Japanese developer cites Microsoft currency policy as barrier to XBLA development

MSPCardYens

Much has been made over the last seven years about the high cost of publishing, promoting and patching on Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE Arcade platform. Last week, G.Rev president Hiroyuki Maruyama (Strania: The Stellar Machine, Under Defeat HD) shared his own thoughts on the platform.

 

 

“A strong yen and a weak dollar is very damaging to us because XBLA and DLC are ‘export products.’ That’s why Japanese developers avoid making games for Xbox 360. When we released Strania on XBLA, the rate was 80 yen per dollar. (wry smile) If Japanese people buy our game in MSP, we receive in dollars!”

The dollar has strengthened since then, but the yen still has it beat, with the exchange rate currently sitting at 88.62 yen per dollar. Put in Xbox LIVE terms, 1600MSP ($19.99 US) retails at a rate of ¥2,240 ($24.94 when converted). When the percentage of the sales owed to content creators on a 1600 msp game is disbursed, Microsoft calculates based on $19.99 per copy (the US cost of the points), regardless of how much a consumer paid for the 1600MSP that enabled the purchase.

It’s unclear due to conversion fees exactly how much benefit Microsoft derives from this, but it seems to betting against the dollar and winning. We reached out to other Xbox LIVE Arcade developers, and under condition of anonymity, they shared the same story.

Maruyama joins other notable developers in his concerns about Xbox LIVE policies. Double Fine’s Tim Schafer spoke out nearly a year ago, shedding light on the high cost of support and patching on the platform. According to him, the fees at that time amounted to $40,000.

Phil Fish echoed a similar sentiment when he disappointed some purchasers of his title, Fez. Microsoft offers developers one free title update or patch. Instead of improving the experience for everyone, the freebie that Polytron issued caused a save-corrupting bug for some players. The update was removed, but rather than issue a repair, Fish and his investor made the decision to save money and put the broken patch back up. Microsoft made no objection, asserting that a developer is in the best position to decide if a patch is needed.

While there is much to be said for Microsoft’s closed-system approach to Xbox LIVE, including enhanced security, the costs of operating on the platform are a factor for content creators. We reached out to developers with games on Apple’s App Store, Steam and the PlayStation Network. In contrast to Xbox LIVE, these platforms compensate based on purchase price paid by the customer.

Tim Schafer opined about the relative ease and reduced cost of publishing on Steam. Sony’s promotional opportunities and indie-friendly PubFund provide exclusivity incentives for developers like DrinkBox Studios, which committed to PSN for the upcoming Guacamelee. The discrepancy in payout policies is one more thing for developers to consider when deciding whether to publish on Microsoft’s platform. Unless this is addressed, the real losers will be gamers missing out on great experiences that will never see release on Xbox LIVE.

Thanks to Sacra (@Lifelower) for assistance in translating Maruyama-san’s tweet.

About Michael Futter