Getting an XBLA game approved is “massively harder now” says Team 17’s Martyn Brown. Why does this surprise anyone? Microsoft is in the gatekeeping industry. They choose who gets through and who doesn’t. The gatekeepers in the Redmond offices aren’t going to get reemed out if they let junk from SquareEnix get through. It’s SquareEnix, boss! But if they let junk through from indie nobodies then they look stupid. Nobody with a nice Microsoft health plan and 401(k) is going to risk their job over a cool indie title.
Now it is being reported that what was once supposed to be the battlefield for small developers who couldn’t afford the tens of millions to put out a $60 disc is being all but closed to the little guy. The big boys are just adding Live Arcade titles to their portfolio of $60 projects. Microsoft says now that smaller developers should stick to the “community games” channel, the essential back of the bus. Of course, MS will let a few great indie titles through to cement their “indie cred”, look at N+ or Castle Crashers. Yet both of those already had a market. N was a popular game already. The Behemoth already had released Alien Hominid on the service to good numbers.
While developers aren’t making money over there either, Apple’s App Store is an infintely better model. Apple could easily say that they will only let 35 games a year through and focus on “quality”, but instead they leverage the wide variety of apps you can get (“there’s an app for that”). If Microsoft did that, you would see greater niche markets instead of the same old remakes of games you’ve already played time and again. You would see the big players have to compete on quality in addition to just brand recognition. But let’s be honest – the only reason Community Games exists is to push the little guys out of the XBLA market. Maybe Sony will leverage the exodus of developers, but I doubt it. Look for these groups to shutter or focus on MTX games, where teams can actually make money on their investment.