please send me an e-mail at gigaloth@gmail.com, or shoot me a message on Twitter. I want to hear your experience with the last ten percent of your game!

Simple Tips for Rookie Indie Game Developers

Most indie developers tend to hyper-focus on making their game, and making it exactly perfect, or at least “not selling out” to make some money. Unfortunately if you actually want to continue spending hours of your time on this, and you want to make money off of your game, you must do some things that help get the word out there and get people talking about it. Here are a few tips that we have on doing so.

1) Make it Look Good

The most important thing you can do for a game is to make sure it looks and feels good to play. That doesn’t mean you need it to look like Skyrim or have the most intuitive control scheme in the world, but you need to make sure that it doesn’t leave the player with a huge headache. The graphics quality should be represented on your box art and other promotional materials for the game. You may not be the best graphic designer in the world, and you don’t have to be, but we highly suggest finding somebody to add to your team that can give you that edge.

2) Extras

Something indie developers often look over is the opportunity to expand the range of their IP, or piggy backing off of somebody else’s, featuring characters or the like from other developer’s games. Writing e-books or doing interesting or funny web videos that can be companion content to your game is also really valuable, it shows you care about your project and you understand that its more than just a game that was a hobby project. Remember to apply the first tip here, make these this look good, and make them high quality. Put effort into your extras and make them look professional. Be creative and try things that haven’t been done, or even look to AAA developers and see what they are doing and how you can translate that down to the indie level.

3) Blogging and Social Networking

Among other web content, these two things are some of the most important things you can do. First, blogging. When you blog you need to make sure your content is diverse. Don’t only write about your own projects. Do reviews of other indie games, try and do interviews with other developers, or write commentaries about other articles. Make it interesting to read. It might be cynical, but you must assume, to begin with, that nobody cares about you or your game. Again piggy back off of other peoples reputation, and work hard to build your own. As far as social networking goes Twitter and Facebook will be your best friends. Twitter is where you will start to build connections with other developers, reviewers, and people interested in the indie game industry itself and its a great place to build reputation and a network of people to tap into to find reviews and interviews to do. As far as Facebook goes its a great tool beyond just networking, which we will discuss later.

4) Team

Now you might be going, “your team has nothing to do with marketing or getting your name out there” and maybe you’d have some valid points, but I’m here to tell you that your team has everything to do with marketing. You might be a one man team, and if that is the case you have a lot of work cut out for you, as the saying goes two heads are better than one. We strongly encourage you to build a team of people dedicated to your project. I encourage you to work on building a team. This team should be of like minded individuals with different skill sets. Find some good artists, good game programers, and good web developers. Somebody who can organize your social marketing and other promotional items, perhaps even a writer to help with your extra content, maybe even a video guy and even consider a music composer.

5) Patience and Perseverance

This might not be directly related to game development, but it shines through to everything that you do. The attitude and mindset in which your write and respond to people, and all the various writings and blogs you do will leak into your content. Stay upbeat and stay excited, and keep having fun. You will get stressed, but when you sit down to communicate or write stuff, make sure you leave all of that at the door. People want your enthusiasm and will cling to your message when you do it in an inspired mindset.

6) Track It, Test It, Improve It

There are many tools in which you can track your effectiveness and your reach. Coming up with creative ways to use Facebook’s page insights, the stats on WordPress, YouTube’s stats, or even using Google Analytics, you can track your page views and see what types of things people are responding the most to, and you can then change your tactics to capitalize on those things, but you should keep trying new ideas as well, you never know when the next one will explode. Another tool to help you decide what things to make or how to improve your content is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, if used creatively. You can use it to figure out new article topics, or how to word things to optimize your search engine results. All of these tools are free and provide you with really great information.

7) Stay Organized

This goes beyond marketing, and into project management itself. Know where resources are, track your progress well, stay in constant communication with your team so you know whats new and whats going on. Put things in a logical order, so if somebody else needs to find it or change it, they can do it without needing to be dependent on any one person for too much, its ease of mind and work flow and you will get done with your projects much faster.

That’s it. Just a few tips to consider and think about while making your games. Remember, this advice is from a first time developer, and we are sure to learn more and refine and add to this list, but the lessons we have already learned should prove to be be invaluable to any other first time developer. Please let us know what you think, if you have any comments or feedback at all, let us know, and if you find this information valuable share it with your network and team.

