Kris Steele (FunInfused Games) interview, part 3

Posted: 2011/04/22 in Indie Games

In the first part of my interview with Kris Steele of FunInfused Games (who, among others, has released “Abduction Action!” and “Hypership Out of Control”) Kris and I discussed XNA development, the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) community, XBLIG price points, whether XBLIG developers on Twitter have too narrow a focus on what hashtags they use, and the Commodore 64 game Choplifter. In part 2 we discussed how many people are part of his XNA development team, the influences for some of his games, his sales, and last winter’s Indie Games Winter Uprising. Now WMD presents the third and final part of the interview.

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WMD:
You’re in the process of moving some of your games to Windows Phone 7 (WP7), the other platform Microsoft provides an XNA distribution system for. Do you have any other platforms you’re looking at supporting?

Kris:
Currently you can play Hypership in your web browser at http://www.funinfused.com/HypershipOnline – I’d also like to do PC, iPhone, and Android releases of our games. I’ve started playing with Unity3D for those. It’s different than working with XNA but it provides an easy means to port to several different platforms with minimal reworking of the game. It is very appealing to develop one version of the game and be able to release it on several platforms.

I can’t say all our games will end up on WP7 but, if Hypership does well, you’ll probably see at least a couple. The process of converting an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) to WP7 is pretty simple. The biggest changes have come on the UI and then adding real online high scores (verses the peer to peer scores used on XBLIG).

WMD:
iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) hasn’t proven to be a panacea either, with the average iOS app making around $4000 by some estimates, but once you take out the runaway hits like Angry Birds, the average app is actually making far less. Android apps don’t even do as well as that, on average. It seems to me that the PC is where indie games are doing the best, and XNA games can be released there, but Microsoft doesn’t provide the distribution like they do for the Xbox and Windows Phone 7.

Kris:
Well $4,000 is still better than any of my games on XBLIG. I believe a game like Hypership is good enough to sell well on a larger market that may have more true gamers. I don’t expect Angry Bird like success, but the process of porting a game is far shorter than writing one from scratch. Hypership for WP7 will likely take me a month from start to finish vs about six months to create the original XBLIG version. In some ways, porting is easy money, even if it’s not always a lot more money. There are distribution portals like Steam available on the PC as well as the option of selling directly from your website. It would be nice if Microsoft had their own distribution method too but I think there are enough options that it isn’t necessary.

WMD:
Though Microsoft does have a Games for Windows (GFW) Marketplace, but participation appears to be by invitation only (for example, Carneyvale Showtime made the leap from XBLIG to there, and I’d be willing to bet that the PC port is written in XNA). It’s a shame, opening GFW up to a peer review indie game process might be just the thing to make it relevant in a market dominated by Steam. Developers who can’t, or for whatever reason don’t choose to, target Steam for distribution would evangelise the platform for Microsoft.

Kris:
Apple did an app store for Macs. I think there is money to be made in that sort of thing if Microsoft were to jump on board too. Bringing XBLIG to PC would be a logical way to get that up and running quickly. I’ve honestly looked very little at Games for Windows Marketplace. It doesn’t feel like something accessible to most XNA developers.

WMD:
I didn’t come into this interview planning to bring Games for Windows Live up, or its Marketplace, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. The synergies with XBLIG and WP7 are strong. Rather than trying to out-Steam Steam, which is likely impossible, do an end run about it and support the up and coming developers. Look at Ska Studios and the success they’ve had since their first XBLIG project, with a mix of XBLIG and Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) releases since. Once a developer gets a runaway hit, Microsoft is the one distributing their back catalogue. And the developers will be on the forums, linking to their games, and promoting the service for Microsoft.

Kris:
There are over 1,750 games on XBLIG, many of them currently exclusive to the platform. That would be a pretty nice start for a PC app store.

WMD:
How would you describe the experience of being an indie game developer to someone reading this article at home who is interested in game development? Would you in general recommend it to someone wanting to get into game development?

Kris:
If you love making games, then yes, go for it. You can do so much yourself and there are others you can find to fill in the holes for things you cannot complete. If you’re looking to get into a bigger studio, having a portfolio of actual games you’ve worked on is invaluable. If you’re just expecting to easily make lots of money, that’s not the right mentality to have. Games are a lot of work, especially hard at times when you’re squeezing in development between other responsibilities in your life. But if you love doing it, then the hard work is easy to do too.

