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RIP Xbox Live Indie Games
by Robert Boyd on 10/25/12 02:05:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is what the current Top 20 Sellers list for Xbox Live Indie Games looks like for last week (based on Major Nelson's live activity report -

1. Minecraft Clone
2. Minecraft-visuals Arena Shooter
3. Minecraft Clone
4. Arena shooter
5. Arena shooter
6. Minecraft Clone
7. Platformer Punisher
8. Online Action/RPG with avatars
9. Arena Shooter
10. Arena Shooter with Zombies!
11. Minecraft Clone AND Arena Shooter
12. Arena Shooter
13. Spy Party-esque party game
14. Minecraft-visuals Arena Shooter
15. Minecraft Clone
16. Arena Shooter
17. Minecraft Clone
18. Arena Shooter with Zombies!
19. Wannabe Anime Porn
20. Trials-esque Action game

Of the games that aren't a minecraft clone or an arena shooter (or both!), the only games that came out this year that are on the list are #19 & #20.

That's right, the best selling XBLIG that came out this year and isn't a Minecraft clone or an arena shooter is a game where you oggle half-naked pictures of anime girls.


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It is what it is, my friend.

Scott Tykoski
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The idea of the Indie Marketplace can rest in peace. The reality of it can burn to a toasty crisp ;)

I'm glad a few devs found greater success from it, and hope that there's still a place for Independent development on future consoles, but between consumer perception and content reality, the channel left much to be desired.

John Flush
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Indie is on Steam anyhow. Implement Xbox 360 controls on it and you get the same experience to the gamers without the hassle of dealing with Microsoft. It will eventually be the spot Linux people play as well - and linux people seem to pay for indie type games a lot.

Jeff Murray
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Looks like the Steam Greenlight 'greenlit' list, to me! Just add 'horror' to every second one.

k s
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You don't have to be in the top twenty to do well, with that said it is still sad to see so many picking the same tired theme.

Edit: It should be noted the AAA market isn't really any different, everyone is clone CoD.

Kelly Kleider
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Although, In the AAA market you need to be in the top 5 or better to do well.

Robert Boyd
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I know people like to complain that everything is a CoD clone these days but that's not true. Yes, there are a lot of first-person (and third-person) shooters but at the same time, Call of Duty and Mass Effect and Halo and Bioshock and Resident Evil and Borderlands and Dishonored are all very different series (or games in Dishonored's case) despite the fact that you could classify all of them as shooters if you wanted.

Likewise, I would have no problem if the XBLIG top sellers list was dominated by actual genres like "Creation Sandbox" or "FPS." However, rather than be dominated by genres, it feels like everybody is making a slight variation on the exact same game.

k s
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I should define what I mean by "do well", I mean more then break even.
Oh and Robert out of curiosity how long did it take for Breath of Death VII to hit $40K?

Jon F
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Here’s two other views.

B-eeth Oven
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or this guys :

Heinz Schuller
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I dunno, I think those games sell well because that's what players on XBLIG want. The release of Minecraft on XBLA apparently didn't slow things down at all, there are many more block games moving up the list. If anything XBLIG has been growing over the last year. A number of these devs are doing significant numbers.

I'm not a huge fan of the top 20 pop tunes on the iTunes charts, but I respect the bands that identified a market need and delivered effectively. :)

Simon Ludgate
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I suppose there are two ways of spinning it:

There is ONLY a demand for crap (which assumes that only the top 20 games sell well)
There is SO MUCH of a demand for crap (which assumes that more than the top 20 games sell well)

Sadly, I don't know how far down the list you go before games are no longer profitable, so I don't know which of these two statements are true. But I suspect the latter, and I suppose that it's not entirely a bad thing for so many different games, however crappy they may be, to be selling well that the few gems seem "lost" or "mired" in the charts.

Robert Boyd
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We have one of the Top 100 Best Selling XBLIGs of all time (Breath of Death VII) and we've only made about $40k from it (after Microsoft's take). Unless you're near the very top of the charts & stay there, you're unlikely to be able to support a single developer, much less a team just on XBLIG.

