Ron Carmel, co-creator of the indie hit World of Goo offers up some grim statistics regarding Xbox Live Arcade developers.
According to his blog, nearly half of the hundred-or-so indie developers Carmel questioned described working with Microsoft as “excruciating.” Not just “difficult,” you understand. “Excruciating,” a word typically used to describe a shattered knee-cap, or particularly long episodes of Songs of Praise. Considering that “ease of working with the platform owner” was voted the most important factor in terms of platform choice by the same respondents, that doesn’t bode well. Carmel suggests that Microsoft’s notoriously non-developer-friendly policies are the reason indie developers are defecting to competing services such as PSN, Steam and the iTunes App store, and that this loss of talent is weakening the service.
The developers who responded to Carmel’s census are only responsible for 33 of XBLA’s 400-plus games, but Carmel argues that they represent the cream of the crop. The developers surveyed are responsible for three of the top five highest rated XBLA titles, 76% of their games have a Metascore of 75 or higher compared to only 31% of the non-polled developers’ games, and, on average, games from these developers sell around 4.6 times as well as their non-polled counterparts. Yet, despite their success on the platform, Microsoft is losing these developers to PSN, as demonstrated by the very exciting graph in the top right there, which shows how many of the polled developers are developing games for each platform.
Carmel goes onto highlight the issues he believes are driving these developers away. He called Microsoft’s boilerplate distribution contract for XBLA the “most exploitative, one-sided distribution contract [he’]s seen,” and points out that “we [the developers] each waste months of our time and Microsoft’s time negotiating the same stuff out of the contract, over, and over again.” He then blasts Microsoft’s Technical Certification Requirements, arguing that they make releasing, often vital, game updates difficult and time consuming. He also argues that the current Xbox Live layout does not make it readily apparent where users can buy the games in question.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Carmel notes that XBLA played a pivotal role in the popularization of independent games and that, with a few adjustments to the XBLA development process, namely more automation, removal of the content certification process and dropping ESRB certification in favor of a self-administered rating system – bringing XBLA more in line with the iTunes App store – could breathe new life into Microsoft’s indie library.