Metanet on XBLA

27 03 2008

N by Metanet

I have a lot of time for Metanet, mostly because they did such stunning work with the flash version of N. Now they’re finding their feet with commercial indie development through the release of N+, they’ve had a few things to say about XBox live, some of it controversial:

Live Arcade had just came out, and they were like, “Oh, it’s new. It’s not going to be like retail. There’s not going to be all this crap. There’s going to be all these small, great, fun things.”

But now it’s exactly the same. There’s all these big-budget ones with big publishers making them, and the real problem, I think, is that the same people who are deciding what retail games get greenlit are deciding what Live Arcade games get greenlit.

It’s a very important point: Digital distribution is very new, and an appropriate green light process is likely to be experimental and go wrong sometimes.

The interview was done a while back but only published a few days ago, and has provoked a bit of controversy. They explain on their blog:

the interview happened about an hour after we found out that the royalty rates for XBLA have been “adjusted” to the point where our whole business plan moving forward was totally shafted.. hence the bitterness.

So: what the hell were we thinking?

We didn’t intend to provoke outrage, we simply spoke candidly. Actually saying what you think rather than being fake in an interview situation is apparently just not done, but don’t shoot the messenger — it’s not our fault that the vast majority of XBLA games suck! Literally every single person we’ve ever spoken with is in agreement on this, and yet it’s apparently shocking for gamers in general to hear (assuming that’s who reads joystiq/kotaku).

If you think back to when these downloadable channels (XBLA/PSN) were announced, they were supposed to be the “anti-retail”: good royalties for all involved, smaller/less “epic” games (quirky ideas which would never have been approved by a publisher), basically a mecca for small teams. In hindsight we were perhaps naive to buy into what was apparently empty marketing speak, however we really believed that something worthwhile and interesting was happening.

Fast forward to now: royalties (allegedly) suck, casual games outnumber proper video games (this will have to wait for a future post for further discussion), the vast majority of titles are “disappointing” (this is perhaps a more politic choice of words than “utter crap”), and small teams are being actively funneled through publishers.

There seem to have been a fair bit of indie grumbling about XBLA, notably including Jeff Minter too. While Microsoft are more switched on than almost anyone as far as the technology of digital distribution goes, it seems very possible that they’re missing cultural parameters that could make digital distribution more successful.

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