Jane Castle
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Yikes! Only 40K???? I hope you made much more than that on Steam.... If that is all you made and you are in the top 100, then XBLIG isn't even worth writing this article about it. :)

Simon Ludgate
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How much are those top games making? Is there a possibility they're only taking in $40k too? Maybe XBLIG is unlikely to support teams at any ranking?

Robert Boyd
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I believe the best selling game on XBLIG broke 1 million dollars a few months ago. So there's decent money to be made but only for the most popular games.

Benjamin Quintero
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It might also be worth nothing that the best selling game was a Minecraft clone... soo... there's that... ;)

Roger Tober
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You are dealing with a much younger audience than Steam or even the casual PC market, so that's what you end up with.

Cordero W
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Hey, my indie game will be up on there next month. It may be in the top 20. lol

Keep an eye out for "Fat."

Eric McVinney
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Jack Garbuz
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Anybody here remember the 1983 game called "Lode Runner" by a company called Brøderbund for the old Apple II?

Laura Stewart
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Still my favorite computer game. :)

Brian Schmidt
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I played that to death on my old 128k Mac. non-stop.

Chuck Bartholomew
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nathan vella
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Small note (and breaking my "never ever ever comment on gamasutra rule") Hidden In Plain Sight is amazingly fun, and calling it both "spy party-esque" and "a party game" is more than a little misleading/unfair to the developer.

Nick Harris
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Games like Elite are under-represented. Looking around YouTube at various indie PC projects has convinced me that this long neglected genre may be coming back into fashion. Minecraft's creator Notch is working on one such game himself:

There are similarities here to FTL:

Of course, Elite made you earn money through inter-galactic trading to pay for equipment upgrades:

Some lone developers have achieved miracles with modern graphics cards and procedural generation:

So this genre suits under resourced indies because they lack the need to include people (whether that is a motion captured 3D model or the running cycle of some 2D pixel art character), objects can be forged from a few pre-fabricated common shapes (kitbashing) and automatically placed within a procedurally generated terrain according to some repeatable heuristic algorithm:

The same techniques can be applied to all the wilderness you may need to fill between places that you can actually trade in:

Ultimately, the potential exists for the 360 to have a game that encompasses both EVE Online and Dust 514 (rendering conflicts similar in scope to Battle Engine Aquila so that animating the infantry didn't require an expensive motion capture studio), yet with the ability for space captains to roam around their ships fixing damaged equipment, installing newly purchased mining lasers, using telepresence to remotely control robots to dig for rare minerals...

Aaargh! Minecraft again...

Jason Wilson
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Don't blame the developers for making what people want to buy. If you're game isn't selling well it is because nobody that's heard of it wants to buy it.

Robert Boyd
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The problem is that this isn't sustainable.

Developers interested in other types of games see that Minecraft clones are the only things that sell on XBLIG so they stop making games for the platform.
Developers who just want to make a quick buck make additional Minecraft clones thus making it more difficult for everyone who is making a Minecraft clone to make money.
Customers who aren't interested in Minecraft clones stop checking XBLIG to see if there's anything that interests them.
Eventually, even the customers who like Minecraft clones will get tired of them at which point, no one is making any money on the platform and everyone has given up on the platform.

Matt Robb
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Only alternative is to curate it. Last I checked, Indies hate that.

james sadler
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To me it comes down to one thing really; supply and demand. People want Minecraft and Arena Shooter games so people make those games. Sure people make a whole range of games but that's not what the players are buying. Its one of those things where its not the platform's fault, but the culture of the players and developers. How many Angry Bird clones are on iOS and Android devices? I know I'll get flack for it, but this is one of the things you get with open platforms. Closed or curated platforms limit the amount of cloning that happens on the platform. People are also getting tired of the horror games popping up on greenlight, but it seems like that is what the audience and steam wants so more the power to them. Its a genre that needs some evolution anyway. I don't think any greenlight games have hit the storefront yet so heaven knows how well they'll even do when on there.

