Might and Delight, the studio behind forthcoming XBLA title Pid, has made public the fact that it will be 'renting' an unused XBLA slot from an unknown publisher in order to get its game seen on the service.
Speaking to Penny Arcade, co-founder Adam Boyes revealed that the practice is a relatively common one, allowing unlicensed developers to gain exposure and publishers to recoup relatively risk-free income from an un-used high-profile space.
"There's this new culture of self-publishers who don't have slots, they just rent slots from other publishers...they don't have the ability to publish themselves, because they're not approved XBLA publishers."
Because Microsoft's arrangement with companies looking to publish on XBLA is more tightly controlled than Sony's PSN or Valve's Steam, smaller developers are forced to find a third-partner publisher who has been approved by Microsoft to launch their game, or to partner with Microsoft itself, which means signing an agreement not to publish the game on any rival service.
By making a one-off agreement with a publisher who has more slots than they need, a developer can get all the advantages of a well-promoted dashboard presence without a binding long-term agreement.
It's not free, of course. Developers will pay a percentage of profits to the publisher they're renting from, on top of the slice they must also pay Microsoft. However, the advantages of self-publishing a launch across three platforms outweigh those costs.
"Once we secured our investment, we just went back and said we'll [publish] ourselves," Boyes continues. "Sure, you give up a little bit, but unfortunately that's Microsoft's way of operating. They want to only be able to award slots to their close, dear partners I guess. I don't get it."
Microsoft has issued an official response to the story, claiming that it doesn't allocate a specific number of slots to publishers, but also hinting that it probably doesn't examine the arrangements too closely.
"There are no 'slot allotments' to speak of," the statement reads. "Ultimately, it's a relationship between the developer and the publisher - the publisher comes to us with a game they want to publish, and Microsoft looks at the calendar and work with them on a release date."