Hit us up on Twitter for more info or to comment on this article.

Opinion: Smart Indie Development = Starting Simple

I was perusing my Twitter feed the other day and happen upon a conversation that inspired me to write my thoughts about this idea: indie game developers should start small.

As a young lad, I dreamed of making grand, epic, open world, adventure games of mass proportion, and even got a good part of the way through making one. I look back now, a bit more educated, but still part of a rather rookie team of developers, our first game in its final stages of development, and think about where the perfect place to start would be.

Produce Wars was supposed to be simple. That was our goal; to maintain simplicity, and while to a great extent we did, we added a lot of extra stuff that gave it quality and sheen. We are perfectionists, which can be difficult to handle at times, especially when learning when and where to back off a bit or compromise on certain features. I can only imagine the pain we would still be in if we had tried something much larger right off the bat.

Opinion_1_ROTS

Our next few games are aiming to be even more simple than Produce Wars was supposed to be, and there are good reasons to do this. Success, even when small, serves as encouragement. Its a good motivator to have titles under your belt, but it also gives you multiple experiences making many different types of games and with each aspect of making the game, from the design and building itself, to marketing and networking. Each of these steps making you and your team that much better at what you do.

When you try to set about making your perfect vision of a game, right off the bat, you will be disappointed for many reasons. You will never finish, you will keep wanting to change or perfect things and deadlines will get pushed further and further back. Nobody cares, until you have a good portion of something done or have been around a long time, your opinion means very little, it takes time and work to build that reputation. The only way to prove yourself is to make something. It seems like just that one thing gives you the credibility to give input on things.

So, as a humble, first time indie developer, I can say this. Dream big, but practice big too. Your dream project will happen when you give it the Seven P’s. (Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) It is important to start simple, build your skills, your portfolio, your network, and your reputation.

Please leave a comment, or let me know on Twitter what you think.

The Myths about Xbox Live Indie Game Development

A great article on Gamasutra from Thomas Steinke of DigitalDNA Games. Thomas is the most successful developer on XBOX Live Indie Games, and provides some great insight into dispelling the myths that developers typically hear about XBLIG. I discussed some of this over e-mail with Thomas and he pretty much echoed everything here.

Please visit the original post on Gamasutra, as there are some great comments in the discussion there as well.

by Thomas Steinke via Gamasutra

Hi my name is Thomas Steinke. I am the owner of DigitalDNA Games and I am an ex-pro game developer that now has become a full time Indie game developer. DigitalDNA Games is a company that has been making Xbox Live Indie Games exclusively for years now. We are also arguably the most successful developer on the system. If you are not familiar with us, here is our list of titles:

If you take a look at all time top selling Xbox Live Indie Games you will notice 5 of my games in the top 30; 3 in the top 10. My games CastleMiner and CastleMiner Z have broke records, holding the top selling slots for about a year, and have become the highest grossing franchise on XBLIG at over 1.5M units sold. In general, almost all of my games have either been #1 bestselling titles or at least top 5. Almost every game I have made has grossed at least a 5 figure return (even our first title “Avatar Avenue”). At one point we held 5 slots in the top 20 best selling games.

http://majornelson.com/2011/09/08/live-activity-for-week-of-august-29th/

The media seems to do a lot of disproportional coverage of XBLIG. They seem to skew coverage directed at developers that have not been successful, painting a dismal picture of XBLIG. After reading many of these articles, I am very surprised that the authors don’t seek information from some of the more successful developers on the system. I thought I would take some time to dispel some of the most common misconceptions about the system.

It seems to me that for a long time people have been gunning for XBLIG to fail for some reason. I have a theory about this. XBLIG is a very effective marketplace, where customer sales and game interest almost completely drive the success of a title on the system. Reviews and media coverage make almost no impact. I think this upsets a lot of people that have a more idealistic idea of how a marketplace should work and what titles should be successful. As a result they tend to gravitate towards people and stories that validate their perspective. The reality (possibly a sad one based on your particular perspective) is that the titles that the general population enjoy are usually not the ones that the critics appreciate. I think this idea sort of stabs at the hearts of people interested in “Indie” game development, where there is a romantic idea that the population is starving for a particular type of game.

This brings me to the first item on my list:

Myth #1: There is no money to be made on XBLIG.

