On Monday, Erik Brudvig wrote an editorial for IGN that declared Xbox LIVE Indie Games a failed venture by Microsoft. His reasoning? It doesn’t encourage the same kind of environment that has made applications so profitable on Apple’s and Facebook’s application platforms.
Brudvig calls on Microsoft to open its console and actively encourage the platform’s perversion, the same perversion our own Geoff Gibson has been keeping track of since October. He wants to see more flashlight apps, more integration with Twitter, more useless screen savers and fireworks and periodic tables.
Of course, he’s wrong. The two app stores he says Microsoft should have aspired to be succeeded because they’re ubiquitous, not because they’re open. People carry their cell phones with them at all times, so things like a flashlight app make sense because when the power goes out, you’re more likely to have your phone than a flashlight at hand. And the most successful apps on Facebook are mindless clickfests that people use because they’re already on the service checking to see what their friends are doing.
The 360 doesn’t need to duplicate the functions of my phone or my computer. If it tried, it would fail, because it can’t do those functions well, either because it’s not mobile or because it lacks a keyboard and mouse. The Xbox 360 does one thing; it puts images on a screen. Any diversification beyond that would dilute the system’s value.
Now, just because Brudvig’s reasoning is wrong, doesn’t mean his assertion is. He does stumble into an OK point. Aside from Dream Build Play, Microsoft does almost nothing to promote the service, which means that it’s on the developer’s head to get noticed. But that’s nothing new to indie developers. They’ve always had to be more creative to get noticed. That’s what draws me and so many others to their games.
He then talks dismissively about the success of James Silva’s games before lamenting the loss of Halfbrick Studios. The developer’s decision to leave XBLIG should break no hearts. It’s not that the trio of Indie Games show no promise, it’s that they’re not really suited to the 360. Their games are far better suited for the PSP Mini platform, which they’ve decided to devote their time to.
Brudvig, Gibson and I are quick to point out that the XBLIG section on the dashboard is full of crap. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s just the cost of doing business on an open platform. In fact, the amount of crap that makes it to XBLIG is what makes me think the platform has been a successful venture.
The 360 gets one or two releases a week from its big name developers. But the XBLIG section has averaged about 21 releases a week for the past four weeks. Even if most of the games are uninspiring knockoffs of well-established games, it’s still evidence of a pretty robust gaming platform.
It’s easy to look at all the crap that’s released for the platform and be discouraged, but that’s just because everything ends up in the same place. There’s plenty of bad games on Kongregate and Newgrounds, but it’s a lot easier to find the good on those distribution platforms because the people running things act as curators, separating the good from the bad.
The ratings system implemented in August has gone a long way towards helping the better XBLIGs rise to the top, but with more than 600 games, the service could use a curator. Or at least better search criteria. Until then, there are a few people (besides us) highlighting the best that XBLIG has to offer. The platform is young yet, and I think it still has a lot to offer.