Indie Concepts and XBLA

(I’m currently in Shanghai and having a blast. Haven’t had time to write something about my experiences yet, so here’s an unrelated article I wrote a few weeks ago but never got around to posting…)

Since I joined XBLA, I’ve refrained from writing about my job because most of what I do is considered highly confidential. In addition, there’s been so much to absorb (intellectually, organizationally, and creatively) that I’m still digesting most of it. But I think there’s one thing I can share that you all might find interesting.

Five months ago, I wasn’t sure what kinds of content developers might be pitching to Microsoft. My assumption was that many pitches (if not most) would involve content that traditional publishers generally shy away from. Experimental gameplay, completely original IP… that sort of thing.

And happily, we’re definitely seeing pitches along those lines. However, many independent developers are also proposing rather traditional concepts as well. (Their take on the standard FPS, platformer, racing title, etc.) In other words, evolutionary games — not revolutionary games.

What I’ve found is that many developers are simply hoping to “make that game they’ve always dreamed of making”, which (as with every art form) is often inspired by great experiences from the past. Game designers, it would seem, are not all that different from painters, novel writers, film directors, and TV producers. Many simply wish to stand on the shoulders of giants… and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Maybe the game development community (and I include myself here) has been somewhat unfair in its near-universal criticism of big publishers. Don’t get me wrong — I think several notable publishers swung way too far in the “licensed-IP” and “tried-and-true design” direction for a while. (At least one major publisher has publicly admitted as much.) But let’s face it… publishers aren’t behind anywhere near 100% of the indie-proposed, self-funded, “traditional” concepts that we’ve been pitched here at XBLA.

Let me look at this subject from a different perspective. Is anybody angry that HBO produced The Sopranos (“so clearly a gangster flick rip-off?”) No — because The Sopranos is not actually a rip-off. It’s an enjoyable revisioning of a classic concept: one with undeniable artistic and business value. That’s worth remembering, even as we continue to seek out and celebrate truly revolutionary innovations in the video game industry.

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