Xbox Self-Publishing

Things have come a long way since my GDC talk last March, as seen below:complicated

In hindsight, Microsoft announcing that the Xbox One would have always online DRM was the best thing that could’ve happened, although it didn’t seem like it at the time.

They felt unstoppable. They had the power. They thought they could do anything.
In the end, they learned that customers and developers won’t just “Deal With It”.

They wound up the hockey team, accidentally shooting the puck into their own net over and over, and now must work extra hard to try and win the game.

While it was ultimately the post-PR disaster sales forecast which initiated the real change, the change happened nonetheless. Microsoft finally began listening to what consumers and developers want, or at least, attempting to match what their competitors were doing, which happened to be what consumers and developers want.

Now that they’ve had a wakeup call, they’re back to scrambling to do everything they can to try and win. This mentality goes all the way back to the launch of Xbox, then 360. The original Xbox was a deliberate financial loss, a trade-off for gaining market share. The 360 launched prematurely resulting in the infamous RROD in order to launch before its competitor. When the going gets tough, they’ll fight tooth and nail.

It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally won. There are still many questions to be answered, but it’s a start.

SELF-PUBLISHING

While they’re late to the party, this week, the news came out that Xbox One would have a self-publishing solution. Several days later, more news came that an Xbox 360 game would be self-published in August. This is good news, although the full story has not been told and we must wait for the fine print.

For a rundown on just how severe the bottlenecks have been, watch my GDC lecture on the subject, here.

WHY YOU SHOULD QUESTION THE XB1 SELF-PUBLISHING

Look at it like this: There will be two groups of titles for Xbox One. Published titles, and later, titles which can be built on retail systems, submitted and sold through a process like Windows Phone/Windows 8 apps. While the XBL store can promote both of these, they are certainly not the same.

They already promote XBLIG games on the XBL store next to other games, but they are labeled as “Indie Games”. There is a reason, and it is in the differences.

Published Xbox titles must for example, have ESRB/PEGI/USK/etc. ratings and must be developed to strict platform guidelines. These guidelines are not the simple iOS AppStore checklist.

[BLAH BLAH BLAH BEGIN...] They include everything from the exact menu items an XBLA title must have (what they must be named and in what order), to how often and when leaderboards may be accessed, checking the region/user’s age, what must be done if load times exceed a certain amount, mandatory achievements, localized and to spec, a How To Play screen, and so forth. You must account for a large number of special cases. Others include user sign-in and sign-out, storing sound and music volume in user profiles, memory cards being removed/inserted, displaying a message and pausing the game when the controller is disconnected, muting the music when the dashboard is up, and on and on. [...BLAH BLAH BLAH END]

As I mentioned, I outline these in the GDC talk I did earlier this year. Long story short, it can take 1-2 months of work to make an otherwise complete game certification ready.

If the platform requirements are nearly eliminated for self-published titles, what will published ones gain by abiding by them?

WHAT’S NOT PROVIDED?

Published games gain access to full devkits, developer support, and an account manager who can help you arrange ideal release dates and work on landing promotion opportunities. Sounds great, right? Well, keep in mind that all competing platforms provide developers with these same perks in addition to self-publishing. Not to discount this solution, but do note that it’s not equal here.

Full devkits, include additional RAM. Developers, especially larger teams, can focus on building the game without constantly having to optimize it early in development. They can use every bit of the system’s RAM for the game, and the extra RAM for hot loading assets, debug data, analytics, even their level editor. Anything else needed. With a retail unit, they’d need to set aside some of their game’s RAM if they need any debug data or such.

SHARED STORE

If suddenly there exists an equal group of games which sit toe to toe with published titles, promoted indistinguishably beside each other, why would publisher go through the long way? Why would they spend the development budget on the full (many arbitrary) platform requirements when there’s a streamlined version?  Why would they spend the time and money on game ratings (which could exceed $10K if they targeted an absolutely worldwide release)? If there exists a simpler standard AppStore-like contract, what would keep publishers from simply switching over to that one? What benefits will developers have who have already signed publishing deals for XB1 titles? What value is left at all in the original published model? Would those in the third party publishing division in Microsoft be rendered obsolete?

