XBLA is a "slaughterhouse" for smaller developers

Joe Danger sold 50k on week one over PSN; Pubs see PSN/XBLA as "ginger step-child" of digital distribution

Hello Games chose to release Joe Danger via Sony's PlayStation Network because the team regarded Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade as a "slaughterhouse" for small developers.

Speaking at the Develop Conference in Brighton today, Hello Games' Sean Murray said that while the top ten titles on XBLA sell very well and have high profiles amongst consumers, a significant proportion of games sell less than 25,000 units on the service, and quickly disappear after release.

"Why choose PSN? It was the only way we could self-publish," said Murray. " XBLA is kind of a slaughterhouse for smaller developers. There are games that do amazingly well. But there's two titles released every week and a lot of those are falling in that 25,000 or less category."

Murray's session included his own stats collated from Xbox Live Arcade, which he presented with the caveat that there were not official figures, but he believed them to be realistic.

Of titles on XBLA that were self-published without the assistance of third-parties, Murray claimed 47 per cent sold less than 25,000 copies, 23 per cent sold around 100,000 copies, 13 per cent 200,000 copies and 17 per cent more than 200,000.

Murray revealed that Joe Danger broke-even on its first day of release on PSN and sold 50,000 copies in its first week.

Console services are ripe opportunities for independent developers, said Murray, as big third-party publishers regard them as "the ginger step-child" of the digital downloads market and are not willing to experiment with releasing creative games in the space.

"It's not to say publishers are shit, but small studios are amazing in this space," stressed Murray.

He also revealed some of the knock back statements Hello Games received from early talks with publishers for Joe Danger, including: "Name me one popular game with motorbikes", "we want games that are less about fun right now" and "can Joe be a monkey? We like monkeys".

Finally, he wouldn't discuss the next project from the four-man team, but said that if the company can double, "what we could do with eight people could be fucking amazing, basically."

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Latest comments (26)

Andy Payne Chair/founder, AppyNation11 years ago
I like this approach, a lot.
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Jason Danforth11 years ago
This should come as no surprise. They are competing with million-selling games from EA and Capcom, among others in XBLA, much of it licensed. If Indies want an environment where people give them money for effort, maybe they should try/go back to shareware.
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Jason Stewart Associate Producer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe11 years ago
Joe Danger is good fun and PSN has proved it's the perfect platform for this type of self publication.

Well done Hello Games.
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Show all comments (26)
Soeren Lund Producer, Io Interactive11 years ago
I like monkeys too. It should've been a monkey :-)
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Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture11 years ago
Joe Danger looks like a good game, and I'm sure it would have made a killing on XBLA as well. Congratulations on your success. The only "maybe not" would be the success of Trials HD on the same service, but I'm sure people still want more.

This is my own personal pocket philosophy on the subject: Greed kills smaller games. I bought almost everything that came out on XBLA in the beginning, because games cost 400-800 points. 800 points was rather rare in fact. Now games are 800-1600 points, and that means I rarely buy *any* games, because that games that are worth 400 points (in my perception) begin at twice the price.

I'm far more likely to buy games on XBLA over PSN in general, though, thanks to demos being mandatory on XBLA and games having achievements (sorry, trophies don't really do anything for me).

I see the advance of digital downloads as a slow death spiral. At first prices were low to lure people in, who were used to getting physical copies for a fairly low price. Now the prices are raised slowly on the expectation that people dig the convenience factor. There is still the problem, though, that you don't really *own* the games. They are tied to a platform and only good as long as the service is running. That means they have less value than a regular game without DRM.

It's the same thing with movie and music distribution. Less distribution costs and fewer middle men = lower end user cost. If you can't make that happen, the industry will die.
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Jeffrey Bacon Director of Mobile Strategy, bitHeads Inc11 years ago
It's kind of odd that on one hand he's deriding the possibility of success on XBLA saying 47% sell under 25k copies and 23% sell 'only' 100k copies (that's a pretty big gap between under 25k and at least 100k but ok...) and then saying he broke even in one day on PSN and sold 50k copies in the first week. How many copies did he sell on the first day to break even? What's the time span in which the 25k or 100k mark on XBLA is set?

Let's assume he sold his 25k copies on PSN in one day, I assume the game is fun and not crap, but even if it is bad, 53% of games sell more than 25k copies (based on his stats) so it would seem that, assuming similar pricing, he should be able to break even on XBLA as well -- or at least have great odds of a random game doing so -- especially since porting the game to XBLA from a finished PSN game (I assume) would cost less than developing the PSN game in the first place.

(I'm not in the console space so these comments could be ignorant but...)