Personally I've never cared for XBLIG anyway. They haven't exactly made it easy to find content and their pricing model has always confused me. It was a good start to indie development, but being as it hasn't really evolved in the last couple of years I can see it becoming a bigger wasteland of clones and shovelware. We'll have to see what the next gen offers.

B-eeth Oven
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Robert, if you're complaining about "I don't make enough money off of XBLIGs", then get off the platform.

Let me tell you that if my game made 40k, I'd be ecstatic. This is not the platform for you. You NEED larger games, you NEED to make bigger games, YOU NEED big-budget games to sustain your lifestyle.

Don't blame the system if you didn't make "as much money as you wanted". Don't blame the system if the systems USERS are downloading things YOU DON'T LIKE. You can't force the users to download what YOU want, and the system isn't a failure if YOU'RE not making money off of it.

The system works, because you can publish things to it, ages 8 to 88. I hate the thought that people think that they're "NOT ALLOWED" to put anything on a system if it doesn't make money, therefore stifling their originality or creativity.

UBISOFT has this same mentality, they cry because "we need a new system to try something original! The only reason they think that is because when a system comes out, not many games are available and thats the ONLY WAY they'll be sure to make money on a "risky" title, if theres only 6 titles out. But games like REZ will break those conventions, on an existing system, AND Make MONEY! It's a flawed reason to not be creative, that the "top 20 games by revenue are clones, so theres no room for originality."

PUT WHATEVER YOU WANT ON IT! What does it matter if it makes money or not?!?!!?

If money is your #1 reason why XBLIGs "fails" then you need to re-evaluate your criteria.

This BLOG POST is merely you venting that you haven't seen immediate success on XBLIGs. Fine. Be happy that you sold a crap-ton on Steam. Now stop dissing XBLIGs. Move on. Let others take a step forward into that platform.


(note anybody reading this : You do KNOW that the guy writing this released : Breath of Death VII, Chuthulu Saves the World, and THEN Penny Arcade (crappy) Game 3.

I DON'T LIKE that you're using your "power" on places like Gamasutra and elsewhere to futher your own self-interests or your biases. Your article comes way too high up on a google search for you to be taking a stand like this without ANY VALID REASON for calling the system dead.

Robert Boyd
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You're misunderstanding me. When I said that BoDVII only made $40k, I wasn't doing it to complain that we weren't making enough money from it. $40k for a game that took 6 part-time months of labor (3 months x 2 people) is a nice amount, especially considering it was our first major project. I was using it to refute the idea that a lot of XBLIGs were making good money. Some of the fad games are making a lot of money and a few others besides, but after that, there's not much in the way of success.

We do make the majority of our money these days from Steam. The reason we continue to release games on XBLIG is because it's relatively easy (our engine started out being for XBLIG after all) and because we still have fans who prefer to play games on the 360. And hey, if we can get a nice bonus from a few extra weeks of playtesting AND please some fans, why not?

I don't work for Penny Arcade; I work with them. They didn't pay us to make Rain-Slick 3; we pay them for the rights to use the license. My opinions are not those of PA.

And as someone who has been releasing games on the service since 2009, I have as much right to complain about the state of things as anyone else. The service had so much potential and yet I've seen it jump from fad to fad. Zombie dual-stick shooters, massage games, avatar games, and now Minecraft clones. I had hoped XBLIG would usher a new age of creativity in indie development and yet I've seen countless developers have their spirits crushed by it. I've seen countless developers spend months or even years on high quality creative projects and then struggle to sell more than a few hundred copies. We're one of the lucky ones in that we were able to use our experience on XBLIG to find success elsewhere. Most are not so lucky.

Heinz Schuller
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But... why would any developer "spend months or even years" on an XBLIG project without first vetting the channel thoroughly to understand the market metrics? Who goes into a market blindly believing any concept they have will sell, without first researching the answer?

