Great news--Explosionade is finished and ready for you to play! The bad news--I'm not going to release it till the Xbox Marketplace is less broken. Sorry, but I want the best launch possible, and when the Top Downloads list isn't up to date, it's a crappy time to release a game to Xbox Live Indie Games.
What's Top Downloads?
On the Xbox 360's Dashboard, there are many digital marketplaces from which you can download games. If you go to the Indie Games section you'll see several game lists including New Arrivals and Top Downloads. New Arrivals shows the most recent 20 Xbox Live Indie Games uploaded to the service. As the name implies, Top Downloads shows the 20 games that are currently downloaded most. Think of Top Downloads as "Most Popular".
The Top Downloads list is powered by the sales and trial data compiled by Microsoft from the day prior. So for instance, if today is October 3rd, typically sales data would be available for October 2nd some time in the afternoon. Top Downloads always should reflect gamers choices the day before. That way, if a new game enters the New Arrivals list, then by the next day, if it has lots of gamers checking it out, it will also be in the Top Downloads list.
There are currently over 1,300 games available on the XBL Indie Games channel. Several games are released each day. Often times a game will only spend a few days in the New Arrivals list. If it hasn't garnered enough attention, it will slip off that visual list, and buried in the "Browse All" list where only the most determined gamers will seek it out.
Why Aren't You Releasing Explosionade Yet?
If we released Explosionade today, but the Top Downloads list is not updating properly we will miss a huge chance for more sales.We love making games as a full time business. If we have a bad launch for Explosionade, it will greatly hurt our potential to carry on.
Basically the way the NewArrivals/Top Downloads system works is more adventurous gamers sift through all the releases that enter the New Arrivals list. Some of these games get downloaded by more gamers than others. If a game gets downloaded enough, it will show up in the Top Downloads list. From having data from Weapon of Choice, Shoot 1UP, and from talking to other XBLIG developers it's apparent having a game in the Top Downloads list can get you many more trials than slipping off all easy-to-find lists.
When Top Downloads is stuck, it's true some games are high in the list and get more downloads then. But eventually gamers will recognize the list is stuck (when sometimes data doesn't update for over a week) and gamers begin to ignore the channel more as it's obvious something's broken. Even though some games initially benefit from the list being stuck, eventually all games suffer from lower traffic.
How Do You Know the Top Downloads List Is Broken?
One way is to simply check the Top Downloads list itself on the Xbox each day and see if the Top 20 are identical. That's pretty tedious to do, so if you are an XBLIG developer with a released game, you can simply check your sales data for any of your games and see if it reports data from the day prior. For instance, it's 11pm EST on October 3rd, but sales data for both Weapon of Choice and Shoot 1UP is only up to date till October 1st. The sales data drives the Top Downloads list. If sales data is late, the list is not updating. If you don't have any games released you can follow Mommy's Best Games on twitter or others, or check the XNA forums.
Also, I publicly share sales data for Shoot 1UP from which I hope other developers can glean some marketing strategies and understand the XBLIG marketplace better. I also try to mark every time sales data is late in the Shoot 1UP spreadsheet (over to the right of the date).
|To the right, you can see days data was late, or partial, which translates to a broken Top Downloads list.
What late data means in concrete terms is any games released on October 2nd are getting less potential representation. The following games were released on the 2nd:
Any interest gamers showed for these game is lost until the list updates again.
If we had released Explosionade yesterday, it would be missing potential time in the Top Downloads list and potential sales.
So When Are You Releasing Explosionade?
Sales data has been spotty since September 28th, which means the Top Downloads list has been spotty in terms of reflecting gamers interests. In months past, the Top Downloads list has stayed stuck for days, sometimes over a week.
I really want to release Explosionade, as I publicly announced we could release by October 4th (Monday). It was ready in time for review earlier this weekend, but I've been waiting till Top Downloads is functioning properly.
|Explosionade in all it's alien-stomping glory.
I'm hoping the list will start updating again properly by Monday evening. If it is, I'll put Explosionade into review, and if the game passes review, it will probably be available Thursday morning, October 7th.
Above all, I really love the freedom the Xbox Live Indie Games channel affords developers to make console games. It's a fantastic marketplace that has really come into it's own with stand out titles like I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1, Miner Dig Deep, Breath of Death VII, Protect Me Knight, SoulCaster, Inferno, Decimation X, and many more. I love developing games for the XBLIG when the system works and I want the service to continue. But if Top Downloads keeps getting stuck it's going to eventually impact developers and gamers and the channel will suffer.
The story was covered here on eurogamer.net. Here and around the web, some questions were presented I thought I'd explain in more depth.
"Why don't you just release it after the dashboard is working?"
Currently to submit a game to XBLIG it has to enter peer review. This system has worked very well as over 1,300 games have been submitted with a very low percentage of crashes. But to pass through the review it takes several days. At any given point the dashboard could break--even right when it's out of your hands and shows up freshly on the list. There's no developer control here, it's all up to Microsoft to fix the the broken dashboard.
"Who's to say you'll be in the top list?"
I'm not saying Explosionade will automatically be in the Top Downloads, it's more that the possibility of getting into that list is basically removed completely for our game and anyone else releasing a game when the dashboard is broken. The system breaks down for new releases' potential when Top Downloads is stuck.
"But it only happens every month or two, what's the big deal?"
Any breaking is too often. A digital distribution system lives dies by it's useability and the reflection of current traffic. Look at any good website or marketplace from CNN to YouTube to Gamespot. There is always a section of 'most popular' which needs real-time data to survive and where most people go first. If this most popular section is broken, sites and markets lose traffic. As I mentioned earlier, once the game is released the developer has not control over it. If the list is broken, they will lose traffic and possible sales.