These games and apps will surely be somewhat grouped together and you’ll no doubt be able to perform a “search all”, but they won’t be indistinguishable.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM… INCOMING

The other big concern is that a completely open platform where users are free to set their own price will result in a race to the bottom. This happened with iOS and of course, XBLIG. What’s worse, on iOS, $0.99 became premium, with free as a huge competition. Now, while this created an ecosystem where most developers struggle to get their games noticed and generate profit, iOS still has rich opportunity. With over half a billion iOS devices out there, there’s a large enough market to potentially make good revenue, even selling at $0.99. On something like Xbox One, even if the console sells, let’s say, 20 million units in the first year, unless you’re the next Angry Birds, you won’t be selling 20 million copies. Even on iOS, a moderate success generates around $200K. On consoles, $1M. After all, that price point might require you to sell 10-15x the units.

Consoles have had the advantage of a higher price point. RCR, for example, has sold twice as many units on Steam, but still generated more revenue on PSN because console gamers aren’t as trained to wait for sales.

I strongly believe that today, there’s less risk releasing a quality console title than a mobile one, because you have a higher price point, less saturation, more control over launch promotion, higher probability of strong store placement, a more focused audience. With iOS, for example, you’re reaching everyone from kids to grandmas. On consoles, you have a large core gamer install base, so if you’re making a game for that group, you’re in the right place.

SKEWED PERCEPTION

Minecraft doesn’t represent what XBLA games sell. Angry Birds doesn’t represent what iOS games sell. They are exceptions which represent a ceiling, but are not the bar.

Looking at the big picture is important. Focusing on the exceptions is what causes gold rushes and a saturation of shovelware. This creates a stigma of the overall marketplace, much like that of XBLIG. I’m sure even those who believe in XBLIG would agree that their platform has a poor image.

WE WON

Always online reversal. Used games. Patch Fees waived. Open platform. These happened because we spoke up. We raised our concerns. The press listened, and the press shared our thoughts with the rest of the world. While it took post PR-disaster sales projections for them to open their ears, they took action upon the issues we spoke loudest about. A lot of us have been pushing for change for a long time.

It’s a great shame that the feedback we were giving behind the scenes caused zero change, and it wasn’t until after a loud public outcry that change happened. A public shaming, really. Their PR would be in much better shape had things gone the other way. However, the positive changes happened one way or another, and that’s the most important thing right now. While I personally can’t quite forget the past and my experience working with Microsoft,  for those still holding the dream of releasing a game on Xbox, this is good news.

Before ending this off, I’d also like to highlight the importance of being objective and always pay attention to spin. As a recent example, Microsoft announced that they would be providing free Unity licenses to Microsoft Studios published Xbox titles. Sounds good, right? Except that only a handful of games each year are published directly by them, and even fewer use Unity. The number could be as low as two a year, or even zero. Paying for licenses is standard for publishers, but to the average reader, this sounds like huge support from Microsoft. It’s press releases like this which demonstrate why you can’t jump to conclusions without the whole story. (Keep in mind, Nintendo DOES provide free Unity licenses to all Wii U developers)

…But, this goes to show, speak up for what you believe in.
That’s a lesson here.

…That, and, wait for the whole story. Keep a close eye on what’s missing.
Ask questions.

One more anecdote. During my time pitching to publishers to find the right fit, I spoke with around a dozen. The offers were all over the table, but in the end there were three good potential fits. One had the best offer off the bat, the other two required various amounts of negotiation to match. In the end, I decided to go with the one which offered the best offer off the bat, as to me, it represented the most good will. I made the right choice. So with that being how I live my life, it won’t surprise anyone that I’m getting a PS4… and developing a PS4 game.

