AGDC '07: How to get a game on XBLA

Microsoft's game-platform strategist touts latest stats, tells indie developers how to get their work on the Xbox 360 service.


AUSTIN, Texas--While the Thursday afternoon session from Microsoft game-platform strategist Kim Pallister was intended for independent developers looking to get their games on Xbox Live Arcade, the advice given during the talk should give gamers a good idea of what types of games will be featured on the service in the future. Considering that Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Store, and the forthcoming Wii Ware channel are independent developers' best hopes for landing a high-profile game on the newest generation of console systems, there was no shortage of attendees, who filled the conference room to stiflingly warm capacity.

Pallister started off with a recap of the latest stats. With an installed user base for the Xbox 360 of 11.4 million, Pallister said more than 7 million have registered for Xbox Live, with Live Arcade having delivered more than 45 million downloads. For achievement addicts, Pallister said Xbox 360 gamers have earned more than 45 million of the gaming merit badges, with a cumulative gamer score of about 550 million.

For 2007, the top five Live Arcade games (ranked by number of users) are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Worms, Uno, Castlevania, and 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures. Pallister said Live Arcade hits are bringing in about $125,000 in revenue their first week, but have much more staying power than their retail counterparts. Showing a graph of the "long tail" on Live Arcade games, Pallister said that the first two months of a downloadable game's release so far have accounted for an average 35 percent of its lifetime sales volume.

Moving on to the actual topic of his presentation, Pallister explained the two different ways developers can get their games on Xbox Live. The first option is to go through an existing Microsoft publishing partner, like Konami, Capcom, or any other company that already makes retail Xbox 360 games. The second option is to submit the game to Microsoft's Arcade publishing division, which would fulfill many of the same roles as a traditional publisher, handling the ratings submission process, supplying development kits, and so on. But no matter what way a game is submitted, the final say rests with Microsoft's portfolio-management team.

There are a few things Microsoft wants to see out of any prospective Live Arcade game. The well-known basics are that it must be a stand-alone game, it must fall under the 150MB size limit, there must be a free trial version for people to download, and it has to make use of leaderboards, achievements, cross-game invites, and other 360 standard features.

That's the bare minimum. Pallister said that when a game concept is submitted, there are a few questions that get asked. First and foremost, is it a good game, and one that displays originality? If so, is it a good fit for Xbox Live Arcade? Does it make innovative use of the system? Is the game proposed technically possible on the system, and finally, do the developers submitting the idea have both the skill and financial backing to complete the game?

Innovation and differentiation from existing offerings are especially important, Pallister said, given that Microsoft is deluged with inquiries about Live Arcade games and currently has about 80 titles in the pipeline. With such a wealth of incoming titles, Pallister told developers to assume that any glaring holes in the Live Arcade catalog have been filled, so a good idea might not be enough. Instead, developers should make sure they're submitting the best version of a good idea.

Some qualities that make for the best version of a good idea are innovation, inclusion of multiplayer and social aspects, and global appeal. With Live Arcade currently available in more than two dozen countries, Pallister said it's important that games have a broad appeal, and that developers show a willingness to spend time localizing the game for different regions.

And when it comes to multiplayer, the "two players shooting each other" model doesn't quite cut it. Pallister said that cooperative play of any kind is underrepresented on Live Arcade, and noted that games with cooperative modes tend to sell better. Two especially important forms of co-op for Microsoft are local play ("couch play," as Pallister called it), and asymmetric cooperative play (as in Guitar Hero II, where two players of different skill levels can fare equally well). Pallister also wants to see more focus on kids in Live Arcade games, and "sandbox" modes where players can explore with no timer and no punishment for poor performance. However, independent developers may have trouble filling that gap for Microsoft; Pallister noted that, as with other child-oriented products, having a big-name license attached is a definite bonus.

Other genres Pallister said were less prevalent in developer submissions were simulation games, genre-defying experimental projects, and "pub sports" games. On the other hand, there's plenty of competition in the 2D and 3D shooting genres, as well as racing games, and Diner Dash-style casual offerings.

Going beyond genres, Pallister said there are specific features and qualities Microsoft looks for in submissions. Games that inspire physical and mental fitness are welcome, as are titles that contain some form of real-world educational value. Pallister even encouraged developers to think of new ways to use peripherals like the Xbox Live Vision camera, the steering wheel attachment, the upcoming Scene-It controllers, or even the Guitar Hero II controller in their games. Such peripherals make games more approachable to nongamers and break some of the stigmas surrounding gaming.

