Ron Carmel: XBLA is losing "star talent"

2D Boy boss questions Microsoft policy, saying creatives need more control

Ron Carmel of World of Goo developer 2D Boy has question Microsoft's policies for XBLA, saying that the service is losing "star talent" to other platforms because of unnecessary bureaucracy and overly demanding processes.

Developers, Carmel believes, are moving away from the service. Not just that, but, in an extended blog post on 2D Boy's website, Carmel claims that it's some of the brightest and best who are migrating to other platforms.

Carmel used data from a previous survey of 200 indie developers from August 2010, combined with a new survey of the same developers. Around half of the lobbied companies responded, giving Carmel some interesting data.

Previously, Carmel believes, more developers had been working on Microsoft's platform, attracted by what many saw as the more evolved and polished XBL as opposed to PSN. Now, Carmel's data indicates, that trend is reversing, with Carmel predicting a continuing trend of devs moving away from XBLA and more creating games for PSN in the near future.


Image courtesy of 2D

From Carmel's analysis of the graph: "As you can see, in 2008-2009 Microsoft had more developers making games for XBLA than Sony had for PSN.

"The gap narrowed in 2010, and this year more of these developers are making PSN games than XBLA games. Next year, the number of games this group makes for XBLA will drop again, and PSN's lead will widen as the number of developers making PSN games rise to double what it was in 2008-2009."

The developer then goes on to conduct a relatively interpretive analysis of the companies questioned by the survey and the games they've produced, concluding that the group which were sent questions represent some of the most talented in the business.

Games produced by companies sent the questionnaire had a higher Metacritic and sales rate that the average of game produced by companies not sent the questionnaire, and includes three of the top five selling titles on the service. Because this group is trending towards abandoning XBLA, says Carmel, the service is losing its best talent.

However, Carmel doesn't reveal those statistics for the surveys' respondents, only those who were sent the questions. Given that only half of those issued the survey answered, and that only around 40 of those respondents are in the console space, Carmel's data is far from exhaustive - something Carmel fully appreciates.

"It's important to note that only about half of the developers I sent the survey to responded," he writes. "So while the results do have meaning and suggest certain trends, they are not definitive. I'm open (and wouldn't be shocked) to seeing data that suggests a different trend."

Interpretive skew aside, Carmel does go on to suggest a course of action which Microsoft could follow to prevent this perceived brain drain, listing ten points to improve the service for small developers, split between those needed to survive and those needed to thrive.


  • 1. Create a fair contract that doesn't require negotiation.
  • 2. Solve the content discovery problem.
  • 3. Stop requiring independent developers to publish through MGS.
  • 4. Drop the TCRs, make updating easy.
  • 5. Get rid of the exclusivity requirement for independent developers.


  • 1. Drop the greenlight process and open up development to everyone.
  • 2. Make every console a dev kit.
  • 3. Automate everything.
  • 4. Drop the ESRB in favour of a self administered rating system.
  • 5. Make avatar related requirements optional.

Whilst Carmel's advice might seem strange in the face of one of XBLA's most critically and commercially successful periods, which gave rise to From Dust, Bastion and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the comments following the article are almost universally in agreement.

Given that those commenters appear to largely be developers themselves, perhaps Microsoft should be paying attention.

Latest comments (13)

Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis6 years ago
4. Drop the TCRs, make updating easy.

Erm... Adding quality control to software that goes on their system is a plus not a negative.
Sony also has TRC's, do they not apply to Indie games?
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yeap, TRC is ugly and ordeal but necessary.
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Pawel Lekki COO, Exor Studios6 years ago
The biggest advantage PSN has over XBLA is that Sony actually talks to developers. The fact that Microsoft doesn't provide an option to self publish on XBLA is the main reason for this frustration amongst indie devs. If a developer wants to go multiplatform they have to sign with a publisher for XBLA which means they will receive lower roaylties from the platform because of the publisher's cut. I believe that if Microsoft would change this single thing, the situation would greatly improve for their platform.
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Show all comments (13)
Igor M D 6 years ago
* Dropping ESRB/PEGI rating would benefit PSN as well.
* Dropping TCR/TRC entirely is not a good idea, but some parts of those could be waived for small/indie projects.
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Alex Hutchinson Creative Director, Ubisoft Montreal6 years ago
Dropping the TRCs is a disastrous idea that smacks of inexperience: the scenario described (even asked for!) is pushing for a situation where we see large amounts of broken, semi-polished games put out on the platfrom. It sounds a lot liek the dying years of the Atari 2600, which left the fan base disenfranchised and unabel to trust what is essentially an expensive purchase, and they responded by abandoning the entire industry.