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That RAM…

“PlayStation 4 Reserves Nearly Half Of RAM For OS”  -Game Informer

halfofram

THAT RAM…

We can’t go into specifics about stuff like that, but I’ll say that if you go by Eurogamer’s article “update”, it would show that PS4 provides at least as much RAM to the developer as the XB1. While Eurogamer updated theirs, Game Informer still has their sensationalist headline “PlayStation 4 Reserves Nearly Half Of RAM For OS” up, a headline which was poor even at the time of the initial rumor. While the article itself does say “slightly more than its competitor”, the headline is what the majority of people will ever see. This is a problem. This caused problems.

Now let’s look at it closely. The rumor stated that the PS4 reserved 3.5GB, while the Xbox reserved 3.0GB. Think about how this headline then spins the story. Even had it been true, this was a difference of 0.5GB, yet the headline would make it sound like the PS4 has a massive weakness.

SOME INSIGHT…

Speaking as a developer, nearly every platform uses a combination of RAM structure. Some have additional RAM directly on the CPU bus for performance critical code, or data with less latency. Another system uses a section of RAM for sleep mode. It is overwritten with state information when the system goes to sleep, but the game obtains full use of it again when it wakes up. It has the same performance as the other RAM, but a dual purpose. These are just some examples. I can assure you even simple-simple-simple systems by today’s standards had similar things. Hell, even the NES, C64 and Apple II had what’s called “zero page” RAM. 256 bytes of memory you could access with less CPU cycles. If you played old DOS games, you’ll probably remember the extended memory drivers too.

On a related note, remember that whatever the number is, it’s not carved in stone yet. On PS3, you might recall the news of them optimizing their memory footprint later in the system’s lifecycle to provide newer games with even more, and that was post launch. The memory usage on the new consoles is still in the development phase.

Prior to posting this, I received a tweet, “If your editorial doesn’t mention the fact Sony was misleading the customer it isn’t fit for reading.” – If the memory usage of the OS is considered misleading, then not only is the XB1 guilty as well, so is every single PC sold with a preinstalled OS. Don’t forget, formatting a hard drive also reduces the available free space.

A GAME OF TELEPHONE

What’s worse is the ripple effect. A quick Google search shows headlines going from “Rumor” to “Report: Nearly Half…”, to “BREAKING”, to flat out HALF Of PS4 RAM Saved For OS” . Suddenly there are gamers screaming that they’re cancelling their pre-order. Someone else tweets “It’s true. Sony’s basically admitted it in their statement”, misreading the official comment. This is sadly how things work. It’s a game of telephone.

THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME…

gift1

I’ve encountered this many times personally. One specific instance came from news of the RCR sales numbers. Due to the WiiWare sales threshold, developers had to sell a minimum number of units to see any revenue from their game. Unfortunately, due to the poor state of Wii’s eShop market, it became next to impossible for games to hit this threshold, so less and less games were released for the platform. I knew that I would lose both time and money releasing it on the platform, but I wanted to keep my word and make the fans happy. In the end, around $20K was spent to get it out the door, which I knew I’d never see again, and I called it a “gift to the fans”.

Fast forward to a month later. During GDC I showed an undetailed chart displaying the game’s GROSS revenue, per platform, to the nearest $100K. An article went up with my permission to share the numbers, but it didn’t cross my mind that the chart wasn’t detailed enough. The resulting story stated that Wii version generated “less than $100K”. This wasn’t inaccurate, it WAS less than $100K, but the reality is that the actual number was closer to $15K at the time, and that was GROSS, not profit, meaning I didn’t get any of that money. I have still not actually seen a cent from the WiiWare version. I’m okay with this. I knew this going in, but wanted to keep my word to the fans. However, this quote and misunderstanding caused an uproar of hate because I’d called it a “gift to the fans” yet readers thought I made a chunk of change, undoing the goodwill which I put forward. Another example of how things work.