It is true that the vast majority of games on the system make little to no money (I would estimate that probably 90% of games make less than $1000). The system is skewed toward the highest sellers, which enter a self propagating system where they get continuous exposure, based on sustained sales. Some people may argue that this is unfair, but I would argue that there really isn’t anything more democratic than a system that rewards developers based on consumer choices. Isn’t delivering what the consumer wants the goal of any good marketplace? Some people may argue this is “broken” but if you look at the data, I don’t think you will find anything unusual about this versus any other free marketplace, i.e. IOS.

Besides myself there are a lot of developers that have made a significant amount of money on the system. It is obvious to me that these developers “get it” and know what works on XBLIG and have chosen to be financially successful there. This is one of the common pitfalls that I see with developers on the system. When I talk to developers on the system that complain about sales, I usually ask “What made you think that title would be successful, i.e. was there a similar title that did well”?

When we pick titles, we do it based on careful market analysis. I often make this joke that I became Indie so that I could make the games I wanted, now I am just forced to make the games customers want. There is this romantic idea that you are going to make this game that you always wanted to, and people are going to love it. I love that idea myself, but ultimately you need to be realistic about market viability. There are a ton of titles I would LOVE to make, but I know that it will never happen, because I know they wouldn’t be successful, so in general I try to find a compromise between the two. All the successful developers on XBLIG have done this.

Myth #2 XBLIG gets no exposure on the Xbox dashboard.

It seems like every time that Microsoft does a dashboard update, they bury XBLIG then there is a big uproar and they move it. For the most part XBLIG has gotten the same exposure of XBLA. Being on the dashboard at all is a privilege. You are exposed to 10’s of millions of users with money in hand, just a click away from your game. This dwarfs any sort of exposure that you can get from critics, reviews, media outlets etc… Which brings me to the next Myth.

Myth #3 You need to do external marketing well to have a successful XBLIG.

Quite the contrary. I observed this very early on that it made sense based purely on numbers. The exposure you get via the Xbox Dash dwarfs any sort of media coverage you could possibly get. The has been prior examples of games getting national TV coverage and not selling many more games.

I made a conscious decision to devote zero efforts to marketing outside of the Xbox Dash (probably the reason most people have not heard of me). This is actually one of the great things about XBLIG. I can’t think of any other platform where this is true. As a result you can concentrate on making your game, versus writing press releases.

Myth #4 All you need to do to be successful on XBLIG is make a crappy fart app, avatar game or a Minecraft clone.

When I hear developers say this, my response is, “Then why aren’t you making that?”. There seems to be this pattern of dismissing almost anything that does well on XBLIG. It is definitely true that there are trends on XBLIG, and the developers that can pick up on these trends are the ones that make all the money. But if all it took to be sucessful was to make a crappy application, then why are any developers complaining about poor sales? They should know EXACTALLY what to make. Unfortunately there are a lot of examples of these games that don’t work. The reality is that the games on the top are not just games that followed trends, but they are also really great games. They have to be both to succeed.

The truth is, some of these quirky “experiences” on XBLIG did well because they were unique and original ideas that hadn’t been done before on a console. When people tried to copy them they didn’t do as well. For example my app “Voice Changer 360” topped charts in early 2011, and it grossed well over $100,000. However it not only was the first XBLIG to make use of the microphone, but it was a very good execution of a voice changer. It was real time, it used a vocoder (which is a very advanced type of audio effect which makes you sound like a transformer), and had an interesting real-time 3D visualization. Other “voice changer” apps came out after that and didn’t do as well. This trend has been true for the first drum machine, Avatar Game, Voxel Game. Etc… It seems like every time something unique comes out on XBLIG that breaks previous preconceptions, it just gets tacked on to the list of games to get discounted as “That game was just success because of … X”

I am going to spend a little time breaking this down because this seems to have become a talking point based on the success of particular games.

Fart Apps:

To date I only know of one “Fart App” that did really well, Silver Dollar’s “Try Not to Fart”. Which if you haven’t played it, it’s far more than just a fart app, it was a good game. There have been a lot that have failed for example;“Avatar Fart”.

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Avatar-Fart/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550b2a

Avatars and farting?! It should have been a blockbuster hit!

