by Gavin Nichols

The other day, Soren Johnsen posted a tweet that really caught my interest. He said
“The next console generation will be won by whoever understands why the Xbox Indie Games Channel did not become the iOS App Store.’
This is true in so many ways.

The iOS App store has enjoyed an unparalleled level of success since it launched a few years back largely because it managed to hit a golden combination of approachability by both developers and consumers, while simultaneously lifting the best to the top through a natural feeling review system. For the first time Joe Schmoe could take his idea, build it himself and publish it to millions of potential customers, all from his living room. Customers had access to hundreds of thousands of apps at their fingertips, instantly, anytime and anywhere, for an affordable price.

If any console maker had the same kind of economy on its hardware, they would experience massive success. Xbox tried to do this with their Indie Games channel, and on some levels succeeded. Indie developers could finally develop games for a major console…but it never took off with the popularity that the iOS App Store did. There aren’t those overnight million dollar success stories. There is no “Angry Birds” or “Cut the Rope” on the XBLIC. In fact several games that did relatively well on XBLIC then took that same game to a different platform, such as Steam, and then made scads more money there.

Yet Xbox is in a unique position, it should be working better than it is.  They are the only major console to have any sort of system like this in place. And while XBLIC hasn’t taken off in popularity just yet, if it did there is major potential for success, and not just for developers. Right now, a budding young developer can cut his teeth on iOS and become reasonably (or very) successful. If that same developer, however, wants to then switch to developing console games since he has the capital to do it, he has some major hurdles to overcome. Mobile and console games are very different beasts by nature, due both to separate interaction considerations and gaming environments. Console gamers usually don’t boot up Mass Effect for a five minute game, and you usually don’t see someone playing Fruit Ninja for six hours. It would also be hard to translate Call of Duty to the iPad, and you just don’t quite get the same tactile feeling of Osmos with an Xbox controller in your hand.

But if Mr. Schmoe had cut his teeth in the XBLIC, then a transition to XBLA would seem as natural as going from a manual to an automatic car. Once you have enough capital, you move up. Then his success continues to grow, and eventually we have the next Cliffy B. All throughout, you have developers’ loyalty lying with the company that helped them get to the top, made them better at their own art, and showcased them for who they are.

Everything you need for success is already in the marketplace. It’s just in different places. XBLIC and iOS have a low barrier to entry, and XBL has a strong online network. Steam has a great community and a huge range of products in one place, so you can feel free to price your product at what it’s worth instead of conforming to the norms. PSN has great integration with Steam, so you can buy your game once and still be able to play with all your friends. Nintendo had its seal of approval and Intel AppUp has its blackbelt program, letting you know that these guys are actually at the top of their game. If some company – ANY company – took ALL of these features:

  • Low barrier to entry
  • Strong Network
  • Good Community
  • Large Range
  • Cross Platform/service integration
  • and Developer/Title spotlights

…you would have a slam dunk of a publishing system, allowing anyone with the heart to get their feet wet, and anyone with the chops to rise to the top.


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