For some perspective, RCR has now sold over 170K units plus 270K on PS Plus. It’s had a strong tail, generating even more revenue this year than last year. Yet, the number sold on Wii in Europe’s still in the hundreds and in North America just over 2K. What’s more, the WiiWare version included additional content and was $5 cheaper and still didn’t have better numbers. Again, I knew this going in and was at peace with releasing it purely for those few fans, to make them happy and keep my word. So, it was especially disheartening to be torn apart by people based on a misinterpretation that spiraled out of control.

ANYWAY…

Anyway, I’m not saying how much memory is used, but I am painting a better picture of how you should be looking at this, and again raising awareness about sensationalist headlines.

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Releasing on Consoles: From Business to Coding

17skus
Next week, I’ll be at Casual Connect, educating attendees in building games for consoles. This is my fourth time performing a derivative of this talk, this being a streamlined version. The full GDC 2013 version is available right now to watch online. Click Here To Watch It.

I feel very strongly about helping prepare others for the road ahead (as seen above). Unless you’ve done it before, you’re in for a massive workload. If you don’t schedule for it, your game will be delayed and you and your fans will be frustrated.

This talk takes attendees through the entire process of developing and releasing games on consoles and Steam. Getting licensed, getting games approved, porting, implementing platform requirements, submission and certification, production, store assets and marketing, with a post launch breakdown of the time, cost and revenue of each platform. Attendees will gain an overview of the differences between each platform, a road map to accurately plan ahead and jump in headfirst.

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Mod Support, RETRO+ Enhanced Graphics, Prototype version

The Retro City Rampage update is now available for both PC/Steam and PS3/PS Vita. It pushes things both forward and backward! Here’s a rundown…

RETRO+ Enhanced Graphics ModeRetro City Rampage on PS3 and PS Vita

The “RETRO+” Enhanced Graphics Mode gives RCR a neo-retro boost with dynamic shadows, doubling the colors on screen. The shadows and increased contrast help sprites pop like never before. For purists, the original 8-bit mode is still there in all its glory, but if you’re ready for a slight retro remix, RETRO+ is a great new way to enjoy the game.

Prototype Version (Now on PlayStation!)Retro City Rampage on PS3 and PS Vita

“ROM” City Rampage, an 8-bit hardware-accurate prototype has also been added. Drive around Theftropolis with the strict limitations of 1980s hardware, sprite flicker and all. Compare side by side how closely Retro City Rampage adheres to classic hardware and where it strays, and see what really was possible in 1989. See what actually could’ve been released on cartridge, had someone come up with the idea back then!

To access it, simply go to Nolan’s Arcade or Doc Choc’s house and find the in-game video game machine. Play the 8-bit game from within the psedudo-8-bit game! 8-bit-ception!

Watch the Making of “ROM” City Rampage, below. See what goes into making a real 8-bit game and what developers were faced with in the ‘80s!

Mod Support (PC/Steam Only)

Players can now create new vehicles, characters, palettes and fonts for RCR! See the included mods folder and .pdf for details.

More Updates!

A number of smaller additions have been added as well. There’s now a Gallery, which includes an animation viewer for character sprites, vehicles and color palettes.

The 3D racer has also been slightly updated. Previously, holding up (or accelerate) would speed your vehicle up, and holding down (or reverse) would slow you down. However, many players didn’t grasp this and ended up playing these levels at much slower speeds than they should have, making them feel longer and more tedious. As a result, the vehicle now always drives at max speed, but you can still hold down or reverse to slow down as before. Additionally, the player’s health points have been increased for those who still have trouble, but if you want a real challenge, try to beat those levels without getting hit! It’s very much possible; you just need to figure out your strategies! Retro City Rampage isn’t all run-n-gun, many missions are also think-n-plan! Some hints: use the lanes to your advantage, switching between them to dodge attacks and listen to the sounds for warning cues. Also, it’s often easier to shoot the vehicles and obstacles in your way than it is to avoid them.

