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Thoughts on the Indie Games Channel

August 7, 2009

A few weeks ago I was checking out what XBox Live has to offer in terms of downloadable games, as I was getting sick of the same old routine of Super Smash Bros./Mario Kart/Magic the Gathering with my friends. I felt it was time to mix it up. Castle Crashers was downloaded and enjoyed by all. Then I discovered the Community Games section, and immediately thought “Ah, budgetware,” and went back to the Arcade.

Recently, Microsoft has decided to revamp the Community Games section and rename it Indie Games. Then, instead of being able to charge $10, $5, or $2.50 for your game, you may now only charge $5, $3, or $1. What this essentially means is that the Indie Games section of XBox Live is looking to cash in on the iPhone’s flood of apps. I have heard it said that the worse but cheaper your game is on the iPhone, the better it will sell. That seems to be the direction Microsoft is taking.

When the Arcade was first unveiled, it became a haven for professional indie developers to release games like Braid, Castle Crashers, Lode Runner, N+, and more high caliber games geared more toward artistic expression and risk-taking than a lot of big budget games. I won’t call out any of the games on the Indie Games channel by name, but let’s just say they don’t push the envelope.

I see a correlation between the recent release of Kodu and the name change for Community Games. With a very cheap alternative for game development, Microsoft may be looking to get game developers started at an early age. That’s fine, and I encourage it. Heck I started designing games when I was 5 and a half. With “hundreds of new games coming every week,” though, how will we know what’s bad and what’s good? I don’t doubt Kodu is capable of making good games. A game is only as good as the effort put into it. However, Kodu is geared toward kids, as is the Indie Games section in general. So where do the adults fit in?

It comes down to us being given a sad choice: either push the envelope beyond our financial capabilities and still risk having the game thrown into the Indie Games channel, or just make games for the Indie Games channel. There is, of course, the choice of abandoning the 360 as an indie development platform altogether, which I hope does not happen. If Microsoft wants to keep serious indie developers on the XBox, they’re going to need to make some hefty promises, the most important being that high caliber XNA-developed games will not be included in the insultingly named Indie Games channel. With the direction they are heading, however, it seems like very soon we too will be mixed in with the Kodu crowd.

I truly feel Community Games was a more fitting name, and that the channel under that name was not given a chance. The premise was games made on the cheap, sold for cheap. That fits Kodu to a tee. By renaming it Indie Games, it unwillingly places Professional Indie Developers at risk of having their games mixed in. I shouldn’t even have to use the word risk. The iPhone has shown that there is a difference between an “app” and a “game.” An app is a $1 program that’s fun for 10 minutes and then it’s over. A game is a $5-$60 program that lasts anywhere from 3 to 80 hours.

What the Indie Games channel is, really, is an App Store. As an indie developer, I’m a bit insulted by the Indie Games Channel. I don’t make budgetware or apps. I don’t make games for them to go straight to the bargain bin. Microsoft, please call the Indie Games Channel what it is: The App Channel. Or leave it as Community Games. It has a purpose. Braid is an indie game, but you’ve claimed it’s not for Braid. So either Braid is an indie game and belongs in the Indie Games Channel, or Jonathan Blow is not an Indie Developer. What does that make him then? Do indie developers need a new name to separate ourselves out from the Indie Games channel? Or maybe Microsoft could just leave the name as Community Games and end the confusion altogether. Indie Developers take game development seriously. The Indie Games channel does not.

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