Why Microsoft did Indie Games first – will others follow?

Posted: 2014/06/05 in Indie Games

Don’t worry, more reviews are coming soon. For the time being, though, I’m enjoying trolling through my “Drafts” folder of un-posted articles.

I wrote this in 2011. Not sure why I never posted this one. At the time I was pondering the question… “Why Microsoft did Indie Games first – will others follow?”


If you think about it, it’s a huge endeavour. To roll out indies Microsoft had to:

– make easy to use development tools, that were powerful yet sandboxed just enough to prevent abuse

– create a peer review infrastructure so that Microsoft didn’t need to participate in the approval process

– create an infrastructure so that indie developers can get paid (there are over 1500 XBL indie games available now, and some developers have as little as one game on the service, so that’s a *lot* of cheques going out to developers every quarter)

– create the game and title update distribution infrastructure (built on the Xbox Live backbone, but with some modifications)

It’s not just something you do overnight. No one’s done it quite like Microsoft either: both the iOS App Store and Steam require submitting it to Apple and Valve, respectively, for approval. Only Microsoft, to the best of my knowledge, has provided the distribution and payment infrastructure, while keeping themselves out of the review/approval process. The peer review process is extraordinarily democratic and, frankly, just really cool.

I would love to see Sony and/or Nintendo do something similar, the more opportunities for indie developers the better IMO, but I really can see why Microsoft (with its background in operating system and network software) did it first when you look critically at what had to be done to make it happen.


  1. Diki says:

    Have you ever released a game on xblig?
    “The peer review process is extraordinarily democratic and, frankly, just really cool.”, no its mostly a nightmare of peoples opinions and back scratching!

    • No, I’ve never released a game on XBLIG. Keep in mind my comments were what I saw from the outside looking in, and were also written several years ago when things were perhaps less cliquey. I appreciate your comments from the inside, however, and I’m going to take a look at both the games you made and consider them for review. I definitely take requests. :)

    • NVO Games says:

      It’s not that bad. Sure, you have to play other people’s games to get them to play your game, but that’s true in most aspects of life. Nothing’s free. As for back scratching, I’ve failed many games for bugs and they almost always review me back anyway.

      As for opinions, yeah, those can suck. But sometimes that other person is right. I’ve definitely had that happen a few times, I even released my first game with a bug that I refused to believe existed. WHOOPS! I guess I should have listened that time.

      With all that said, I think the review system sucks. Not because it didn’t work or was unfair, but because it put this huge delay between you fixing a bug and you being able to update the game on the marketplace. See, there’s this 1 week “jail” time for failing OR passing review. So, if you spot a bug right after the review ends, and you fix it right away, you now have to wait a WEEK before you can put the game back in the review queue. Then you have to get your 8 reviews AGAIN! Meanwhile your game is crashing or has some other bug. Now that sucks! and not just for the developer, but also for the other reviewers who have to review the same game again, and (most importantly) for the customer.

      Another thing lacking from XBLIG is a way to run a playtest with someone outside of the XBLIG community. XBLIGers don’t really have time or inclination to test other people’s games. If there was some way to put your game on the Xbox in a special place and invite people to play and give feedback? Yeah, that would have rocked. It would have also told me to not make my game. ;)

      All of this is 2012 experience and onward.

      • tarhik says:

        Actually, I like the peer review system in XBLIG. Having released three games myself, I can say that, for a free process, it did its job. I started cheering for it ever since I heard that its counterpart in XBLA had a charge of 10,000 USD per release per patch. Sure enough, I had to face some difference in opinions with some odd personalities, but since I kept an open mind and a mature attitude, I had no real problems.

  2. tarhik says:

    Interesting note! What Microsoft did was a major milestone for Indie devs. Adding to the list of benefits already mentioned:
    * It released XNA for Visual C#, which is a much easier programming language than C++/DirectX, which back then was the “de-facto” technology to use for game development,
    * It created a support forum by topic, which proved to be essential for budding developers,
    * It even provided a system for redim codes so developers could provide a copy of their creations to active members of the indie community.

    There were plans of releasing a version of XNA for Visual Basic, which would have been an amazing step towards opening game development to pretty much anyone. XNA became so popular than even today there’s a huge fan base still trying to convince Microsoft to continue with this technology.

  3. Mike says:

    I strongly suspect MS stayed out of the review process more for legal reasons than for any spirit of democracy.

    I agree that XNA on C# was a very solid accomplishment, however I would have been just as happy with C++. I felt just a hair boxed in with C#, but nothing that prevented game creation. I also didn’t like that code could be so easily reverse compiled.

    All my disappointment with the experience though is on the promotional side. I much prefer Apple’s approach where the “garage shop” game appears right next to the commerical application in the store. MS never seemed to quite know what to do with Indie, as is they didn’t want block mining zombie anime girls tainting the rest of their dashboard. Apple puts everything in the same store, and that hasn’t diminished their reputation.

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