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Vancouver Full Indie Summit, Tickets Now Available

Whether you’ve been an indie for life or are still learning the ropes, join us on April 20th for the Full Indie Summit!

Full Indie presents a day of lectures by leading independent game developers that will teach and inspire. The speakers are behind some of the biggest indie hits in recent years and have spoken at GDC, the Independent Games Summit, and PAX Dev just to name a few. Each talk will also feature a Q & A period for you to ask the experts your own specific questions.

Attendees and speakers from all over are welcome and encouraged to attend, but we expect the 400 seat venue to sell out so be sure to buy your ticket in advance. It’s a not for profit event and the tickets are simply cover the venue, so if you’ve been unable to afford conferences such as GDC, now’s your chance to experience what you’ve been missing.

The summit will take place at the Rio Theater on Broadway and Commercial, easily accessible by transit. The talks will start at 11AM up to 4PM, with a break for lunch. Each talk will be 25 or 50 minutes long. We will post the full schedule in the coming weeks.

 

<tl;dr>
What:
5 hours of lectures by and for independent game developers
When: April 20th, 2013 from 11AM to 4PM
Where: Rio Theater @ Commercial and Broadway

 Get Your Ticket, HERE!

 
**SUBMIT A PROPOSAL**

Speaker submissions are still open if you would like to propose a talk.
Contact us at summit <at> fullindie.com

If you’re submitting a talk you have previously presented elsewhere, please provide a link to your slides and/or video. For all other talks, please submit a basic outline (500 words) and a short bio (200 words). Please also specify whether it’s targeted for a 25 or 50 minute slot.

Talks can be on any topic applicable to indie game development from programming and design to art, audio, business, production or marketing.

Submissions must be received by Sunday, April 7th, 2013 at 11:59 PM PT, but early bird submissions received by Wednesday, March 20th will receive priority, and confirmation of or feedback on your proposal much sooner. Slots are limited so please submit as soon as possible!

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Vancouver Full Indie Summit – Call for Speakers

I’m happy to announce that the first annual Full Indie Summit is happening on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 in Vancouver, BC!

Learn and share knowledge about game development and meet other indie developers. This 5-hour event will feature a solid track of 25 and 50 minute lectures by leaders in the field, many of whom have spoken at GDC, the Independent Games Summit, and PAX Dev just to name a few. Each talk will also feature a Q & A period for you to ask the experts anything.

Attendees and speakers from all over are welcome and encouraged to attend (especially all of you talented Seattle indies, you’re just a bus ride away!). We expect the 400 seat venue to sell out, so be sure to join Full Indie now to be notified when the tickets become available. It’s a not for profit event and the tickets will simply cover the venue so it’s guaranteed to fit your budget. If you’ve been unable to afford conferences such as GDC, now’s your chance to experience what you’ve been missing.

This event is something that I’ve been wanting to make happen for years and finally all of the pieces fit just right. Thanks to the help of the Full Indie organizers, we’ve got a great venue (The Rio Theatre) and a huge community. Founded by Jake Birkett and Alex Vostrov, Full Indie brings together the exploding Vancouver independent game development scene like nothing else. With nearly 1,300 members and a monthly gathering always over capacity with 150 in attendance and another 100 on the waiting list, there’s never been a better time to be indie, and if I do say so myself, a better place.

SUBMIT A PROPOSAL

If you would like to submit a talk for the Full Indie Summit, please email fullindiesummit@gmail.com.
If you’re submitting a talk you have previously presented elsewhere, please provide a link to your slides and/or video. For all other talks, please submit a basic outline (500 words) and a short bio (200 words). Please also specify whether it’s targeted for a 25 or 50 minute slot.

Talks can be on any topic applicable to indie game development from programming and design to art, audio, business, production or marketing.

Submissions must be received by Sunday, April 7th, 2013 at 11:59 PM PT, but early bird submissions received by Wednesday, March 20th will receive priority, and confirmation of or feedback on your proposal much sooner. Slots are limited so please submit as soon as possible!

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