His own stats would seem to suggest that good business strategy would be to do a PSN and XBLA version to mitigate risk. Yes, the ROI might not be as great on XBLA but there's no stats on download numbers (avg) for PSN included here so I can't tell if there's a better than 47% chance of a random game selling over 25k units on PSN. Since he did 50k in the first week, seems reasonable to suspect that there's a fairly high chance of success on XBLA as well -- though I realize he only knows that now after seeing how well the game did on PSN.

I realize this article is about him choosing to release the game first on PSN (and doesn't mention if he plans on porting it elsewhere) but the title "XBLA is a 'slaughterhouse' for smaller developers" (or his quote) is pretty sensationalist or even inaccurate -- though it is a difficult market to crack.
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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
I hope these guys publish on XBLA. I followed the Hello Games blog on Edge-online and found it to be refreshing and amusingly candid. I was really looking forward to playing the game til i found out it was effectively a PS3 exclusive.

These comments don't make me too hopeful that this will change any time soon.
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Carlo Delallana Project Manager/Game Designer, Tencent11 years ago
To the publisher that said this:

"we want games that are less about fun right now" deserve to go out of business...soon...before the year is over
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 11 years ago
I had a similar experience with XBLA and PSN (we also self published). On the XBLA the competition is a lot more intense, and on the PSN users are hungry for good games... After all, they've paid a fortune for their console, and they bought it for playing good, original, fun, 100% monkey free games like Joe Danger :D
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Stewart Gilray Managing Director, Just Add Water11 years ago
Without going into to much detail...

Self-publishing I feel is probably THE best option on PSN, other routes have issues.
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Art C. Jones Writer / Blogger 11 years ago
It sounds like the frustration was over publishing to XBLA:

"Why choose PSN? It was the only way we could self-publish..."

You need to have a publisher on XBLA, either Microsoft itself or another company.
That 'other' company option is probably where he got the comments he noted such as "we want games that are less about fun right now."

So the 'slaughterhouse' comes from not being able to publish to XBLA, the numbers are probably ammo to try and prove they aren't missing out, but it doesn't sound like they didn't want to go to XBLA, just that they found the process to be impossible for them. They couldn't put out their game on XBLA w/o going through a publisher, and the publishers didn't want to put out there game either, they wanted to change it either a little or totally and completely.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Art C. Jones on 13th July 2010 7:01pm

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Matthew Sainsbury Journalist 11 years ago
Interesting comments - but it looks like there are going to be some new opps for developers with the XBLA service.

Namely, it's coming to Windows 7 Phones: So, like how the PlayStation 3 can transfer PSone Classics and PSN Minis downloads to the PSP, users will be able to access XBLA games on a Windows 7 Phone.

I reckon that's going to create a much larger potential market for Microsoft develoers and turn XBLA almost into a competitor to the Apple App store.

More opportunites means more money for developers, so perhaps it won't be such a slaughterhouse after all.
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 11 years ago
Those developer comments - if accurate - are frightening, and show why the big-budget releases all look the same.

"Name me one popular game with motorbikes" - Um... Trials HD? Moto GP? EXCITEBIKE? Nintendo could shit another Excitebike game TOMORROW and it would go gold.

"we want games that are less about fun right now" - It's not even the idiocy of this statement that gets me. Look into the context of what the dork that said this is actually saying. What exactly ARE they "into"? Gritty, realistic shooters, we'll say? Wow, that sounds like... oh, every single shooting game we've seen since Gears of War. Do these people even know what they're looking at anymore?

"can Joe be a monkey? We like monkeys" - Die in a fire.

We wonder why the games market is getting derivative, and that every single notable release at E3 - almost without exception - had a number after it. Here you go.
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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today11 years ago
As a 360 and PS3 owner I don't quite understand the argument that PSN is inferior to the Xbox in terms of good quality downloadable games. I prefer SSHD to Geometry Wars, I do wish Pac-Man Championship Edition would come out on PSN, but with all the PS Classics and how most of these games are on both networks, why does the PSN get the bum rap?
The Pixel Junk games, Trine, Braid, SSHD, Flower, Flow, a bunch of shumps, DeathSpank, I find the PSN is stocked with excellent downloadable games.
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Private Industry 11 years ago
Lol monkeys. Popular game with Bikes? How about Road Rash, Trials HD, Excitebike? And the comment about games that are less about fun is very disturbing. How can you make games and want people to make them less funny? News every day on TV are already bad enough no need to have more and more games that are less fun and more dark, somebody should take a lesson from Uncharted 2.

Matthew, the problem of XBLA compared to PSN is that you are required to have a publisher if you want to release your game. Not sure why MS came up with that but no publisher no release. So I can see why he prefers PSN where you can release your game without the requirement of a publisher who takes away money from you. Many online games are self financed and you can sell a good amount without the need of running big marketing so it`s nothing that you can`t do by yourself without the need of a publisher, but MS forces developers into getting a publisher.

