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360 Indie Games pricing change "came out of nowhere"

Developers mostly in favour of new price policy and XNA improvements, but marketing efforts still need work

Independent Xbox 360 developers polled by Eurogamer about Microsoft's decision to reorganise the Indie Games channel pricing structure have said they had no idea it was going to happen until it did.

"The new pricing structure is an interesting move because it came out of nowhere and no one really expected it or was prepared for it," Matt Davis, developer of Easy Golf: Course Architect, told Eurogamer today.

Weapon of Choice developer Nathan Fouts said: "It seems a little out of left field as they've never mentioned it before, but perhaps they've been reading some of the complaints on forums that some developers are charging too much."

Davis concurred: "I think the change was to adjust prices to consumer expectations as opposed to developer expectations," he told Eurogamer.

Microsoft's changes mean that the most indie developers can charge for their games is 400 Microsoft Points (GBP 3.40/EUR 4.60), with 200 MSP (GBP 2.04/EUR 2.40) and 80 MSP (GBP 0.68/EUR 0.96) price points also available, although to qualify for the latter games must be less than 50MB in size. The changes go into force on October 22.

Despite the loss of the highest-possible price point, both Davis and Fouts were broadly in favour of the changes, agreeing that the new low-end price point in particular is a good move. "I hope they never feel the need to allow for a free game option," Fouts added.

"I don't think the price change will hurt developers at all," said Davis. "Based on my experience with the system I would argue selling at 400 Points would bring in more money than selling at 800 Points.

"Some developers are worried about a race to the bottom with the new 80-MSP price point while others are disgruntled over the loss of the 800-MSP price point. Having gone the 800-MSP route before, I'm personally not going to miss it." Easy Golf - along with other titles like Biology Battle - have voluntarily reduced their prices to 400 MSP in the past anyway.

"I think that's the ideal scenario," said Fouts, "which is to allow the individual businesses to work within the free - or sort of free - market."

The two developers were also pleased with changes included in the XNA Game Studio 3.1 update, both applauding the option to sell games in other regions (Sweden, Germany, Japan and Singapore were mentioned), to prompt gamers about updates automatically rather than expecting them to find out on forums, and to distribute up to 50 trial versions - review copies, effectively.

As ever though, there's the feeling that more can be done, particularly in the area of marketing, which other indie developers have previously rubbished.

"Voluntarily crippling a service and then hoping it will succeed seems confused to me," Fouts said, supporting those views. "Indie Games are buried within the Xbox 360 Game Marketplace and I've spoken with plenty of gamers that have tried to buy Weapon of Choice but struggled for a while or eventually even gave up and had to search for help. How can you sell a product that no one can find?"

Fouts advocates the creation of a "permanent, high-level dashboard connection to the Indie Games section". "Total consumer volume has always been Indie Games biggest hurdle and giving gamers the ability to easily find the section would help immensely and only makes sense for both Microsft and developers," he told Eurogamer.

Otherwise, both developers would like to see leaderboard support and an Achievement system or equivalent. "Gamers are paying real money for Indie Games and the economy of gamerpoints could still be balanced after allowing this powerful tool to Indie Games," Fouts argued.

"Mommy's Best Games is currently developing Grapple Buggy with the hope to get it released on XBLA, but if we must release it on Indie Games we're hoping more changes are enacted for the best release possible," he added.

Despite their concerns though, Davis and Fouts are united in their support for Microsoft's efforts in general.

"I suppose the best news of all of this is that Microsoft is still investing in Indie Games and making changes - as long as they're still making adjustments I think they still care about it and are trying to help it succeed," Fouts said.

And Davis went even further: "The bottom line is that the XNA team is constantly working their tails off to evolve Indie Games into a successful distribution channel, and if a person doesn't like how it is at any given time they can check back four-six months later and find the system is upgraded for the better."

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