Xbox Live Indie Games
Xbox Live Indie Games (abbreviated as XBLIG, and previously called Xbox Live Community Games abbreviated as XBLCG) are video games created by individual developers or small teams of developers released on Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace for the Xbox 360. The games are developed using Microsoft XNA, and developed by one or more independent developers that are registered with App Hub. Unlike Xbox Live Arcade titles, these are generally only tested within the local creator community, have much lower costs of production, and generally are less expensive to purchase. The service was released to widespread use alongside the New Xbox Experience, and as of November 2014[update], over 3,300 games have been released on the service, many receiving media attention. All Indie Games currently require the user to be logged into their Xbox Live account to initiate the start-up of each game. Indie Games are not available in Australia, due to the requirement for all games to be rated by the Australian Classification Board, and the prohibitive expenses involved.
The program did not continue with the release of the Xbox One; the XNA software was discontinued in 2013, and in September 2015, Microsoft emailed developers outlining the end-of-life of the Xbox Live Indie Games program, expected to be complete by the end of 2017.
Initial tools for the development of games on the Xbox 360 platform were bundled in the XNA Game Studio Express 1.0, released in December 2006, as a means of introducing newer programmers to the steps in game programming. Additional releases of the XNA Game Studio added further features with the core software libraries, but the created games were limited to the developer's own console unit and could not be shared with others. During the Game Developers Conference in February 2008, Microsoft announced that it would be bringing the Xbox Live Community Games service to Marketplace, allowing these games to be shared with others. According to Microsoft's David Edery, portfolio planner for Xbox Live Arcade's, the company envisioned the Community Games as a way for programmers to bring niche experimental games to wider attention without justifying the cost of a full Arcade title with only a limited audience, while still potentially earning some money for the effort. Edery also cited the Community Games as a potential differentiator from either of the PlayStation Store and WiiWare services.
A closed beta of Community Games was introduced on May 21, 2008, limited to Premium members of the XNA Creators' Club. Community Games were introduced with the New Xbox Experience on November 19, 2008. Upon the release of XNA 3.1, Microsoft changed the games to "Xbox Live Indie Games" with hopes that it will help increase the "understanding and discoverability" of user-created games. After the fourth quarter Dashboard update in 2010, the Indie Games tab on the Marketplace was moved to the "Specialty Shops" section of the dashboard, away from where regular Xbox Live Arcade titles would be shown. Independent developers that published through the Indie Game service were concerned that this move reduced the visibility of the games, leading to lower sales and fewer incentives to develop for the series. Microsoft stated that the move was designed to benefit independent game developers, highlighting such games through the Specialty Shop tab. However within a week, Microsoft quietly reverted this change, moving the Indie Games tab back to the main "Game Marketplace" section. Currently, the most successful game on XBLIG is DigitalDNA Games' CastleMiner Z, which was the first title on the service to reach one million paid downloads.
Xbox Live Indie Games are developed under certain distribution restrictions:
- The binary distribution package must be no larger than 500 MB, upgraded from the original 150 MB, as of January 4, 2012.
- The games are priced at 80, 240, or 400 Microsoft Points (approximately US$1, $3, and $5, respectively). Games larger than 150 MB (previously larger than 50 MB) must be priced at least 240 Microsoft Points as of the January 4, 2012 update. Prior to the August 2009 update, the pricing structure was set at 200, 400, or 800 Microsoft Points (approximately US$2.50, $5, and $10, respectively).
- An eight-minute trial period is enforced for Indie Games, after which, if the player has not yet purchased the game, the game will end and inform them they need to purchase the full version to keep playing. The developers have no control over this trial period. This limit was initially four minutes but feedback from players and developers extended the trial period.
- XBLIG titles lack some of the features found in XBLA games. XBLIG games do not have achievements or leaderboards, nor are they listed on a player's "Gamer Card". However, such games can be integrated with other parts of the Xbox Live Experience, including using multiplayer support, game invitations, and game information on friend lists. XNA also includes support for party chat and Xbox Live Avatars.
