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Exclusive: XNA Community Games Sales Figures Revealed
Exclusive: XNA Community Games Sales Figures Revealed Exclusive
March 31, 2009 | By Ryan Langley, Chris Remo

March 31, 2009 | By Ryan Langley, Chris Remo
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    16 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Exclusive



[UPDATE: Sister site GamerBytes has added some more stats as revealed by developers, including impressive numbers (9,153 sales and $31,000 in revenue) for perenially popular XNA casual game Word Soup and less impressive sales for some other titles, plus daily and first-day numbers for a variety of games.]

After changes to Microsoft's policy and tools, creators of XNA Community Games on Xbox Live Marketplace now have access to download metrics, including sales data, number of trial downloads, and regional breakdowns -- and Gamasutra has exclusively obtained game-specific sales data for a number of titles.

Many developers have openly discussed their sales, including Insomniac Games veteran Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games, whose debut title Weapon of Choice failed to clear the 10,000-sale threshold that Fouts said he would need to finance Mommy's Best full-time.

Several other developers have been in contact with Gamasutra sister site GamerBytes, and have graciously allowed us to publish their own totals.

Below is data for 24 different games, including conversion rates and total developer revenue. Some of the data is incomplete, but all attempts at accuracy have been made.

Earnings are based on a 70 percent royalty rate; Microsoft recent stated it has rescinded a previous sliding scale component of the contract that reduced royalties when games are promoted directly by Microsoft.

(NOTE: An asterisk in the below chart denotes developer-provided estimates, rather than precise numbers.)

xnasalesmar09.png


From the statistics, it is clear that XNA Community Games have not gotten off to the best of starts. After nearly six months of being available, most games have seen marginal sales, and the number of trials downloaded per game is still very small compared to that of Xbox Live Arcade games.

In 2007, Microsoft said the demo-to-purchase conversion rate for Xbox Live Arcade titles was 17 percent. While this conversion rate has likely dropped since, the expanded userbase of the Xbox 360 has made up for the change. The average for Community Games is clearly much lower, with few games breaking out of the single digits. In particular, our data's seven Community Games selling for 400 Microsoft points ($5) saw very low rates. Games like Blow, Exhaust, and Snake360 all had a large amount of content. But as with the iPhone app store, it seems few consumers are willing to spend $5 on a quality product, even when Xbox Live Arcade trends towards relatively higher price points.

While many of the 200-point ($2.50) titles have had similar conversion rates, there have been some breakout hits. Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp, Groov, and ZP2K9 have each totaled up at least $4,000 in developer revenue alongside double-digit conversion rates, with Johnny Platform being our data's top seller.

A common factor among those games is marketing through other mediums. Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp and Groov were discussed on the popular Rebel FM and Listen UP podcasts, which spread the word of mouth for the game. Groov developer Julian Kantor told Gamasutra that after the podcast plugs the game rose from 93 sales in a week to 157 sales in a week. In March, Groov achieved an conversion rate of 37.8 percent after being discussed on both podcasts again and promoted in magazine OXM UK.

Solar, which has totaled nearly 1,500 sales, has advertised in a way that no other Community Game has: using Flash. The developer created an altered version of the game and released it through Flash portal Newgrounds. There have been over 11,000 views of the version, which encourages users to buy the game on Xbox Live Marketplace.

ZP2K9, created by Ska Studios, sold over 3,000 despite being an online multiplayer shooter -- a tough genre for XNA titles, which do not support leaderboards or notification of friends who own the game.

Still, success is highly relative. Specific figures for Weapon Of Choice are not available, but while its sub-10,000 sales still likely exceeded most of the titles collected in our data (and likely exceeded the overwhelming majority of Community Games), it fell considerably short of developer Fouts' goal of being able to both recoup his expenses and fund an upcoming game, rather than simply being able to make some spare income alongside a separate job.

According to a Microsoft statement made during GDC, "Several Community Games top sellers will be taking home more income from four months of sales than the average U.S. citizen earns in a full year" (about $32,000). Fouts notes that he is one of those "several," and infers that the average income must be much lower. Furthermore, he implies that that figure refers to total game revenue, including the cut Microsoft takes as distributor, and not the developer's own take. It also reflects per-game revenue, and not per-developer revenue; obviously, teams with more than one person would split the take, and external contractors such as those Fouts employed during production also must be factored in.

