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By: Matthew Doucette
My final draft of the proposal (updated 2011-Feb-22):
Changing the Face of Xbox LIVE Indie Games:
By Matthew Doucette
The following is a proposition to change the face of XBLIG with a quality assurance system that not only allows but encourages development of games of all quality types, as well as fosters our highest quality output. If implemented, XBLIG will put its best face forward, foster quality games, welcome unskilled and beginning developers, avoid premature judgment on hidden gems, and transform XBLIG into a platform where developers fight to make great games, rather than quick sell-outs that have tarnished our reputation. Best of all, this idea is an easy reality. Digg, Google, Reddit, and Amazon have proven to deal with an overabundance of low quality input, so I ask, "Why not XBLIG?"
The XBLIG platform has underperformed due to poor public perception.
"The most often cited complaint towards XBLIG is its lack of high-quality games; or rather, its overabundance of poor-quality content." - Evan Jones, Gamasutra
Effectively, we have a quality assurance (QA) problem.
Many QA ideas have been proposed in XBLIG's two year lifespan. While the intent is always sincere, the two most popular fail to solve the problem:
1. Convince developers to produce high quality content.
In a perfect world, if developers only made high quality games or if developers rejected low quality games, then XBLIG would not have a QA problem. But, the world isn't perfect:
1) On an unrestricted platform, developers will produce low quality content for various reasons. Some developers are new. Some are inexperienced. Some are experimental. Some are just evil! Some just make mistakes. The bottom line is, we want all of this. Developers are content producers, and we want all of their content because we never know what content will be great and where it will come from. The last thing we want is to stifle developer creativity. (I touched upon this idea in my Why We Should Encourage "Crap" XBLIG Games rant, asking for a paradigm shift.)
2) Peer review should not reject games based on quality. Peer review could make mistakes. A good game could get rejected by accident. Let me introduce the "gem", a game nobody likes, except the gamer:
Not even the game's developer has faith in his or her "gem". It is likely an experimental or innovative game concept. The XBLIG platform should recognize "gems", and currently does. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 is an example "gem". We should keep this ability. It is an invaluable and defining aspect of our community.
So, how do we solve our QA problem?
Instead of developers managing QA, let gamers manage QA with user ratings. Games with the good ratings are fostered and used as the new face of XBLIG. (Please note: Xbox LIVE will have to encourage ratings, not discourage them as the November 1st, 2010 update has [vid], to make this work.)
Let's look at the "gem" again:
A "gem" will survive peer review and be released where gamers will rate it up. In this proposed XBLIG, the "gem" is promoted more than in the old XBLIG system. So, the system works so far.
What about games that everyone likes, the "surefires"?
These "surefire" games work exactly like the "gems". They will be promoted above and beyond bad games.
Now, what about bad games, the "bombs"? Only the developer of "bombs" likes them, clueless to how bad his or her game actually is:
"Bombs" are the killers of XBLIG's reputation. They fuel the mythical QA solutions mentioned previously. The problem is developers of "bombs" point the finger at each other. How does this proposal handle "bombs"? It buries them. Gamers do not like "bombs" and it does not matter what developers think. The great thing is that "bombs" no longer step on the toes of good games. No hard feelings, anymore.
Ill continue with an interesting type of game, one that everyone likes, except gamers, the "potentials":
"Potentials" are games that look great in trailers. They get lots of press. Everyone seems to love them. They place in indie contests. They make a great pre-release impression. But, here's the thing: gamers hate them. Why? "Potentials" have a lot of potential, but they are fundamentally broken. It could be in gameplay. It could be in delivery. Whatever the case, a gamer would rather shut it off than continue playing. How does this proposal handle "potentials"? It realizes the harsh truth behind the game and phases it out as a bad game. Sometimes "quality" does not transform into "fun", and we should not try to square this circle. It is easy to forget that polished titles can also be bad games too.
"Potentials" may cause developers to argue against user ratings, by questioning the worthiness of their opinion. My position is to let XBLIG gamers voice their opinion, whatever it is and however they formed it. They are ones we are pitching our games to. We should listen. (There is an issue of potential vote bot abuse, no pun intended. Hopefully this is something Microsoft can handle.)
The indie scene, which XBLIG is a proud part of, is about user judgment more so than all other gaming platforms. We are not quality assured XBLA titles. Great indie games sometimes "fail" at presentation and polish, but they always succeed where it matters: The gameplay. The fun. This is why a user rated system works and maintains the philosophies of what XBLIG is all about.
HOW IT'S DONE
How do we implement user managed QA for XBLIG?