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Avatar image for vass86

can't wait for rez to come out

Avatar image for lamprey263

Wasn't Microsoft trying to push this back a while ago? Their SDK was really cheap, like $100 or $200, right? I think you basically need some experience with DirectX APIs, which is a lot like C++ from what I've heard.

Avatar image for therejectx

sounds like an interesting enough concept, i hope lots of people pull it off and we get some cool games on xbox live arcade.

Avatar image for jknight5422

The problems I've heard about so far is that they only accept 1 XBLA game per week. So of all the thousands of games out there, that's a pretty big bottleneck for getting your XBLA game through. Also take into account the big back catalog of old tried & true games that big publishers can, & likely will, rehash. They need to increase the number of accepted games per week but then I guess you take a hit on quality.

Avatar image for wenbin09


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Avatar image for peeweeshift

i submitted a game. i hope they accpet it

Avatar image for leapfrog91

For anyone actually looking to create their own game, you have two options: take it very, very seriously -or- find some other people to go along with. Think about what it would mean to say "I want to write my own book and get it published." Creating a game is no different - in fact, I would argue that creating a game is a much more difficult undertaking to take on yourself. Think just about the art. Unless you're working on yet another Arkanoid clone, this can be an incredible challenge. You might not realize it when playing an SNES game like Contra III, but just think about the incredible amount of work that went into the sprites, background and animations for just the first level. It is unbelievable. Now add the music and, of course, the code. Check out Cave Story. A game like this is very solid. It could probably be a Live Arcade game. It took many hours a day for roughly 5 years (I believe) for this game to be created. This is a huge undertaking. And its creator was already a relatively proficient developer. Someone below mentioned the link between C# and XNA. At least I can say this: I have coded in many different languages, and I couldn't imagine a better language to code a first game in than C#. It offers easy debugging in Visual Studio (and I mean EASY debugging) while enforcing safe, clean (read "slow" by many, but don't worry - it's not like you're making GoW ;)) code and OOP practices. I mostly wanted to scare off most people from spending two weeks trying to see what they can do before realizing they aren't even 1% done and giving up. It is possible, but let me put it this way: I have been a coder since 2000 and just finished my MS in CS. I have taken game creation classes. All of this having been said, I would never consider trying to create an adventure game or RPG myself. If you want to create a game, try something simple to start off. Try a card game, Tetris, Arkanoid...something like that. Heck, try Tic Tac Toe to start off if you've never coded before :P Start off with a beginner C# book (one that assumes no coding experience.) Then move to data structures and algorithms. Move on to an OOP/UML book and then finally to a game development book. That should get you on your way.

Avatar image for GeigerdolylWodd

Yeah I downloaded the XNA framework once too. I really don't know off hand how to code in it. I tried it though. I learned Qbasic and some C ++ way back in highschool. But haven't done coding in a while. I still have these great ideas for games but do you really have to get the Torque X engine to use it?

Avatar image for nickythenewt21

I tried XNA, but it seems to complicated for me. And a lot of stuff isn't complicated for me, so that's saying something. But if only I had the money and experience to make an XBLA game... that'd be awesome!

Avatar image for K1nG_Gr4H4m

@FraserAlexander I never tried XNA, but it's in C#, so it's slower. You can download for free the DirectX SDK and Visual C++ on Microsoft's website. The SDK is loaded with samples from how to render a cube to expert shader functions. It's going to be tough if you don't know how to program and/or don't know linear algebra, because it's loaded with those. I've been programing on DirectX since DX5 and it got simpler over the years. Good luck!

Avatar image for DonutTrooper

So would that mean any group (or anyone) could make a good enough game and put it on XBLA? Wow, that would be awesome, because that Live Arcade is a goldmine for M$ and an excellent starting point for small , indie devs making their first shot in the real world.

Avatar image for CapitalG17

...So, Konami's TMNT arcade game is in fact the best-selling XBLA title. Hooray for Konami. Now, please, take this profitable new concept and run with it. There was a TMNT movie, and Ubisoft had a new game to go with it. Konami licensed out their arcade game, and made a small fortune for essentially no effort. Now, there's a Simpsons movie. EA has a new game to go with it. Konami's arcade game has never seen a console release. Make. It. Happen.

Avatar image for imortiferus

I agree more older titles are need on live, how bout some more sega classics? or step up to Virtua Fighter remix or Virua Racing they seem doable at 150MB.