In an interview with Gamasutra, XNA general manager Boyd Multerer said Microsoft is "happy with the attention that Community Games have been getting."

Of the service, he added, "There are clearly some games that are doing pretty well, and as expected there are a lot of games that are not as strong as the others, and that's how we expected it to go. People are still learning their way around the Dashboard, so the Arcade games and the big professional games -- those will always continue to get the most support."

The developer of some other high-interest titles have decided to not openly discuss their sales, including those of Colosseum, Biology Battle, RC-AirSim, CarneyVale Showtime, Easy Golf, Fireplace, and Miner Dig Deep, which were most likely in the upper threshold of sales. We have learned that Biology Battle's developers will be issuing a press release by the end of the week.

Over the coming days, Gamasutra and GamerBytes will discuss other sale statistics for XNA Community Games, including average sales per day and peak sales times. We will also be analyzing what the developers of XNA Community Games need to do in order to increase their sales, and what Microsoft must do to raise the service's profile.


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Comments


zed zeek
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Wow those are some unbelievably bad numbers, even if you multiplied each figure by 10 they'ld still be terrible.

The most glaring statistic though is $2.50 sells much better than $5.00

3 of the 5 worse grossing games come it at the higher pricepoint.



It begs the obvious, perhaps its worthwhile trialing $1.00 or even 99c games

This could kickstart the market, which is in dire need of something

Brighton gardiner
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Microsoft really needs a better way to present these games.

I rarely check the Community Games section on the 360, and even then I don't even play the trials.

I find the trial time to be too short and I don't like downloading the game to the HDD. Some sort of streaming trial or preview with instant deletion after the trial is up would help.



Its also seemingly obscure which titles become the most popular or highest rated.

They need to make the statistics public and let the Gamer vote on the games.



We are still in the period of stupid crap being published via XNA. Eventually there will be some fantastic Indie stuff in the channel, but those titles could easily overlooked in the sea of gimmicky garbage.

Adam Bishop
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As an Community Games developer myself, and as someone who has been following the development of the platform, I don't entirely understand why people are so surprised at the sales figures. I think the low conversion rates are probably based primarily on the fact that people who tried these games just didn't think they were that much fun. On the XBLCG forums there seems to be widespread agreement amongst developers that the vast majority of the games are of a low quality. That's not a problem with XBLCG as a program or a platform, it's a problem with developers.



I think a lot of people wrongly assumed that simply because their game was inexpensive that people would be willing to buy it even if it wasn't that great. I find that reasoning somewhat strange - regardless of price, people aren't going to buy something if they don't think it's enjoyable. Like it or not, Community Games are in direct competition for people's time with every other game out there, not to mention other forms of media. Why should people pay money for these games if they simply aren't as enjoyable as other things that gamers could be doing with their time?



I view XBLCG as a console version of flash games, essentially. How many flash games bring in big dollars? A very tiny percentage of all the ones ever released. If you said you planned on releasing one or two flash games a year, produced by only one or two people, and you thought you could make a living doing that, most people would look at you like you're crazy. I don't see why XBLCG would be any different. Give the platform time to develop, and what you'll see are a few games doing extremely well, a few more games doing all right, and a lot of games that people just don't find interesting. So I really don't find the sales figures at all surprising.

Ted Brown
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Wow. While this deserves a detailed qualitative analysis (genre, difficulty, etc.), IMO the art was pretty underwhelming for many of these games. That seems like less of a problem when compared against the huge variety of games available on a PC (esp. online flash games), but when you try to stack up these admirable efforts against a polished presentation on XBLA or on disc... well, I have to wonder if people expect more on this platform, and that is reflected in the poor sales.



0.02 deposited. Many thanks to the developers brave enough to strike out on their own and share this data with us.

Z Z
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When the Xbox dashboard and things on it are all of such high quality it comes as a bit of a shock when someone does actually click on the "community games" section, and they find out those games actually cost money. Bottom line is they're just way too low quality to warrant a purchase, even if it is cheap. When I first click on that section and saw how bad the quality of them was I really thought they were free games, and the second I found out otherwise I left that section and haven't returned to it since. I think they should make the majority of them free and charge for the higher quality ones. The free ones will bring people into the section so that they can actually see the higher quality ones, or MS just needs to only accept the high quality ones to be put up there.