If I remember correct in an old article here it was also stated that MS gets more money then Sony from the companies for bandwidth use and so on. So if your chances are 47% of selling less then 25k and having to share this then with your publisher and MS there is probably not much left at the end.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 11 years ago
I got a PlayStation 3 for Flower, Flow, Everyday Shooter, Pixel Junk Eden, Loco Roco and Linger in the Shadows with the promise of artsy exclusives like The Last Guardian and Heavy Rain in the future.

I got my Xbox 360 for Braid and Castle Crashers, but now that this is on PSN my Xbox 360 has been gathering dust since I wouldnt call myself a hard core gamer. But there are a lot of good last generation exclusives on it like Alien Hominid HD, Rez HD and Ikaruga HD.

I tend to buy a game on PSN fortnightly. But havnt bought a game on Xbox Live since maybe Shadow Complex, which is really excellent.

I think good exclusive content has been a bit scarce on Xbox Live. PSN has weekly updates which has got me into the habbit of logging onto the PSN every Friday.

Updates on Xbox Live are very infrequent. Logging into it weekly to get the latest Season 3 Guild episode kept me coming back but for the entire run of that show I checked the latest games and almost nothing new was availiable.

I dont like using personal experience to make a point as its a bit anecdotal, but I really *want* to like the Xbox Live service and still log on quite regularly looking to spend some money, but just dont find enough content.
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Pierre Vandenbroucke Assistant de production, Gorgone Productions11 years ago
The only sense I could find in the less fun games would be that publishers had been glued the "Casual games" tag and what to get rid of it.
If they just want less fun games, literally, then I agree with everybody. "Hail to the king, baby"
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James Steele Senior Software Engineer, Nintendo of Europe GmbH11 years ago
There's nothing wrong with being a Ginger step-child, Sean! I should know!
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Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture11 years ago

There are firm schedules for Xbox Live releases as well. XBLA games are wednesday for instance. If you want to keep up, you could follow Major Nelson's blog. He tends to list the big releases and skips almost all the noise like avatar outfits and such.
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Cumron Ashtiani Creative Director and CEO, Atomhawk Design11 years ago
Well done to you and the team Sean, its been a long while in the making but it was worth it for sure!
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One reason I think people are not buying so many games on XBLA (apart form the clear big winners) is that there are just too many free demos. You can play hours of great game "trials" and never need to convert. Note that there are VERY few demos on PSN. We never did a demo for Burn Zombie Burn and are selling very well indeed over a year on!
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam11 years ago
I don't know, I tend to download a couple of demos a week from PSN (for a mix of PSN and boxed games), and I've bought a couple of games (Savage Moon and Greed Corp) purely on the basis of their demos that I wouldn't have bought otherwise. Although it's also true there's a couple of games that looked interesting that I didn't buy because the demo sucked. So I guess the lesson is, if you've got a good game release a demo for it, if you don't, don't.
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Joe Danger has no demo (yet)

I think the key is to make an effective demo, but dont if you dont feel the need, especially if you have strong IP involved.

Gears of War 2 had noo demo too.
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Nick Ferguson Director, ID@Azure, Microsoft11 years ago
We like the mandatory free trial on Xbox LIVE Arcade because it keeps everyone honest.

I think the flip-side of no demo is players buy a title without the opportunity to evaluate it, then if they feel disappointed maybe they don't return to that channel.

Regarding smaller developers on XBLA... let's keep an eye on Limbo, which kicks off Summer of Arcade next week.
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Nicholas Francis Chief Creative Officer, Unity Technologies ApS11 years ago
@Nick: Limbo is a fairly large team that has been in production for several years with a pretty big production budget (they got over 1mill USD in funding). For publishing, they got singled out by MS as one of the games to bank on with a lot of press handling - as you say, they're kicking of your summer of arcade.

I like the Limbo guys, and I think any success they have is incredibly well earned (including all the high-profile awards), but I don't think it really makes sense when you try use them as an example of how fantastic it is to be a small dev studio on XBLA

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Francis on 19th July 2010 12:16am

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Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture11 years ago
"So I guess the lesson is, if you've got a good game release a demo for it, if you don't, don't."

That's certainly what I think, when I have a look on PSN. I try to at least give everything a spin on XBLA, and while the price stops me from buying many of the games, at least I will have tried it. When a sale comes up, I'm more likely to remember if I wanted to buy the game.

I rarely buy downloadable games on PSN that don't have demos. I figure either the developer has something to hide, or I just don't know if it's something I'd like. 90% of my downloadable purchases are done on Xbox Live Arcade. Not on PSN.

If prices were more reasonable on XBLA, the number of purchases would rise sharply.
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