- XBLIG developers were only allowed to publish up to eight titles, but as of January 4, 2012, the limit has been raised to twenty.
- Create – Games are written in C# or Visual Basic .NET using the XNA Game Studio framework, allowing the developers to debug and test their game internally before release. The final code is compiled into a single binary package.
- Submission – The developer uploads their binary to the App Hub website, during which they can specify metadata for the game such as the target region for release, the cost they wish to offer the game, media for the game that can be displayed in the Marketplace screens, and suggested content ratings for the game.
- Playtest – Initially not part of the beta program for Indie Games, the playtest phase allows for developers to allow the game to be played by Premium members of the App Hub for a week, giving them feedback which they can use to revise their submissions prior to the peer review process.
- Peer Review – Indie Games must undergo peer review before they are released to the service. These are performed by other developers on the Indie Games service, who review the game for unacceptable content, game instability, and other factors that would be detrimental for wide release on the service, though these reviewers do not attempt to qualify the quality of the game itself. Reviewers also provided suggested content ratings for the games, similar to the submission phase. Games require multiple trusted reviews before they are released. Rejected games can be resubmitted using feedback provided by the reviewers. When the program moved out of beta phase, which was limited to the United States, and into wide distribution, covering both North America and Western Europe, the peer review process was amended to include additional review for games that support multiple languages.
- Release – Games that pass the Peer Review are released onto the service. Developers receive 70% of sales of the game, with Microsoft retaining the right to an additional 10–30% of the sales if they have decided to market the game further. However, until they have worked out how to factor in the benefits of the marketing efforts, Microsoft has promised to maintain the 70/30 split for all games.
With an August 11, 2009, update to the Xbox Live system, Xbox Live Indie Games supported user ratings, a feature which was also applied to other content in the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Most XBLIG games have been developed by students or hobbyist developers, who have invested a minimal amount of money, including the yearly fee for the App Hub membership, to develop their games. However, at least one game has incurred much larger development costs: Biology Battle by Novaleaf, developed by Novaleaf Software, took eleven months to complete the game with development costs just under $100,000. The game was originally planned as a standard Xbox Live Arcade title, but was rejected by Microsoft about seven months into the project; Novaleaf decided to press forward and release the game as an Indie Game. Another game, Techno Kitten Adventure, was developed by a smaller developer, XMONOX, who then partnered with design studio Elite Gudz to relaunch the game with gameplay improvements and ports to mobile devices.
Recent reviews suggest that, while distributing for XBLIG is relatively easy, games on the platform often make very small earnings, compared to other platforms, prompting many indie developers to move on from the Xbox 360 platform. Zeboyd Games, who developed Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World for XBLIG, ported the games to Microsoft Windows about a year and a half later; within six days of their release on the Steam platform, the Windows-version sales, roughly $100,000, had surpassed the previous year-and-a-half sales from XBLIG.
Developers have come together to promote Xbox Live Indie Games with community driven promotions featuring select games, called the Indie Games Uprising. To date there have been four "uprisings", the "Indie Games Winter Uprising", which took place during December 2010, and the "Indie Games Summer Uprising" which took place during August 2011, and the "Indie Games Uprising III" which took place during September 2012. On September 28, 2015, the Uprising returned with a tribute page showcasing developers that got their start on XBLIG and are now working on projects for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U thanks to the platform.
- Apple Jack
- Biology Battle
- Blocks That Matter
- CarneyVale: Showtime
- Chu's Dynasty
- I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT!!!1
- Kodu Game Lab
- Snops Attack! Zombie Defense
- Solar 2
- Techno Kitten Adventure
- The Most Addicting Sheep Game
- Total Miner
- Weapon of Choice
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So, no, chances are you won't be able to quit your day job by releasing a game on XBLIG. And, yes, virtually all of the developers we spoke to are considering moving on from the platform.
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