Matt Lindquist
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Bishop, I don't think the issue is that people are surprised that bad games aren't selling well. Rather I think the issue is that a game like Weapon of Choice can't break a profit. If good games don't sell then you have a problem where good game developers avoid the service, creating a lack of good games on it. At the same time, bad games continue to flood in because even if they don't sell much odds are the creator didn't spend that much time on it and isn't expecting much from it. So even if they only sell a few copies it can be worthwhile for them. Consider that something like Fireplace is probably amongst the top tier of sellers, despite not being worth--really--anything. Success stories like that will only serve to encourage lazy developers and discourage the good ones.



What the above situation creates is a self-perpetuating loop where the service gets flooded with worse and worse games, while the good developers look elsewhere.



Clearly this is a problem for Microsoft and Community Games. Maybe it isn't surprising, but it IS a problem. What Microsoft needs to do is put more tools into the hands of gamers to rate Community games. They then need to promote the highest rated titles and sink the lowest rated ones. They should also allow gamers to do things like comment on games and leave user reviews and other such community driven features.



These sorts of features allow them to sort stuff by quality as opposed to simply what is the most popular download. And by making it community driven they don't have to do the work of figuring out what is good themselves. Gamers will do it for them.

Eric Carr
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Hmm, I'm a little surprised by the numbers personally, but I was more surpised by the quality of the games on the service, or rather the lack thereof. Getting it running the first time I was stunned by how bad many of the games were - all rough and no diamonds.

Then again it's difficult to tell with the policies in place. My biggest issue is that stupid 4 minute trial period. You simply cannot get into a game and draw conclusions about the true quality from a tiny 4 minute demo. I think that the low conversion rates compared to Live Arcade are a direct response to that. Even if the game is good, or has good mechanics you can't tell. Weapon of Choice suffered for that I think. Between cinematics and all that you were left with even less than 4 minutes to decide.

To illustrate: Would Braid have sold so well if it was hobbled by a 4 minute demo?

Adam Bishop
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A number of issues have been raised here which have been discussed within the XBLCG community, so maybe I can clear up a bit here. We've been told that Microsoft is well aware of the desire for some sort of way for users to rate games, which presumably means that they're going to implement that kind of feature in a future update. The 4 minute trial has been upped to 8 minutes. Maybe still not enough in all cases, but as a general rule I think 8 minutes is plenty of time to decide for pretty much any of the games I've tried on the service. The impression we've gotten as well is that "low quality" games are not going to be blocked from the service. The peer review that must occur before games can released onto the surface is for technical defects only, and it seems very unlikely that something as ambiguous as "quality" will be added into the review process. It also seems incredibly unlikely that free games will be allowed, for a variety of reasons. That being said, a number of the games are practically free anyway. The entire main mode of Groov is completable in under the 8 minute time limit, yet it still has a high conversion rate. That says to me that if people think a game is good enough they'll pay for it regardless.

Joshua McDonald
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I'm very much with Eric on the trial thing.



The problem is the whole "one-size-fits-all" theory behind the trial. On a game like Groov, you know exactly what you're getting after playing a trial. On the other hand, if you had a deep RPG with a brilliant system of leveling up or gearing your character, these things may not even be noticed during the initial trial, and everybody would miss what you considered to be one of your game's strongest points.



I can see MS having concerns about people who basically release their whole game as a trial to get around the "no free games" thing, but at the same time, the trial stifles innovation by blocking anything with a bit of learning curve or any kind of introduction from having a decent demo.



Simply put, those of us who are spending our nights and weekends chasing a dream care a heck of a lot more about our game's success than Microsoft does. Let us set the terms of the trial.

Mike Lopez
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I agree with Brighton and Matt that XBLCG (and even XBLA for that matter) needs user ratings and reviews and the default view should auto-sort them based on ratings. The reality is that there is too much junk even in XBLA and most consumers would naturally suspect that there would be even more junk on XBLCG (and rightly so). This is the same quality differentiation problem of the App store for the iPhone (which has ratings and reviews but no way to sort the info or view a Top Quality list).



Until the user can quickly find the quality games there is no use randomly browsing and experimenting with XBLCG in my opinion. I downloaded 6 or 8 XBLCG trials and instantly deleted all of them after a few minutes of play because they were all really bad at any price point. I later ended up buying CarneYvale without even playing the trial simply because of the external Gamasutra coverage and because they were a top winner of the XBLCG competition (that is $5 well spent by the way, but nothing I would have ever found without an external review/reference).

