Live Arcade - a good deal for devs?

I’m curious - is the Live Arcade on Xbox 360 a good deal for game developers? The buzz surrounding it is great, because it’s a great idea and well implemented. Microsoft gets lots of simpler, cheaper, and casual games to broaden the appeal of their console. Gamers get fun “little” games that don’t break the bank and old arcade classics all together in one place with simple one-button shopping and integrated billing. Developers get their games pushed and promoted to millions (eventually tens of millions) of potential buyers all with the same platform to minimize support costs and get the whole distrubtion and billing taken care of for them. Win-win-win, right?

I wonder. Do devs get screwed on the Arcade? Is it the best deal out there? Somewhere in between?

From what I understand, once your game is done and passes certification and is ready to go on Live, there’s not much the developer has to do. Microsoft handles all the hosting (I think their bandwidth partner there is Limelight) and billing and everything, and you just sit back and wait for your cut. Presumably, the fact that you have a standard platform and have to go through certification means you don’t really have support costs to fix people’s problems after release.

What I want to know is, what exactly is the dev’s cut? If you put up your game for 800 points ($10), how much of that do you get? Is it closer to $2 or to $7? And outside of development costs, what does it actually cost to get your game on there in the first place? (Microsoft charges for certification, as all the console manufacturers do)

We’ve got some indie developers here; have you guys looked into Live Arcade on 360? Is it a fair deal? I’m sure you can’t reveal exact rates, but could you give some kind of ballpark, or compare it against other distribution deals you may have looked into?

Even if small developers are only getting as low a one dollar per game, I can see it being a very fruitful venture. Honestly, I can easily see getting 10x the sales on the Marketplace than you can generally over the internet. It comes down to the cost of porting the title on the developer side. However, I am curious how Microsoft actually selects the titles to be on there.

Right now it seems that if you are an 8 way shooter your pretty much in.

A couple of questions:

  • How does a developer “audition” one of its games for XBL Arcade? What’s the process for getting a game in front of the appropriate people at Microsoft for consideration?

  • Am I right in presuming that, in order to write a game for XBLA, you’d still need an Xbox 360 devkit? Because that would still seem to limit development to at least “official” developers, and not open the platform to true grassroots development.

I’m just thinking how incredibly exciting this would be if it somehow was the gateway to a return to the kind of real back-bedroom, small-team (perhaps even one-man) game development that led to so much vibrancy in the good old days of 8/16-bit home computing. The PC mod scene shows just how much homebrew talent is still out there.

I love consoles, but hate the way that, as closed platforms, they preclude the average enthusiast from creating anything for them. I remember Sony had an ill-fated experiment with the open-platform “Yarozi” (sp?) PlayStation, but it seems that XBLA could be a better system than that because of the online component.

Maybe Microsoft could release some kind of simple software toolkit (not unlike the old EA Construction Kits, perhaps) that would allow gamers to create their own simple game apps and upload them via Live to MS for Arcade consideration. That would be rad.

This might shed some light on it. Its dated 11/08 though so who knows how true it actually is.
http://www.talkxbox.com/editorial108.html

There are more than 300 developers looking to make games for the Live Arcade, and there are at least a dozen submissions every single week. Anyone can submit a game, from AAA game studios to a couple guys sequestered in a dorm room with a great game. In fact, some development studios are looking at Live Arcade as a way of fostering creativity and giving developers a bit of a break from the breakneck pace of big budget development. For instance, Ubisoft could have the Splinter Cell team construct a Live Arcade game after the latest Splinter Cell ships, have them spend four months on that, then return to Splinter Cell. Live Arcade provides a nice buffer between four year development cycles for developers.

Follow up.
http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/oct2005/id20051014_827471.htm

The quality of indie games varies widely. How do you pick and choose the next-big-thing for the Xbox Live Arcade?

We have experts in all types of games. They look at games on a submission basis, and pick and choose to make sure that our portfolio of games is representative of what our customers wants.

For now, we’re going to pick what we view as, say, the best Hearts game. As the market expands, it will support three or four or five Hearts games. Longer-term, we’re interested in establishing an ecosystem for third-party developers.

Financially, will it be more beneficial for indie developers to work with Microsoft than with other companies?

We aren’t interested in squeezing an extra $2 of margin out of the little guys. It’s more interesting for us to have a viable ecosystem of developers and products in order to sell more Xbox consoles. So it’s in our interests to make sure it’s an attractive situation for indie developers.

The BusinessWeek article is starting to get to what I’m looking for (word on whether it’s financially a good deal for devs), but it’s hardly informative. I mean, Microsoft saying “we’re not trying to squeeze an extra $2 out of the little guy” doesn’t tell me much. Does that mean the 1200 point games ($15) give the devs $3? Geez, I hope not.

Does anyone have a rough idea of what the dev’s cut is? Or at least how it compares to distributing on Steam or Totalgaming.net or working a publishing deal with Popcap or something?

I could swear I read somewhere that the dev cut is 50%. I’ll try to find that article again.

Edit: Bleh. Never mind, I must have hallucinated it.

How does one get an XBox 360 dev kit? I’m genuinely interested in porting my (stuck at 80% for awhile now) game once it’s completed.

It’s under “XNA” on microsoft.com, but no info on acquisition there.

I could just mass email the people listed as “press only” contacts at the XNA site, but I’m hoping someone here has some insight.

Thanks!

I would think Microsoft acts like a publisher, and buys the games for unlimited distribution. Rather than track individual sales, they pay the developers a set price and get unlimited distribution through Live. It would reduce overhead and allow Microsoft to set the prices they prefer.

K

I doubt it. That is currently not how the casual game market works and that would make MS assume all the risk. By paying a percentage they assume no risk on a stinky game (past the dispacement of a game that would have sold better).

Chet

Start here:

I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is so. I think it’s a percentage thing. Of course, we’re a bit of an exception, as we’re independently funded.

Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, Jason.

Start here:
Windows Dev Center | Microsoft Developer

Of course it still reads:

[i]Developing for Xbox 360

At this time, access to development tools for the Xbox 360™ video game console is limited to developers working on approved titles for licensed publishers. This will change over time, so check back for more information in the future.

If you want to learn more about how you can prepare for Xbox 360 development using a Windows PC, this document covers some of the basics."

At this time, access to development tools for the Xbox 360™ video game console is limited to developers working on approved titles for licensed publishers. This will change over time, so check back for more information in the future.[/i]

Which means it still has that air of 1st party “country club-ness” about it. In other words, if you hadn’t heard about how to be an XBOX 360 dev already, then there was probably a reason for that… ;)

I know that EA was not able to get all the 360 dev and debug kits they wanted, so I think it’s less of a “1st party country club” than “oshit we can’t get hardware to our customers OR devs.”