The Xbox Live Indie Games Section Is A Shambles, But Who Do We Blame?
The Indie Games section on Xbox Live is, and always has been, an utter mess. People have spoken out about it before and Microsoft have grumbled and shrugged it off. This is a shame as it has become a very popular choice for upcoming indie game developers – so many hopefuls submit their game to get one of the sacred spots on Microsoft’s console. But let’s not immediately shift the blame for its disorganisation to Microsoft, this is a community section (apparently), so are we all to blame? It may be time to get our asses in gear.
In a desperate bout to appease the writhing hands reaching out to me shouting “play more Xbox Live indie games, dammit!”, I flicked through the cover-based pitches on Microsoft’s ever dampening indie game’s section to find something to my fancy. It’s a shame that it is just so easy to dismiss a whole army of indies so quickly in that decrepit section – judgement lasts about half a second before flicking to the next title. If a cover catches my eye (or a title) I may give it a second chance by glancing at a screenshot for a brief moment, the majority of the time the game looks like crap though and I move on.
Now, for me, as an indie game enthusiast, this seems entirely wrong. Usually, when I see a new title I will give it some time and really turn it over in my head to decide whether I want to play this particular game or not. This is a tradition I have picked up from browsing various online stores such as Desura, Steam and Indievania. These stores provide enticing pictures, plenty of information and actually give you the feeling that you want to buy this game for reasons like helping out the developers and, you know, actually playing a decent game. The Xbox Live Indie Games section on the other hand, encourages its customers to flick through some of the worst front covers I have ever seen so that eventually you become desperate enough to lower your standards to try something that is mildly recognisable as a game. There’s a reason that the best selling games on there are Minecraft clones, or something involving shooting, zombies or better yet, shooting zombies! What kind of crap is that? Let me get this straight, I love indie games for a reason – I love innovation and playing something unlike anything else. Yet, in this Indie Games section, the only things that people are bothering to buy are clones of bigger games. Not to say that immediately makes them bad games, it’s just that it encourages a culture of recycling old ideas. A developer who wants to make some money has a better chance of cloning an already successful game, rather than making the effort to come up with something they can call their own. That is what indie games are all about, or at least should be. Now, is this the players’ fault? Probably, because we are all lazy buggers and are scared of ‘wasting’ a mere dollar on a game that could be absolutely terrible. Is it Microsoft’s fault for allowing the peer review system to be so lenient, allowing quick money makers through which only go to tarnish what is left of the platform’s reputation?
I digress. If you cannot sell your product to the customer, it is YOUR fault. It is for this reason that developers need to really make an effort with marketing their game if they somewhat stupidly decide to sell it exclusively on the Xbox. Now, I am aware that it is extremely hard to do such a thing with such a shallow customer base to pitch to. Games like Cthulu Saves The World were by and large ignored by the people who browse the Indie Games section on the Xbox. Yet, on PC, the player’s recognised the quality of the game and snapped it up so much that the game matched it’s annual sales on the Xbox in just six days on PC. Partly this is because it was sold on Steam and that PC players are more fond of RPG’s than console gamers in general (there are stats, trust me), but it certainly shows how awful a platform the Xbox Live Indie Games section really is. The customer base on the Xbox section is full of Timmy Tuckers (my name for the archetypal 12 year old) who sees a game cover that promises either gore or nudity for a measly dollar and they are on it like a rash. Is this not the kind of thing we should be avoiding completely?
At this point in time, it’s hard to imagine a better future for the platform, but is for this reason that those who actually care about these games need to come to arms. We need to rise up as a community and demand stricter requirements to be featured on the platform. This may sound harsh and completely against the whole point of the indie games section, but let’s not lose focus here. Are we fed up of the utter crap being displayed to us on there? Yes. Is it frustrating that some REALLY good indie games are completely ignored on there because the platform has a constantly degrading reputation and interest. Yes. Is is disorganised, uninformative, and just down right ugly? Yes. Then why are standing for it? When I log on to my Xbox and go over to the Indie Games section I want to be shown a range of quality games and I want to know why they are good. I am fed up of the window shopping that you are ultimately subjected to. Of course, I do love that upcoming developers are more likely to have a chance of getting a spot on there than most other stores, but there needs to be some sort of filter that is not just dictated by the purchases of Timmy Tucker.
To answer my original question, who do we blame, I can only come to the conclusion that everyone is to blame. Yet, it is the developers who need to make more of a conscious effort to make sure their game is recognised on the platform, and they need to force us to pay attention and actually BUY the game. If this is a community run platform (to a point) then we need to make it so by lauding the best games and telling people about them, as well as ensuring that the customer is given a quality product. The best example of how this can be done is the recent Indie Games Summer Uprising. This was a collaborative effort between two journalists to find some of the best indie games on Xbox Live. There were nominees and a democratic vote took place for the finalists, which then were mass exposed to the media. By launching the campaign on the internet, they got the interests of other journalists and therefore potential customers. Unfortunately, not many people made an effort to go onto Xbox Live and actually buy these games, but it’s a step in the right direction. We need more collaborative efforts like this, but dear developers, you are going to have to work as a community to do this. If you look at the Top Rated section on there, you will probably recognise all of the titles, and why is that? The reason is because the developers knew they had made a good game and told people about it. They then tell other people about it and they might then actually give it a try. It’s why journalists are also very important to this process and trust me, we are here to help, especially when we see something we like.
So I beg you, all of you, if you do not like the current state of the Xbox Live Indie Games section, do something about it. As a community we can do anything. Let’s make the Indie Games section something to be proud of, not the scummy part of the indie game community that everyone looks down upon, because that’s what it is right now.