Comments on the Winter Uprising as it,uh, rises up

Posted by Alex Jordan on

It's December, and the aforementioned Xbox Live Indie Games Winter Uprising is under way. More or less... week one of December is coming to a close, but only four of the promised 14 quality XBLIG titles have been released. Oops.

Everyone should've seen this one coming, including the folks at Zeboyd, who recently made a post saying that they actually intended to wrap up development of their latest RPG in a few days. Yet, given the laundry list of shit they have to do - add save points, finish writing the dialog, balance enemy encounters, etc. - the only way I can see that being accomplished in a few days is if a fairly impressive amount of crystal meth is employed.

Despite the earnest attempt to meet a December deadline, let's face it... these guys are all hobbyists. Very few people make a living off of XBLIG, despite the many who have tried. The guys at Zeboyd probably just bit off more than they could chew.

The other thing that led to missed deadlines for the Winter Uprising is just the plain fact that the developers can't actually control the timing of their release. They submit their game for Peer Review, and have to wait patiently for the requisite amount of reviews to come in. Sometimes that takes awhile, sometimes it doesn't. There several days of variance, and that's only if you don't include the occasions where reviewers stumble across a game-busting bug, i.e. the whole reason for the Peer Review system in the first place.

During my rush to get Around The World to market, I missed several major bugs that reviewers caught. Each time they catch a bug, the Peer Review tally gets reset and goes into "cool down mode" for a mandatory week, wherein you can't resubmit the game. The cool down period is meant to give developers the time to soberly analyze their code and fix not just the error in question, but other potential errors out there. Makes sense, right? However, what makes for a pretty good quality control system makes for a pretty poor timed-release system, as any unforeseen screw up adds a week to your release schedule. As the Winter Uprising people failed to account for this, by, say, shooting to do all these releases during the entire month of December, all I can say is: oops.

Also, Winter Uprising sales figures are starting to come in! It turns out that the dungeon crawling role playing game (RPG) Epic Dungeon has cleaned the clock of the other three released Uprising games, Break Limit, Hypership Out Of Control, and Ubergridder. Epic Dungeon's 3,854 first day sales are a knockout compared to the 100-300 daily sales managed by the other titles.

This gives us some interesting insight into the XBLIG market, something I always love pawing over. All four of these games are admittedly high quality, and part of a high publicity initiative. However, the three lagging games are simple 2D top down games... two top down shooters and one top down puzzler (Ubergridder). Epic Dungeon, a game of comparable high quality, happens to be a deep RPG. Hmmm.

XNA isn't the easiest or the best platform to develop for, but it does one thing simply: allow developers to make 2D games. And one of the simplest forms of 2D is a top-down shooter. That's because, although an RPG looks easier at first - not a lot of action, art can be limited in scope - all of the environs and characters and plot and items and numbers and tables and balance required in an RPG is enough to elevate them. 2D top-down shooters can often rely on relatively simple shooting and movement mechanics repeated ad nauseum, and although I don't claim that any of the Winter Uprising 2D top-down games do that, plenty of similar (and simpler) games have beat them to market because of the relative ease of the development cycle.

That, of course, suggests that potential buyers in the XBLIG market are getting sick of 2D top-down shooter games (and maybe Ubergridder, a realtime top-down puzzler, was collateral damage). At the very least, they're becoming more discerning. Meanwhile, a rich RPG like Epic Dungeon more readily catches the market's eye and encourages them to pay up. While this doesn't provide a wholesale endorsement of creating RPGs for XBLIG, it does suggest that the popularity of 2D top-down games and the various genres they represent might be waning.