The Incredible Shrinking Xbox Live Indie Games Market

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Why, hello there. I'm back from the warm glow of spending Christmas and New Years at hearth and home in Rhode Island. That means that I've returned to my usual city of stubby, unadorned concrete boxes posing as buildings, host to a quixotic collection of ugly white people under severe delusions of grandeur.

One must soldier on.

Or not, since it's time again to arglbargl about Xbox Live Indie Games. For a change, instead of describing its latest indignities through the lens of Cute Things Dying Violently, let's instead focus on Scott Tykoski, a bonafide developer at Stardock who decided to go slumming in XBLIG with the Christmas-themed Elfsquad 7.

Poor Scott recently tweeted that Elfsquad 7 had only sold 600 copies on XBLIG (at $1 a copy) since its release, which is dispiriting for a number of reasons. But since my opinion on how viable XBLIG is as a market should be pretty well-known at this point, I'll only focus on one reason in particular: Elfsquad 7 got lots of good press. Joystiq, Kotaku, Indiegames.com, Gamasutra, and plenty of other sites quickly took note of the professional developer and his game. Lots of people paid attention. And still... 600 sales.

So, we're looking at XBLIG as a market that is even now becoming more resistant to good press, one of the most reliable levers of ensuring (or at least boosting) commercial success in pretty much any market. XBLIG doesn't have many saving graces left for those interested in earning money from it, and one of those few remaining graces is either quickly receding or is now entirely gone.

And Scott's not my only data point. Cursed Loot (formerly Epic Dungeon) was the best-selling game of the XBLIG Winter Uprising that occurred a year ago. According to its creator, Eyehook Games, the title sold 3,800 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day on the market last December. And that was before that game (and the other Winter Uprising games) got featured prominently on the Xbox Live Dashboard. By comparison, CTDV (I lied, I am talking about it), a game I'd wager was similarly popular, sold 700 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day of sales about 9 months after the Winter Uprising concluded, and only 800 copies on its best day, when the Summer Uprising ad went up on the Xbox Dashboard.

Two games, both popular and well-received, both backed by prominent Uprisings and similar levels of advertisement from Microsoft... yet one exhibited far slower sales than the other, just nine months later.

There could be many other reasons for that, including purchasing habits of different customer bases (CTDV seems to have sold as well as Cursed Loot over all, indicating that the long tail of purchases has made up for lower initial sales), but I can't help but think that the marked difference of 3,800 sales versus 800 sales is from rapidly-declining market interest. Fewer customers are interested in XBLIG as a whole, and the market is contracting to the point where even consistent good press is losing its relevance.

One final example: the creator of the recently-released twin stick shooter P-3 admitted in the App Hub forums that his game only sold 21 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day on the XBLIG market. His conversion rate of trial downloads to purchases was 5%, which is... saddening. And I can't help but compare that with my own crappy geography game, which sold 60 copies on its first day of sales back in June 2010. As a genre, twin stick shooters are far more popular than edutainment, so once again I find myself wondering just how much the market has contracted.