Adam Bishop
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I understand the fact that it's difficult for people to tell what is or isn't good on XBLCG at the moment, largely because most of what's there simply isn't very good, but I'm not really sure whether user ratings are actually going to fix the problem. What reason do we have to believe that the kinds of things people often complain about (massage games, screensavers, etc.) won't be the top-rated games? Obviously there are plenty of people who like them, if they're willing to pay for them. I'm also worried that we could see sabotage of otherwise good games because of childish Internet campaigns or just general bitterness, as has been the case on Metacritic. Let's say someone releases a game that's has a political message; what's to stop people from rating it poorly because they don't like the political message, or they don't want to see political games at all? I remain very skeptical that a user ratings system is actually going to make good games more visible.

Amir Sharar
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I've been eying XBCG games for a while now (I've played nearly every single XBCG game...the good, bad and ugly), and I think I may jump in and give it a shot now, as a result of these numbers. There is a fundamental issue that I think is a major issue that MS has to address, but I'll end this post with that point.



What has to be realized is that firstly, quality sells even on this platform. Secondly, the scope of a $2.50 or $5.00 game should be reduced to a simple gameplay mechanic that is fun, and then polished. This means a game's development time should be 2-3 months, rather than 6+ months. And finally, it could be seen as a jumping platform so that you could build a portfolio to entice investors or publishers to help fund future projects that could appear on other platforms (whether it is XBLA, PSN, or the iPhone).



There are some opportunities that have yet to be availed. One of which is advertising the developer's website in the game for game update news and future game news. Another is advertising of previously released games in new games. With websites covering XNA games, developers should be more open to sending preview code to these sites to build some hype.



Those are issues developers have to address, there are some that MS would have to address, but I have to mention, I think they are doing some things right despite many people complaining about them...



To me, there is nothing wrong with the 8 minute trial period, it is an ample amount of time to understand the game's mechanics and appeal. The original 4 minute limit was extremely short, but 8 minutes is a good amount.



Secondly a rating system will be essentially based on people's opinions that are biased towards genres and tastes, may result in certain genres and games suffering unfairly. All this on top of the fact that people are judging a demo rather than a full game. If you restricted ratings to those who purchased the game, ratings may become too positive. I have a solution but will mention it later so that this post is a bit more structured.



Before I get into possible improvements, it has to be mentioned that a Community of Indie developers, and Indie game fans have established a network of sites that preview, review, and rank new XBCG games. xblaratings.com, xnplay.co.uk, gamerbytes.com (sister site of Gamasutra), and xnaroundup.blogspot.com have done a very good job of covering the service and have come out with frequent "must buy" lists for those interested. This is an essential first step in building a community.



I think the best analogy fitting for XBCG and Indie games in general is comparing this back to the days when a DJ would have to scope out records at a record store. There are hundreds of tracks out there and you had a few alternatives when it came to picking up good stuff. You could listen to every single track, making sure you aren't missing a gem...and only the enthusiasts have the time to do that (I'll admit, I've played nearly every single XBCG game). Or you could ask your friends (who have the same passion) for their advice (I'd liken this to checking out the websites I mentioned earlier). Or you could look at the top selling records in that record store for each genre. Keywords: "each genre".



So I think the next step MS should take is to bring back the "Most Popular" tab but make it so that it lists genres in a graphical format. When you click on those, you are then taken to a list of most popular games in that genre. This ranks games based on sales, which of course isn't always the best indicator of quality, but when it is sorted by genre, I feel that games will be better represented. "Apps" like Fireplace or Rumble Massage would be tucked away in the "Application/Other" Top 10 and games like Zoomaroom and Biscuit Romp would be highly featured on the "Platformer" Top 10.



The key here is visibility, and lists based on genres allow for this.



In combination with that, you could also have expert opinion reflected in the games list by marking games as "Recommended by XNPlay", and "Recommended by XNARoundup". Considering that XBCG is an infrastructure that is peer-reviewed, having these sorts of labels applied to games isn't something that is out of line, as these labels are originating from the wider community of enthusiasts.



I mentioned that MS has a fundamental issue they have to deal with earlier, and that issue is the fact that not many people know about the Community Games channel. I have around 25 friends who own 360s, and when I tell them I'm beginning to work on an XBCG title, every single one of them save one person knew what I was talking about. There are still around 5 guys who have yet to update their console, and the rest simply haven't checked out the Games Marketplace. In Canada, XBCG was featured in the "Spotlight" section...so in some ways I can't blame MS. If people were more aware, the trial numbers could jump up by a factor of 5-10.