This is a value market, and the best XBLIG developers are investing smartly and delivering value for 80/240 MSP. To summarily dismiss the majority of the top 20 as mindless clones seems in contrast with the fact they are attracting customers (and in the case of the #1 game to the tune of over a million units).

Benjamin Quintero
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@Heinz I think you are reenforcing the point that no one wants to take risks on this market because clearly the only thing that sells is Minecraft clones and the equivalent of Bishōjo games.

Matt Robb
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To my mind, if you're pouring your heart into your highly creative work, the creation of the work is the point, and making money is a perk. If you're approaching it as a business project, then you analyze and work towards the market to make money. If you get to flex your creativity int he process, it's a perk.

Compare it to the music industry. You have a ton of creative people that just don't appeal to the market that scrape by or play music on the side for fun. You have a ton of clones manufactured by the labels to make bank. You have very few people who are both artistically driven and money-makers.

Lance McKee
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@Robert, I'm sorry to be a jerk, especially considering I've always admired you and your team and the games you've created, but what the hell are you talking about? You were hoping that XBLIG would usher in a new age of creativity? Is that really how you view your retro-style RPG's? The only difference between those and all these zombie games that I can see is that there are a lot more people buying the zombie ones. Personally I like the retro RPG's and don't care for the zombie games all that much. Still, after playing "I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1" I found myself paying the dollar for it just to support someone with that level of creativity. I had never seen a game like that and I thought it was very well done. After playing the demo of "Breath of Death VII" I found myself wanting to play Dragon Warrior, which is what I did because I already own that game.

Obviously you have the right to complain about things, but give a little freaking credit where it's due. These other developers are trying to create great games just like you are trying to create great games, and just like you they're drawing a lot of inspiration from existing games. The games they made have a very high demand. The games you made have less of a demand. How exactly does that lead you to the conclusion that they are killing the XBLIG system while people like you were nobly trying to steer it in some creative new direction?

Nick Harris
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I'm trying to remember if the XBLIG Marketplace has 'Staff Picks' like Apple's App Store for the Mac.

I don't think it does. Perhaps it needs one.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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They seem to go out of their way to make it harder and harder to navigate with each dashboard update. I have a feeling that because of the lack of QC on it, Microsoft just views it as crap product.

Benjamin Quintero
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It doesn't help that developers are more likely to be bitten by a shark than receive proper assistance from developer support. 2 months now.. still waiting for a reply. It is very much every man for himself or venture into the forums to suffer the wrath of the god-complex administrators.

I think the inability to cultivate old games/franchises/ideas by bubbling up recently updated games plays a big role into these issues. Why update your 1 game as it builds a following when you can just copy that source folder, mod some UI elements, and ship a "new" game and make a couple hundred dollars while it trickles down the New Releases list. We've always known the system has never worked, but clearly all of our words have fallen on deaf ears over these past years.

I do wish an article like this would rattle some cages but it probably only serves to give the people in power a good chuckle before they file it away for the next time they need a good laugh. =(

The only thing that is giving me ANY hope for XNA right now is Mono and MonoGame. If that project finds a way to build real momentum then it could breathe life into a dwindling framework. I feel like XBLIG was THE motivation to bother with XNA but if M$ will not take measures to support it (and continue to support a phone market they have no chance of winning) then MonoGame is the only one still holding the torch for cross-platform XNA gaming.

Michael O'Hair
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I think this warrants a closer look into what indie developers WANT to create,
and I'm guessing what they want to create is every single game they've ALREADY PLAYED BEFORE.

Not a good look.

We get it; you spent your youth dreaming of tweaking this and that in Super Mario Bros. or building levels for Game X or dreaming up ideas for your magnum opus that would gain you renown on the level of those who created the games you enjoyed when you were too young to know that entertainment was a business. You've made it. You've got the chance to built the things you dreamed of for decades...

But therein lies the problem: there's a million of you now, and you're all trying to do the same thing. And when that doesn't work, you all try to ride the same wave hoping it will lead you to the mythical golden shores.

