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Monday, March 30, 2009

5 Ways to Improve Xbox Community Games

The XNA Community Games that launched with the 2008 Dashboard update is a service which lets indie developers post their games to the Xbox Live service after a series of peer reviews. In theory it has the possibility of upsetting the current environment that surrounds development and distribution, which is something that we could all benefit from.

A post went up on Joystiq today "Some creators disappointed with XNA Community Games sales" which indicates that developers believe they are not making the kind of sales they were expecting. The service is good as it is, but it's lacking a critical feature: user reviews.

I'll mention from the start that I am in no way associated with Microsoft, and have no stake in XNA succeeding or failing (but as an aside, community manager Kathleen Sanders is a badass). That said, here are 5 ways to improve the sales of community games on Xbox Live.

1) "Dashboard" user reviews - Nothing says "TRY ME" more than 100 other users recommending a product to you. The fact that they're not associated with the product being sold is a bonus to the person at the receiving end of a review. The best example of user reviews that I can think of are the rating systems that iTunes uses. On iTunes I can search for any word, in this example "Nerd Alert" and get an idea of which of the items returned are the most popular. This should not be a written review, rather a 5 star rating that could be used with an Xbox controller very easily.

2) Related Recommendations - It would be nice if there was a place in the community rating which takes into account other games that user has reviewed. Much like Amazon's product recommendation or Netflix DVD Recommendation, there should be a feature that says "It looks like you enjoyed Rumble Massage, 95% of users who enjoyed this application also enjoyed Remote Masseuse."

3) A community webpage / community podcast - There ought to be a webpage where people can share their thoughts about their experience with a demo or full purchase. The current XNA Website is focused on creaters, not gamers. An example of this would be something like iFanboy.com. If you're unfamiliar with the site, it's built around 3 guys to read a stack of comics, and each week one of them presents their favorite. They have a review part of their website where site members can also read, and respond, and pick their own favorite comic for that week. This generates lots of discussion and lots of free P.R. for the books that are "Pick of the Week", and gives the creators immediate feedback. The Podcast is for those of us who like to read with our ears, or have boring commutes. It's important to note that this website is not assosciated with comic book publishers at all, and therefore is free to say whatever they want in a review.

4) Greater involvement in the game review/preview community - I've never actually seen a site like Giant Bomb or Kotaku or 1up review a community game. I've seen the remote masseuse application show up as a news item, but I've never actually seen these games reviewed by large, or small, gaming review outlets. Perhaps this could be remedied by targeting smaller review blogs, and gifting them Review codes. I also understand it's hard to get "previews" for these games for review because the release schedule is up to the peer review process, but it might be nice to let previewers see a product in it's beta stage, in order to drum up some P.R. for its' release.


5) Internal Advertisements - the problem is that these games are created by users who do not have the P.R. budget of a larger XBLA Game... or any P.R. budget at all. If Microsoft wants to not only provide a place for community games to exist, but also to thrive, they'll have to do advertising out of their own pocket. It's akin to the commercials that Comcast puts on cable TV, or the way a newspaper will sometimes have advertisements for itself in the classifieds. Microsoft owns the billboards, and can put whatever content they want there. If they want more users to download these games, and pay to unlock the full versions, they have to let users know that they exist. The dashboard advertisements are clearly a great way to get more downloads. Major Nelson's podcast is more free billboard space, and could be a good place for gamers and developers to learn more about well recieved XNA games.

It's my hope that Microsoft is already working on some of these suggestions. Of course, I have a few more in mind, but this is just the demo. Please convert your NerdAlert consultant to the full version for unlimited access.

Jonpaul is a media critic at NerdAlertNerdAlert.com. He lives in Portland with his Yorkshire Terrier-Mini Schnauzer-thing "Indiana", and likes those little mandarin oranges that are in season right now.

8 comments:

Matthew Doucette said...

Very good suggestions. It just goes to show that XNA (XBLCG) is very new when compared to apples app store and whatnot. Eventually everything you said here will come as it matures. I wish it was here now, but I am glad the system is open to us before it's 100% ready.

Entrager said...

Destructoid does reviews of community games, but it's the only site I know of that does.

As a developer myself (of Remote Masseuse), I'm constantly watching media coverage of community games. I wish it got more press and that MS would promote it more.

Today was actually a big news day for community games, maybe it will help.

Matthew Doucette said...

Entrager, checkout XNA Roundup. I check it out on youtube, the best XBLCG reviews, yet. But very low hits and not yet well known.

Jonpaul said...

Yeah, I also found out about a few XNA review sites.

http://xnaroundup.blogspot.com/

- This is a very polished video podcast XNA review site, seems to be self produced and very good. Maybe you guys could contact this site for some P.R.?

http://xnaratings.com/

- A large database of all games released on XNA/XBLA with average scores. It would require many reviews in order for the site to be useful, but is part of the community website that is needed for review scoring.

I had no idea that either of these existed before today, which is a shame. Also, as useful as this stuff is, it would be much more useful on the Xbox itself, where people are making decisions about what to download. I think the problem there is that Microsoft doesn't want to share that space with advertisers who pay the big bucks to be there. (Even though I don't own Ninja Gaiden II so leave me alone about the mission packs already!)

It's push and pull I suppose. Cheap development tools, easy distribution, but making people aware of it in a sea of alternatives is still the hardest part.

Andy said...

I created xnaratings.com purely because I was frustrated with the lack of info on which games people like. I would love to see a user review/recommendation option built strait into the dashboard, but until that is added I'll keep running xnaratings.com, and hopefully people will find it useful for finding the great games on XNA. Because, frankly, there are a lot of not so great games on there, but hidden in that list of 200+ games are some truly fun gems.

ben said...

Please post feedback here, to help better test XNA community games, and perhaps make them better.

https://connect.microsoft.com/feedback/ViewFeedback.aspx?FeedbackID=430536&SiteID=226

Jonpaul said...

Thanks Ben, I signed that feedback form. I'd love to have an account that could playtest games to help the approval process. I think that is a big part of the problem, that you have to pay 99 dollars per year and also volunteer your time. I've considered it, but can't justify the purchase right now.

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