Apple has done a great job of advertising the App Store, to the point where my 360 owning friends are well aware of that despite many of them not owning an iPhone or iPod Touch. Perhaps MS is not confident in the product enough to spend some money advertising it, which is understandable, and this is something that could change when more quality games hit the service.



There was a point where it was hard to pick 5 titles to recommend to people, and now if you made a list of only 15 titles, you'd be leaving out some gems...so the quality is definitely increasing at a brisk pace.

Jamie Mann
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I love XBCG: it's an interesting arena for experimentation and I've bought several titles from it - including Weapon of Choice. However, the quality is highly variable: some games would sit happily on XBLA while others could be classed as proof-of-concept, with crude graphics and unbalanced gameplay. There's also too many new releases coming onto the system and the good games are getting lost in the crush.



The second issue, as others have noted, is that the X360 menu system does not offer a good way to search through games. There's no rating system, no recommendations and limited exposure from the front-end. It's therefore not too surprising that the games above have an average of 15'000 downloads apiece - peanuts when you consider the size of the XBL community.



Personally, I'd recommend the following:

1) Tighter qualification rules for software to be loaded onto XBCG - this will probably make it harder for experimental titles to appear, but should reduce the "shovelware". There's enough games available now to avoid the vicious circle of limited supply impacting demand impacting supply...

2) Pricing tiers based on rating: introduce a 100 MSP level and only allow this to be exceeded for games with higher ratings. This is effectively all about impulse buys and Apple's App Store has shown that low pricing is definitely the way to go.

3) An update to the Xbox system to permit users to provide feedback on games - and maybe some form of data-scraping to identify "Players of this game also liked". Microsoft has the data: assuming the T&C's allow it, they should be making use of it!

Bob McIntyre
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This is some really interesting data. I'd love to see more stats and analysis. Ultimately, this is just a starter step...MS has used the "YouTube of games" expression in the past, but I think that plugging in a keyboard and being able to type search terms into a little box (like the actual YouTube!) would make games so much easier to find. I feel like users aren't going to open up Menu X if the contents of that menu are not reliably fun. And when I say "reliably," I mean that it's fun 99% of the time, so that when they see that menu, their Pavlovian response is "open that menu for some fun games!"

Chad Wagner
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How about a ranking system based on how much a game is being played. They certainly have access to information like that (seeing as how you have to be connected, and subscribed to play them). Or conversion rate cleverly scaled by play time. Then you could see what games keep people hooked. I suppose this would unfairly slant against high quality games with little replayability.

Steve Watkins
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I appreciate the developers who are sharing the DL/Conversion/Revenue/Etc. data - Thank You.



The basic problems have all been discussed, but I still don't see a really good answer for an effective and fair ranking/rating system - and I agree it's critical to have one, given the high amount of Shovelware (Tip: If you can't do a clone of the snake/apple/maze idea that isn't even as good as a 25 year old Apple II game (Snake Byte) - DONT DO IT - you only hurt the community. This tip applies to all clones). Most of the games just lack polish and/or are deficient in the control scheme implemented.



I don't have an all-around winner idea for a ranking/rating system at this point, because M$FT controls all the cards and whatever system is implemented will be entirely their doing.



Thanks to those bashing the idiotic 4 minute time trial so that it was changed to 8 minutes. That's much better, though I still think time trials suck for many game genres.



One idea I haven't seen is this: M$FT should implement a simple menu system that would allow each user to choose what content is displayed - it would cut down on the clutter and frustration of searching through the same crap all the time. Example: Don't display non-games (vibrators and fireplaces - no thanks). Don't display games that have been in circulation X number of months or more. Something like that would be wonderful. And don't limit it to community games - Arcade needs it too!



Also, I'd like to see better testing requirements for CG releases. Miner Dig Deep is a cute little "game" but it hangs/freezes my Xbox almost every time I hit the bottom.



(I don't think quality is necessarily the achilles heal of the CG segment - the Arcade titles are slick but I haven't purchased one in a long time because most have been underwhelming or rehashes. And if a developer thinks I'm putting anything like a 1.2gig Watchman game on my hard drive, you're nutty - not as long as M$FT is gouging the consumer with a $150 120 gig hard drive price).


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