To most garage or basement developers (whichever particular room you prefer, really), console development is as alien a concept as certain NAG writers admitting to the fact that they enjoy playing JRPGs. The humble PC seems to be the only avenue for easy game creation – or rather, you’d be forgiven for thinking so until a formidable and ever-so-heroic reality intervenes.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to learn about Xbox Live Community Games.
Take a deep breath, click on the link, and check out the list of games. Dearest reader, what you’re seeing is a verdant valley of indie development: every single one of those titles is made by an unaffiliated, unrated, stay-at-home-and-code-in-your-spare-time indie developer who wants to make it big just like the rest of us. And their efforts earn them more than just exposure: there’s a trickle of cold hard cash as well.
Avid readers may remember a piece that was written a while back about the 2009 Dream-Build-Play challenge. In DBP, contestants are required to build and submit a game that can run on an Xbox 360, standing a chance to win glorious cash prizes, everlasting fame, and probably a private island somewhere in the Pacific.
The tools needed for entry are absolutely free, and entering the competition automatically qualifies developers for a non-premium subscription to the XNA Creators Club – which means getting a free ticket to deploy games to an Xbox 360 console.
But how does a game go from competition entry to Community Games wunderkind, you ask? Good question.
DBP carries the promise of an Xbox Live publishing contract for one lucky winner, but what Microsoft doesn’t advertise quite as much is the fact that for $99 (a paltry amount when compared to the cost of most “serious” development tools) you can purchase a full Creators Club membership and deploy your creation to the Community Games portal instead. Quite a few former DBP entries have already gone down this road: titles such as Trino and CarneyVale: Showtime are among the finer examples.
Your work then appears on the Community Games tab for pretty much every Live-enabled Xbox in the universe, complete with a little price tag of your choosing (of which Microsoft naturally takes a cut). Bam! Cash flow.
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that the Community Games platform is perfect. For a start, every second week reveals a new idea about the platform’s financial viability, the concept undergoing a constant tug-of-war between stats which say it’s a horrific waste of time, and other stats which show individual devs netting a tidy profit. Then there’s the fact that controller-based massagers, rehashed controller-based massagers, and Cold War games which contain controller-freaking-based massage features, are more plentiful than oyster-chugging bunnies during mating season.
But if you’re looking for a way to get your feet wet in console development without a publisher and massive budget, then don’t forget that the Xbox offers you a very feasible way to do just that. Thanks go to Microsoft for this free lunch!