WMD:
With your XNA and XBLIG experience, would you recommend aspiring game developers go the same route as you?

Kris:
XNA was attractive to me because I knew C#, that removed a big hurdle in learning game development. I think XNA / XBLIG is a great route to go to learn to make games but it feels more like a stepping stone these days to other bigger things. Financially there may be other better routes to take.

Whatever route you choose to go, making games is the most important piece of the puzzle.

WMD:
@benkane on Twitter has asked me to make sure I ask you how your date went.

Kris:
My date went well. Dinner, drinks, got laughed at for my choice in music. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

WMD:
Meatloaf (the rock star) would undoubtedly agree.

WP7 allows you to give your game away for free, but support it with ads. Are in-game ads something you intend to try?

Kris:
There will be two versions of Hypership for WP7, one ad-supported and free and the other paid. The free version will be released first. It seems the number of downloads free apps on WP7 get tends to be 10 to 15 times higher than paid apps. I haven’t seen a lot of success for paid apps thus far on WP7 but I’m seeing several developers doing well with daily ad revenue from their games.

WMD:
Is this something you would recommend Microsoft look at for XBLIG?

Kris:
I think just doing a paid app is a mistake on WP7. I don’t think most developers would do well with that model. There are a lot of other things I’d recommend to Microsoft to fix about XBLIG first before allowing ads. I do think it could be something attractive to developers and perhaps make the channel more financially viable for developers but it would also drastically change the dynamic of the channel. Once you introduce free apps, you may end up with situations where gamers won’t pay for them anymore. I’d be willing to bet that the Top Downloaded list would quickly become a list of nearly all free apps and really harm the sales of existing paid releases that are doing well.

WMD:
What other things are you hoping for? In the past you’ve talked about Achievements, I know.

Kris:
Achievements with gamer points are up there for sure as are leaderboards. Changing the first thing you see when you go to the Indie games channel to a list of good games rather than New Releases is another. Really the biggest failing of the channel is getting enough gamers to play and buy games to make it a good platform to release on. Making some of these changes and then doing more to promote the channel itself would make it much more attractive to developers. We’re seeing too many developers (myself included) look at other platforms not because we don’t like the tools or the community but because the sales just aren’t there to support someone that wants to do this as a serious business.

And they also need to fix the widespread ratings abuse going on right now too. So much of a game’s long term success is based on positioning on the Top Rated listing and what is going on lately is killing profits for good games. Good games should be able to succeed on XBLIG and I don’t believe that’s always the case. The ratings abuse just compounds that.

WMD:
You must have some XBLIG titles that you would recommend our readers try, or that I should review in the future. What XBLIGs from other developers would you recommend?

Kris:
Have you played “Your Doodles Are Bugged!”? A Steam version is releasing shorting (if not already) but it was on XBLIG first and is a lot of fun. I also really liked “Arkedo Series – 01 JUMP!”, I think you may have covered that one already. I’d really recommend gamers check out the Top Rated section of games on XBLIG and work through that list, as that is the best place to find good games on XBLIG (though you may have to dig a little deeper than you did before because of the recent ratings issues that have caused many previously high rated games to drop.

WMD:
I haven’t checked out Your Doodles are Bugged yet. I’ll add it to my list, thank you. Do you have any thoughts about this website, its role in helping promote indie games, and ways it can improve?

Kris:
I think all the reviews have been great and it’s a great concept. I like that you’re adding more features too, like multi-part interviews with me. So long as you continue updating the website with content, I think you’re traffic to the website will increase. The XBLIG ranking / sorting system is kinda broken so it is important to have websites like yours to help gamers find what is really the best content available.

WMD:
Thank you. Anything else you want to share with our readers about the above topics, or any other topic?

Kris:
There are a lot of things I’ll settle for, but I won’t settle for a broken chainsaw. Always perform the manufacturers recommended chainsaw maintenance, especially at the beginning of each chainsaw season.

WMD:
Words to live by. Thank you for your time.

Kris:
Thank you for yours. And for the fantastic website. And great interviews.

Comments
  1. For those who may have read the article before it went up, I’ve added a poll so you can vote on which of the three parts to the article you enjoyed the most. This is not purely fluff, each segment of the interview had a somewhat different feel and I’m interested in what is resonating with readers the most.

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