Avatar Games:

There have been so many of these that haven’t worked I can’t even begin to enumerate. The problem here is that there is no denying that xbox users love Avatars. Microsoft sells “gear” for avatars for more than the price of most Indie Games… and people buy it. When avatars were exposed to XNA developers, there was an intense hunger from the users for experiences that did something real with these. At the time, Microsoft had done virtually nothing with them. I first observed this while playing 1 vs. 100, it was the reason that I decided to make Avatar Paintball (the most successful “Avatar” title of all time), and get into XBLIG. The second most successful title was “Avatar Drop” which was not only the first Avatar game to hit the Xbox, but utilized some advanced physics simulations that most games did not have at the time.

I can see how this looks “Cheesy” to people that are outside of the Xbox ecosystem; however, the idea of gearing up in your storm trooper suit to go play Avatar Laser Wars is a unique and compelling experience, one of which I have never seen on another platform before.

Minecraft “Clones”:

It is going to be really hard for me to make an argument here that seems objective having the most popular one of these on the Xbox. The Voxel games on the Xbox are quickly dismissed as riding on the coattails of Minecraft. But there is a lot of them now, many not very successful. The ones on the top believe it or not, are very unique experiences, none of them are feature per feature “clones” of minecraft. People claimed that the release of Minecraft on the 360 would destroy these games as the sales were just a result of people looking for a Minecraft replacement and it proved not to be true at all (sales of CastleMiner Z have actually increased steadily in the past months). These games have innovated on this genre by either pushing the limits of game play, visuals or both.

Minecraft itself was based on another game (Infiniminer). It is disappointing to me that some people will not accept these games as a new genre, and just enjoy them. It seems to just “hurt” some people to see them do well. If we stopped making First Person Shooters after Wolfenstien we wouldn’t have many of the excellent games we have today.

As far as needing to be in one of these catagories to be successful. If you take a look at the all time top 100 titles on the system you will find plenty of counter examples. But yes, if you deliberately stay away from the things that people have demonstrated demand for on the marketplace, you will probably have a harder time selling games.

Myth #5 XBLIG is dying.

Not having Microsoft’s data, it is impossible for me to make an overall statement like that. However I have a unique perspective on this, because I have consistently had games in the top 5 best selling slots for years. I can tell you that the overall estimate of sales we have seen has been increasing. DigitalDNA Games revenue from XBLIG has doubled consistently quarter over quarter since it was founded. There was a time when people thought the idea of an XBLIG grossing over $1M was ridiculous. Now there are multiple titles that have grossed over $2M. By all my accounts the user base for XBLIG is growing not shrinking. XBLIG’s future is really in Microsoft’s hands at this point and if they have plans to do away with XBLIG it won’t be because of a dwindling user base.

Myth #6 High quality titles don’t get the exposure they deserve on XBLIG.

This statement seems very odd to me because “quality” is a very subjective term. I wouldn’t personally put myself in a position to judge the “quality” of a game; and I am surprised that critics or the media would, especially when the opinion is contrary to general public. Since the end goal of any marketplace is to effectively deliver the products people want to those products, it is hard to ignore sales as a metric (I would argue it is the only metric that makes sense). Ultimately, with the exclusion of special dashboard promotions, games get an equal chance on XBLIG.

The media seems to fall in love with particular titles despite how the customer has received them. The interesting thing to me is that there have been many instances where these “quality” titles have gotten special Xbox dashboard promotions, and they still have not had run-away sales (In fact I cannot think of an example of this happening at all). This would sort of suggest that the customer really knows what they want, and it isn’t a matter of disproportional exposure, hence the marketplace is operating very efficiently. Even force-feeding cutomers titles they have proven uninterested in doesn’t seem to work.

I find it sort of humorous when critics and reviewers put down the best selling games on the system and champion ones that haven’t worked. To me the value of a reviewer would be based on how perceptive or in tune with the marketplace they are, i.e. I could show them a title before release and they could tell me how successful it would be. A lot of time these lopsided reviews just seem like an attempt to change people’s existing opinions. Now you can make the argument that the customers are wrong in their choices, however that seems like a fairly arrogant position to take. Having the customer sales drive exposure is possibly the most democratic way to reward exposure. Who would be better suited to make a judgment on quality besides the customer, a critic or reviewer? What is the point in taking publishing decisions away from publishers if you are just going to give it to someone else-such as a critic or reviewer. The fact that customers get to make the final decision on quality is a good thing.

If you follow me on Twitter (@gigaloth), I promise to keep you updated with more developer tidbits and not the status of my hemorrhoids. Please like our Facebook page as well to stay in the loop.