Minecraft selling well? You and your team can do it better. Probably.
You loved Contra... how about building your own Contra? But with a slightly different name. But basically the same game.
The players DEMAND a Grand Theft Auto/SimTower/Worms clone, and it's up to you and your team to SUPPLY one.
Hey... at the very least you'll make a buck...

Kevin Fishburne
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It reminds me of the '83 crash, though this time it's supervised by Google, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. I think when an indie studio dies (like dude can't pay his electricity bill), they just tilt their head like Jason; curious but unaffected. Their servers probably do something automatically, like re-sort a database record or check if recent financial transactions have cleared for the account.

But yeah, everyone's doing it now and obviously there's a lot of crap. No program's actually crap, but by modern gamer standards many aren't tolerated or even first seen. It's disturbing, but I understand it.

Thomas Steinke
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Robert, it is fairly insulting to literally degrade every game that has sold well on the platform. What it does illustrate is how little you understand about this marketplace. Being responsible for 5 of these games, I really take this personally. There are a lot of Minecraft like games on Xbox, few have sold well. The ones that have, have all brought something unique to the table and are hardly "clones". The same for the "Arena Shooters".

If you would like me to explain EXACTLY why each of the games on the list is there I can do it for you. By now I can look at a box cover and tell exactly how much money an XBLIG will make. I have a great respect for all the developers on this system and make a habit of not degrading them, despite their success or lack there of.

As far as XBLIG not being sustainable or a viable platform. The best selling game on the system, my "CastleMiner Z", did not sell 1 Million dollars it sold 1 Million UNITS, most sales were at $3, the original CastleMiner has made about $1M alone. Almost all of my games have made over $100k. Avatar Laser Wars 2 has made that since August. XBLIG is not only more than enough to support me but a full time development team of 5 people.

Also by having so many titles simultaneously on the system I can tell you that the amount of XBLIG users in increasing not decreasing. Which isn't surprising since the quality and production value of game there has greatly increased over the year. It is now fairly expensive to make a game that makes top 10. For example notice that there are very few 2D game on the list at all anymore. You may not like what XBLIG users are demanding but they are demanding it in higher fidelity than before.

Evan Campbell
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Dude I am only bummed because this article is super unfair to Hidden in Plain Sight. It's good to publicly complain about XLIG because hopefully Microsoft or someone with enough power to make an effective change will eventually try and make it better...but you have thrown Hidden in Plain Sight, an awesome couch co-op game that is indeed like spy party, under the bus to make your point. How many games are like Spy Party? Your energy would be better spent pointing out what dudes like Adam Spragg have to contend with ...and I understand that is kind of what your doing...but you have shot one of your own in the process.

Lance McKee
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Robert, if you're still reading the comments on this page do you think you could explain what makes the differences between CoD, Halo, etc. more significant than the differences between these Minecraft "clones". Or what makes these "clones" not a genre? In case it's not coming across, I really am meaning this sincerely. I haven't played much of CoD or Halo and I haven't played much of any of the Minecraft style games, and to me there doesn't seem to be much difference between how the games in group A relate to each other and how the games in group B relate to each other.

As for the overall tone of this article I've got to admit it seems a bit hypocritical to me. You seem to suggest that XBLIG is dead because most of the games in the top 20 are slight variations of an existing game. A year or two ago I came across a game called "Breath of Death VII" and thought, "Hey, that looks like Dragon Quest. I like Dragon Quest. I think I'll try this game." After playing the demo I found myself thinking, "Yeah, this game looks and plays almost exactly like Dragon Quest."

I personally don't see the appeal of any of these games that are in the top 20 list, but clearly there are many people that are enjoying them. Doesn't that pretty much make them good games rather than "crap" as some of you have suggested? Seems to me that taking a game that people really enjoy, like Minecraft or that other game that Minecraft mimicked, or Dragon Quest, and creating a new experience for people to enjoy is not really the worst idea in the world.