If you want a clear picture on the life of an app in the App Store you could do worse than read Noel Llopis’s blog post on the 9-month saga of Flower Garden. It’s a story full of ups and downs and various travails complete with handy charts and graphs to illustrate his point.
Noel hits upon a certain point midway through the post that I feel is pretty important. At the end of last year with sales declining again after one last attempt to extend the game he ponders if he should move on at this point.
You’d think that I would give up at this point, wouldn’t you? And I don’t say that with pride. I mean, it probably would have been smarter to quit a long time ago. But somehow, every time I was ready to move on, something else would come up that would entice me to try something else with Flower Garden.
The beauty of releasing a game online for the web or on the App Store is the ability to continue tinkering your game far past the initial release. Finding that secret sauce or right combination of gameplay and content and stickiness that attracts people to your game can often be quite difficult and take countless iterations to successfully find. In the story of Flower Garden so far it finally seems like Noel/Snappy Touch has found that balance. Oftentimes its not the best idea that wins, but the one with the most dogged determination to continue going on.
Last week Microsoft released the first bits of sales data to various creators of XNA Community Games. Community Games briefly are akin to apps for the iPhone. Unlike games for Xbox Live Arcade which need to go through a strenuous (and lengthy) certification process, XNA Community Games only need to be approved through a few simple metrics by fellow developers before being released. Community Games remain Microsoft’s way of opening up the Xbox 360 to interested creators who may not have the time or resources to release a full Live Arcade title. Although Community Games have been available since the roll out of the NXE late last year, up until now developers haven’t been able to get a glimpse of how their titles were doing outside of anecdotal evidence.
Thanks to some creators who were willing to publicly share their sales data the first results are in. And they are not very promising. While some of the higher-profile titles are missing, it seems highly likely that XNA Community Games are not and will not for the foreseeable future be a viable way for indie developers to earn a living. The news isn’t all bad though. As GamerBytes documents, in some cases the conversion rate for some games have been fairly successful. The problem in general seems to be the lack of general players for XNA Community Games. Microsoft for various reasons has buried these Community Games deep within the interface for the 360. Unlike Apple and the App Store, there is very little promotion or publicity done for games. And the user interface for Community Games themselves makes finding good games a chore, there are no easy filtering or rating system that would allow potential players to separate the wheat from the chaff.
It’s a bit of a shame because otherwise XNA Community Games have seemed to be gaining popularity and momentum as a platform for developers. And with a few tweaks its not crazy to think that Community Games could be a nice selling point for the 360, especially with interesting titles like Miner Dig Deep or Carneyvale Showtime. But until then, the XNA Community Games feels more like a sideshow for only the most dedicated 360 players.