Avatar image for ebookerd1

FraserAlexander, I agree it is kind of hard to make games with no prior knowledge. I studied in school so I could learn about software. I appreciate certain small insignificant things in games that most people ignore. The fact that you looked at XNA and the tutorials is impressive to me. Give it a try it is not an easy task, but with time gets easier. Personally I want to put out a Live game so that people can be critcal of my hard work and call it trash. It's Fine I can take it. I've called a few games trash in my lifetime. :)

Avatar image for ashuncc2

Let's see some more great original XBLA titles! I enjoy my 360, but sometimes I would like to have something similar to the Wii virtual console. There are lots of old Nintendo games I would rather play.

Avatar image for FraserAlexander

is it possible to make a game w/ no prior knowledge of how to do it, only armed with this xna kit? it seems like an impossible task, but if there are good enough tutorials it might be

Avatar image for Homerj

Strahd01: Great comment. If Sierra were to go back and port the old YDKJ games or put together new content in the series, they could make truckloads of money.

Avatar image for pete_merlin

its one of those days when you want a banana but all you've got is a plum

Avatar image for ebookerd1

XNA is great tool set. I started using it a few months ago but I had some PC issues. For all those that hate the games on live. Well here is your chance to make something better and more inovative all you need is the ability to read and some talent and you can get paid for making something great. Hey Isn't that the point of this article to help gamers to take creator seat and see the kind of work it really takes to produce even the smallest games.

Avatar image for Jebril

Peterles why don't you tell us about the amazing games on XBLA like Geometry Wars and Castlevania....go play your PS3 and stop trolling.

Avatar image for gandalf_storm

i just want seni soccer now, dont care about the rest, come on microsoft stop playing it and release it !!!

Avatar image for Jitawa

I think the big problem with alot of the arcade games isn't so much the game controls as it is the shoddy D-pad.

Avatar image for Patriot298

first they need to fix all the lag in lots of the arcade games. Streets of Rage 2 lags so bad on 2 player co-op that its not funny.

Avatar image for console-deity

I want to see more turn-based strategies on 360's live arcade and all systems, on disk or for download.

Avatar image for crunchb3rry

"I wouldn't mind seeing a Contra 3/Metal Slug Clone or a Streets of Rage 2 clone on XBLA since those games don't seem to be coming to XBLA." Metal Slug is supposed to be coming. Of course it was announced back in 2006, so things are not looking good. Personally I'm waiting for Ikaruga. Or course that got announced after I dropped $40 on a used copy off eBay.

Avatar image for Maxdriva

M$-"All your game are belong to us"

Avatar image for BradConrad

Cool. I wish I could make games but I don't have the know how. Good luck to anyone who does and is going to submit a game. Is that Leisure Suit Larry down there?

Avatar image for AlbertoML

An arcade-perfect (or arcade-improved) port of Killer Instinct 1 & 2 would be A W E S O M E :-D

Avatar image for Diablo2343

If anything though will never happen, mike tyson's punchout! In comes the 4 horsemen!

Avatar image for shattapinks

I wouldn't mind seeing a Contra 3/Metal Slug Clone or a Streets of Rage 2 clone on XBLA since those games don't seem to be coming to XBLA.

Avatar image for Big_T-Mac

"Pallister even encouraged to developers to think of new ways to use peripherals like the Xbox Live Vision camera, steering wheel attachment, the upcoming Scene-It controllers, or even the Guitar Hero II controller in their games." My genius design for a galaga stye-shooter to music just become a lil more realistic.

Avatar image for finaleve

I didn't think the 3d golf game would be a top anything. I figured TMNT arcade was going to be there was awesome back then. Worms was a tad surprise but glad to see it, and Castlevania SotN was obvious since its THE best castlevania (though the DS/GBA versions are up there).

Avatar image for strahd01

"Pallister even encouraged to developers to think of new ways to use peripherals like the Xbox Live Vision camera, steering wheel attachment, the upcoming Scene-It controllers, or even the Guitar Hero II controller in their games. Such peripherals make games more approachable to non-gamers and break some of the stigmas surrounding gaming." Man someone needs to make a You Don't Know Jack XBLA to use with the scene it controller. keep the old announcer and smug responses

Avatar image for TranClan

Maybe I should give it a shot

Avatar image for TheBrainSquid

This is news? I guess it was an interesting read...

Avatar image for Cube_of_MooN


Avatar image for OmegaBob

Sooooo... basically, every genre needs to be represented on XBL.

Avatar image for sharpshooter188

bring perfect dark/goldeneye to live joo bastards!!!

Avatar image for Tree06

Too much to read. Lol

Avatar image for Pete5506

nice, there is some work you have to do