Arguing against specific TRCs is one thing: asking for them to be removed is an awful, awful idea.

Another awful idea is publishing subjective analysis based on 'secret' surveys of 'some people' and claiming it as definitive, but whatever, I guess it's a 'blog' not journalism.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alex Hutchinson on 4th October 2011 4:56pm

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Trent Oster President, Beamdog6 years ago
I think the push is to make the TCR's more reasonable. Some of the XBox360 requirements are targeted at the "AAA" space and could be eased back for the Indie channel experience they are after. A large part of the charm of indie titles is the participation in the ongoing development of products by the users. Without a means for frequent and timely updating, this is quickly lost.

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Guillaume Provost Studio Head, Compulsion6 years ago
Pawell hit it on the nail for me. It's not about TRCs or idiosyncracies of a given system, its about the business constraints.

If you're publishing through Microsoft you're generally expected to provide exclusivity guarantees for the platform. As an indie developer, that leaves you stranded with two options: ship on a single platform or go through an accredited 3rd party publisher. The constraints worked when XBLA was clearly the dominant digital distribution platform in terms of sales and audience, but they break down in today's digital distribution ecosystem.

I'd also note the accessibility and aggressive stance Sony has taken to attract high-level independent developers with their Pub Fund initiative. The financial shot in the arm it provides can be an essential financial tool when planning for your economic stability post-ship.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Guillaume Provost on 4th October 2011 5:26pm

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Scott Berfield Executive Producer, University of Washington6 years ago
TCRs are never going away on Xbox. While they can be a pain, they also are also critical to quality and consistency. They are also defended with near religious zeal by the Cert teams. Where the issue usually comes in is in rules that are fuzzily written and open to interpretation. This is difficult, but can often be dealt with by working with the Microsoft producers who are experienced in dealing with the problems.

This fellow acts like the closed architecture ecosystem of a console is the same as a PC where anything goes. It simply is different and he needs to cope if he wants access ot the market. There may be a number of developers making noise about abandoning the platform, but given the numbers, that sounds like either a lot of hot air or just plain stupidity. You don't walk away from an installed base of 50,000,000 machines.

His suggestions are mostly nonsense as well - they seem to boil down to "it's too hard to do..." pick something. Well, it's a hard world and this is a business. If he gets out, lots of others will want a crack at the spot. His vision seems to be a wide open, standards-less, ratings-less, wild west market filled with every crap game someone can shovel onto the service.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Scott Berfield on 4th October 2011 5:45pm

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Alex Hutchinson Creative Director, Ubisoft Montreal6 years ago
Scott Berfield: Couldn't agree more.
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Jeff Haas Exec Product Mgr, GET IT Mobile6 years ago
Scott, we already have a wide-open standard-less wild west market...on Android.
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Barbara Landgraf TAM, Microsoft6 years ago
And look how that worked out in the end.

Q1 2011 Android Market Share: 36%, iOS Market Share: 16.8%.

Global Smartphone Software Revenue 2010:
iOS Devices: $749 million, Android Devices $16 million.

Sources: Gartner and VGChartz.
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Paul Turbett Founder, Black Lab Games6 years ago
The "thriving" list looks remarkably like XBLIG.
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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship6 years ago
To be fair to the guy, there's probably some happier middle ground between the current iron-clad TCR approach on Xbox and the 'complete wild west' scenario being espoused as the only alternative.
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