Emulate a known working platform that deals with unregulated, user-rated content, proven to work. There are plenty, but Digg.com is the closest analogy. It has constant input of low quality content, as well as being governed solely by user ratings (and it fights user rating abuse).
Transform the default XBLIG "new releases" tab into a default "top releases" tab with games filtered by ratings. Also include an "upcoming" tab, where those games get their ratings to begin with.
According to 1,414 XBLIG games in Canada in early November 2010:
4.5+ games = 8... 1 in every 200 games
I recommend a value of 3.5+, or about one in every 5 games. The 1 in 5 ratio will raise upon implementation, due to questionably 3.5 rated games barely making the cut with 10..15 ratings. In practice, most will be rated down appropriately and drop off. This highlights how the "top releases" tab is self-correcting and fights rating abuse. If you happen to work your game into the top releases, you then must deal with the influx of traffic rating you appropriately.
In detail here are the proposed changes to the XBLIG Dashboard:
PROPOSED SOLUTION: MAJOR FIRST STEP:
Under the XBLIG tab, the lists should work as follows:
Top Releases (default):
Upcoming (second list):
The majority of XBLIG traffic should be funnelled through "Top Releases" and "Upcoming". They work in unison. "Taglines" should be used to promote ratings, such as: "Top Releases: As voted by you" and "Upcoming: Vote the next top release". Letting Xbox LIVE gamers know their votes are valuable would benefit this proposal. The more true votes we have, the less damaging fake votes will be towards the goal of accurate ratings.
PROPOSED SOLUTION: MINOR FINISHING STEPS:
From here, the proposal can be completed in many different fashions. The previous two lists are the meat of this proposal. Everything else is details.
There has been a lot of confusion on the remaining filler of this proposal, as if it matters. What follows next is practically inconsequential towards the transformation of XBLIG. The majority of traffic will not find its way to these following XBLIG lists; They are merely a polished completion of the proposal.
Here are my suggestions of additional lists:
Top Developers NEW:
BENEFICIAL SIDE EFFECTS
This proposal will create a revolutionary positive upswing in the XBLIG platform. A list of a few predicted side effects:
Imagine had this upward spiral been in effect for the past two years. XBLIG would be perceived very differently today.
ADDITIONAL PROPOSAL NEW
Extending all the Xbox LIVE lists to 50 is a bad idea, only the top 20 should be shown to help the gamer decide. Common marketing sense tells us this creates more sales. Consider the games from 21..50 have already had their spot in the sun.
Split the "Games & Demos" list into lists of its counterparts: "Arcade", "Games on Demand", "Indie Games", and "Demos", in that order (moving upward). This removes an extra step or depth towards XBLIG. Fewer steps award less traffic drop off. XBLA, XBLIG, and the likes should be directly under "Games Marketplace", not hidden under another "Games & Demos" step. The lists at equal-level should be moved out to make way: Move the search functions ("Titles A-Z" and "Genres") out and place them underneath "Arcade", "Indie Games", etc. This will clear the Game Marketplace list, clarify the limited search functions (that do not result in Indie Games), as well as make the dashboard more useable for all.
Outside of the XBLIG tab, push the highest rated XBLIG game of the past week, on a weekly basis. This is an extension of promoting our highest quality games. Rating cap the choices, so if there is no great game within the past week (if the ratings are too low), promote an even greater game from our past.
The placement of the XBLIG tab on the dashboard determines the traffic type. If we are under "Games & Demos" then our traffic will be gamers looking for games and demos. If we are under "Specialty Shops" our traffic will be geared towards miscellaneous offerings.
I recommend separating XBLIG into games and applications, while keeping XBLIG games under "Games & Demos" and moving XBLIG apps under "Specialty Shops". There is much controversy on the defining characteristic of what makes a product an app or not. What clarifies this issue is considering what products are games or not. If its not a game, it belongs outside of the "Games & Demos" section, with the miscellaneous items. If the categorization is questionable, default to "non-game".
For those developers who do not wish their "apps" to be segregated away, it may be consoling to realize they will have less competition once removed from the games, and obtain higher quality traffic. They should benefit from this move.
An additional reason for segregation is the preparation to allow XBLIG games to have achievements, if it is determined that "apps" are not worthy of them.
Thank you for reading to the end.
Microsoft Connect Feedback:
Please vote on the corresponding Connect issue, which requires a free account:
You may be interested in reading the first drafts of the Xona Proposal idea detailed above:
Also read XBLIG Love: A Look to the Past for a Better Future for breakdown of all the work the Xona Games' authors have done promoting and advocating a better XBLIG platform.
That is all. Thank you for reading until the end.
About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $180,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.
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