Recently Microsoft made a couple changes to the Community Games section on Xbox Live. The first was that they changed the name to Xbox Live Indie Games. The second and more significant change was to their pricing structure.
Previously, you could charge$10, $5, or $2.50 for you game. The new structure will be $5, $3, or $1.
There are a couple things to see here, from an indie perspective. The upshot for me? I’ve never felt better about my decision to not create a game for the Xbox.
I think in the longer term, this price change hurts indies in general… but the big question mark here isn’t the price point, it’s how much more exposure the Community games channel will get to the public. One thing is for sure – Microsoft doesn’t want developers like me making Community games.
It was already extremely difficult for an indie to make a living or run a company off Community games – the numbers we started seeing earlier this year confirmed that. From what I saw, people mostly put this down to a lack of marketing and exposure for the channel to the Xbox 360 userbase. Much like we see on iPhone game sales, if you’re not a big hit, you’re not going to sell enough units to cover your costs. But on the iPhone, this is because the channel is so incredibly crowed and noisy. On the Xbox, it’s because no one knows the channel exists.
The price change brings Community games more in-line with the iPhone game prices. This could help some indies sell more games on the Xbox, because the pricing is just that much more trivial to the user. But really, it still comes back to getting more people playing and buying Community games.
Longer term, this kind of pricing is a “race to the bottom”, as Jeff Vogel describes in an excellent series of posts on his blog. In enforcing this kind of price structure, Microsoft is saying that more complex, longer games don’t have a home in Community games. That’s the message I’m getting, at least.
A price point of $5 doesn’t make business sense for us on most any platform. And for one where people aren’t showing up in large numbers it’s even worse. What Microsoft is saying with these changes is, a) we only want games that you can make for about $3 a copy and b) trust that we’re going to publicize the channel a bit more.
I like Microsoft a lot – I used to work with them as a publisher, and I’ve always appreciated their excellent attitude on supporting their developers. But I’m going to need a bit better of an offer to prove out their business model for them when I’m taking all the risk.