Schafer on XBLA: “It could have been our own little Sundance Film festival”

Double Fine has made a name for itself on Xbox Live Arcade through popular titles Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade and, most recently, Happy Action Theater, but in the midst of crowd-sourcing nearly $2 million dollars, Double Fine man Tim Schafer has opined over Microsoft’s burgeoning (or is it?) digital platform.

“Ever since I played Geometry Wars I thought, what a great new portal,” the developer said in an interview with Hookshot Inc., “But it seems that this year, the idea didn’t explode like it should have. Back when Castle Crashers came out, it seemed it was going to grow and grow. I just wish there was more support, more marketing, more placement on the dashboard. It could have been our own little Sundance Film festival, a great sandbox for indie development.”

His assessment echoes the long-term rumblings of Xbox Live Indie Games developers, but are XBLA developers suffering too? Schafer believes so.

“the indie community is now moving elsewhere; we’re figuring out how to fund and distribute games ourselves, and we’re getting more control over them. Those systems as great as they are, they’re still closed. You have to jump through a lot of hoops, even for important stuff like patching and supporting your game. Those are things we really want to do, but we can’t do it on these systems. I mean, it costs $40,000 to put up a patch – we can’t afford that! Open systems like Steam, that allow us to set our own prices, that’s where it’s at, and doing it completely alone like Minecraft. That’s where people are going.”

Developers aren’t exactly making a mass exodus away from Xbox Live Arcade, with over 90 games released on the digital platform in 2011, but is Schafer right about indies? With this year’s House Party titles published by the likes of EA, THQ and Ubisoft (and flaunting production values not far off retail games), Castle Crashers seems a long time ago. Are truly independent developers slowly departing?

Microsoft famously lost the support of Team Meat and Introversion in the past, with both developers vexed about the same things that Schafer broaches.

“We’ve not had one sale since our initial launch, and I don’t know if that’s going to happen.” said Ed McMillen of Team Meat. “Whenever we ask, and we actively ask monthly if we can be included in a sale or get any kind of promotion, they say no.”

Similarly, in the wake of Darwinia+’s muted reception on XBLA, Introversion man Mark Morris told PC Gamer that, “[Microsoft] make you work harder on the production value, but they don’t back it up with sales.”

All three of Team Meat, Morris and Schafer have cited Steam as the true bastion of the indie developer with the former branding it a “powerhouse”.

Sources: Hookshot Inc., Indie Games, PC Gamer

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