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12 Jun 2013

Indie developers and the future of game consoles

What a wild month for indie developers.

In the last 30 days we’ve had the beta releases of OUYA and Oculus VR, and then the monstrosity that is E3 2013 which ended up in a name calling battle between Microsoft and Sony.  It was a wild ride and it will be interesting to see how the next few years play out.

As indie developers, we typically focus on the two major app stores, iOS and Android.  Amazon is now coming in pretty strong for us as well.  They don’t have the traffic of the original two app stores, but their conversions are really high.  That said, this post is about moving your game to people’s living rooms and submitting it to consoles as an indie development team.  Some consoles are easier than others to get on, but all of them have their options.

[row][col_half]Below you’ll find out the current state of independent development with each major new console, rumors of how they will react to indie development, revenue possibilities and how to sign up for their developer programs (which tends to be masked behind a mountain of web searches to figure out).[/col_half][col_half]

“…revenue possibilities and how to sign up for their developer programs”

[/col_half][/row]

Nintendo Wii U

Nintendo debuted it’s eShop in June 2011 for their 3DS portable unit, and now it’s firmly situated in the menu of the Nintendo Wii U.  I’ve played around with the system a good bit and either Nintendo has been very picky or developer support has been slow.  Trine 2 has been the biggest indie title on the Wii U’s eShop so far, with very few new titles showing up.  This could be a good opportunity to gain some market share on Wii U, but since the new console’s sales haven’t been anywhere near the volumic volcano of it’s predecessor, it seems many developers are sitting it out.  Nintendo doesn’t have a lot of public documentation about how to submit a game to them.  There isn’t much information online, but a great interview with Nintendo’s indie developer liason, Dan Adelman, on Gamastura walks you through most of the process.

Nintendo_eShop_logo2The short answer:  You must have some experience making games and then sign up as a registered Nintendo developer and buy their dev kit which will cost a few thousand dollars.  You can start the Nintendo developer application process here, and yes that is an official nintendo site even though it looks like it was made in 1995 on Geocities.  I actually pulled up a WhoIs to verify it was legit when I first saw it!

Microsoft Xbox One

While at E3 I was really hoping for a new indie developer app store announcement from Microsoft, it never came.  I guess they were too busy riling up millions of gamers by ignoring the issues about the console that took the web by storm.  Most notably the fact they’ll severely limit how much you can share your games and possibly the purchasing of used games.  But that’s another post in itself.

Currently the Xbox 360 has two areas where indie developers can shine:  Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Live Indie Games.  There has been some word that Microsoft might abandon self publishing completely from Xbox One and combine both game stores into one, but most of the articles I’ve read lean towards hearsay and haven’t been final word from Microsoft itself, so I’m not drinking the kool-aid on this quite yet.  Below is how they are currently handling their two publishing options.  I’ll update this post if things change.

xbox-live-arcade-logoIndie Games is Xbox’s hidden app store that no one hardly talks about and it’s pretty easy to submit to.  First you sign up with an account at the indie developer site here.  This cost $99 per year similar to developing for Apple.  Also like Apple, it’s self published.  You upload a game for review and if it’s accepted you are live and on the air.  If you haven’t played the Xbox Live Indie titles before, they are typically blow your mind awesome, but decent titles can generate good revenue.  Here is a great article about the guy behind Castleminers and many other successful Xbox Live Indie Game bestsellers.  All 14 of his submitted titles have brought in a t least $10,000 and his Castleminers series has sold over 1.5 million units at $1.  Not bad considering Microsoft pays out 70% to the developer.

[row][col_half]Xbox Live Arcade has much more traffic, sells games at higher prices and has made some serious home runs to developers, but also is supposedly tough to deal with from a developer perspective.  They typically work on the publisher route and it’s notoriously difficult to get a game accepted.  Also, even critical updates can cost a developer tens of thousands of dollars and apparently they often want to lock down exclusive rights when you are releasing a game with them.  [/col_half][col_half]

“…critical updates can cost a developer tens of thousands of dollars”

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Super Meat Boy developers, Team Meat, publicly talked about Microsoft dropping launch support when their game first hit Live Arcade in the movie Indie Game as well as numerous interviews.  Initially they were supposed to advertise the game prominently when users logged into Xbox Live.  Fez developer, Phil Fish, also made a public outcry about working with Live Arcade multiple times.  So why would anyone put in the effort with so many indie nightmare stories?  Fez also sold 100,000 units at $10 each, but it should be noted developers aren’t allowed to say what their split with Live Arcade is, but it’s rumored to be much more hefty than the 70/30 split from Xbox Live Indie Games.  Even though the corporate headaches of the Xbox Live can be a fairly large pain in the ass, developers can’t argue with the amount of exposure and revenue it can generate.

Here is Microsoft’s official page on submitting games to Xbox Live Arcade Games to their staff, but in short you start by emailing arcade@microsoft.com and start the conversation.

Sony Playstation 4

At E3 2013 Sony showed an impressive indie line up and announced that self publishing and small studios were an important factor in their future business plans.  Of all the new consoles, Sony is looking like it will be the most promising or new developers.  You can create and self publish games on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita and Playstation Mobile.  Pretty amazing stuff and signing up is super easy.playstation-network-logo

To signup for Playstation’s network, first goto SCEdev.net.  Here you’ll choose your location and finish setting up.  Unlike Xbox Live Arcade, you can sign up without a publisher and there are no fees to self publish.  Pretty good deal and so far definitely the console catering to indies the most out of the big three.

You can email them as well at selfpublish@playstation.sony.com.

OUYA

Ouya_LogoOUYA is the new indie console trying to gain some market share in a corporate dominated market.  Unfortunately, initial reviews haven’t been amazing.  The Verge slammed the beta saying the user interface wasn’t ready for public testing and support is weak.  Wired fairs better saying it’s not going to replace the Xbox or Playstation, but it’s still a great homebrew unit.  They liken it to a fun, affordable toy.  This gives hope that it might still be strong developer opportunities when it hits the masses, but the verdict is still out on this one.  I think it will be huge for the emulator and homebrew scene, but as for strong independent developer support, we’ll have to wait and see.  Since we’re already creating Android versions of most of our games, we’re keeping a close eye on it.

Submitting to OUYA is pretty easy since they have an Android and iOS reminiscent app store.  Like the two touch screen giants, you first setup a developer account  and then can submit your game directly to OUYA.

This post is solely focused on the console side of things, but the one console not mentioned is the upcoming SteamBox.  Steam, the iTunes of games on PC and Mac, has dominated the indie seen with many large success stories from smaller studios.  Valve founder, Gabe Newell, recently talked about beta testing the new in home console in July of this year, but if his given track record of releasing his Half Life series is any indication, no one should be holding their breath.steamlogo

The beauty of creating games is the fact you create assets.  Once you’ve put hard work into your game it can be pretty easy to port it over to another system and increase the publicity, reach and revenue.  Even though currently Playstation is currently leading the indie console battle, things could change quickly, especially if Steam’s console hits the market or if OUYA cleans up their issues before hitting mass production.  It’s early pioneering days in the world of indie development, so we’ll definitely be watching.

25 Responses

  1. Awesome post Trey and perfectly timed, we were just taking about getting into console gaming in our FB group when this popped up.

    I think so far Microsoft’s Xbox One release has been a PR disaster, showing they are completely out of touch with their customers… but as you say, that’s another story.

    Here’s hoping they get their act together and clear the mess up before the actual launch, and an Indie Dev App Store would be a good way to kick that off for sure.

    Exciting times ahead in both the console market and also it would seem, your Game Academy site!

  2. Martin Chenier

    Wow, what a great article!

    Thanks Trey and congrat for your Game Academy! Another great idea of you 🙂

    Wish you all the best and lots of success with the academy!

    Martin

  3. Superb! Great article with solid information. So relieved to see you, a solid beacon of leadership in this arena, being to person to launch this site that is needed, right now! Kudos!

  4. Great article Trey! Do you have plans to intertwine your efforts with the AE system with this new “Game Academy” initiative? Can’t wait to plug-in and help out any way I can 😉

  5. Karim

    And me who was thinking that the the mobile market was taking over the consoles market, in terms of revenue opportunities (especially for small indie developers and the very low cost to access the gaming market, even if it’s mostly in the casual gaming context, if i’m not wrong.) Right now I’m trying to make my very first video game, as a non programmer, with some graphic design and music creation skills, and decided to start by Android/Google Play, and the idea for me to touch console gaming sounds somewhat far from my reach right now, so I wonder what could help me get there as well. I think I need to concentrate on what I can do for now and see how I can build a team later, and meanwhile I’ll keep an eye on what you have to say here about console gaming, thanks for all the good info Trey 🙂

  6. Love this! have my own game site, want to market it..had to stop for a while, because, i could not find a good developer..now , I teach game design in my spare time..anything is possible! Would love to contribute, i am a producer and UX designer in my day job…

  7. I am keen to see what happens with the Steam box.

    I have never owned a console (well not since the 80’s) being a PC gamer, and now I ONLY buy games through Steam.

    Having them handle the patches and updates automatically makes things ridiculously simple. If the Steam box is any good at all I think it is likely to be a huge boon to indie game developers. I for one will be happy that I can buy a console, and all the games I have already bought will (should) be available on it…

  8. peter mcgrath

    hi trey
    great blog and very interesting post gives me a lot of background on the big players in the games market Indie games Say how do you get started in this games apps business
    regards
    peter McGrath

  9. colleen wakefield

    I know nothing about making the game app’s. I know this is where my business is headed because that is the future. I am a newbie And would love to be all up in this game app’s. There has to be a beginners course out there to bring me from the beginning to where i can be freelancing. Will you lead me to the beginning. I have invested so much time and money into the web Hosting affiliate I am limited on the cash right now. This would really help me make money because i love games. Your follower Colleen

  10. Mark

    Wow, I have always been fascinated by game creation, but I’m not a gamer anymore. The last console I had was the “Saga”….Yep and loved it! Back then it was totally a voodoo developers world mainly managed by big corps. But now we are being given a great opportunity to enter that market.

    Thanks Trey and keep us posted!

  11. And what about developing code for these platforms?
    Is it as easy (hard) as finding an IOS developer?

    Is there SDK costs and what about testing?

    I’m not sure 10,000 per game is sufficient ROI.

    How many units can a low level publisher expect to sell?
    Assuming we tested it first in IOS/Android and it sold well, would we match numbers on a console with the same level of promotion?

    Peter

  12. Brandon Witzig

    Trey, Microsoft has now removed the cost for a game update for an xbox live arcade or a full retail game. So now developers no longer have to worry about that fee.

  13. Trey, like always your information is super and presented in such a way that it’s a visual pleasure as well. I look forward to your news always and thank you.

  14. hello! , I like your composing a great deal! quantity many of us stay in touch extra regarding your article on Google? I needed an authority with this area to resolve the problem. May very well be which is a person! Writing about toward look you actually.

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