GDC 06: Marketplace potential runs deep

Xbox Live Marketplace director implores game makers to bring it on--more demos, more trailers.

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At the 2006 Game Developers Conference in San Jose, almost all of the talk is about creating games.

However, the game isn't the entire product, said director of Xbox Live's content management group James Miller in a GDC presentation on Thursday. During a session titled "Xbox Live Marketplace and Future Directions," Miller argued that publishers should also focus on extended game content, such as trailers and demos.

Miller began with a short summary of the success of and issues associated with Xbox Live Marketplace, the Xbox 360's download center that was launched four months ago.

"Lots of people are using it, and since there are challenges, both game and marketing teams should plan for Marketplace."

The numbers he presented were impressive: more than 90 percent of Xbox Live users have downloaded items from Marketplace, and there have been over 10 million total downloads, including more than 3.5 million trailer downloads and 2.5 million demo downloads.

The focus of the talk was on how to use Xbox Live Marketplace's support for multiple types of content during and outside of a game's release. Before a game's launch, Marketplace gives publishers the ability to distribute demos and trailers to consumers. Miller encouraged companies to load Marketplace with more content, citing success stories of various demos since Marketplace has started. The Project Gotham Racing 3 demo, for example, clocked over 100,000 downloads despite both being a whopping 1.2 gigabytes and being made available after the game had its retail release.

Miler emphasized that this success could translate directly into increased sales, giving the next example of Electronic Arts' Fight Night Round 3. Not only was the demo downloaded 200,000 times in the first two weeks, but preorders of the retail version went up after the demo's release.

Miller also discussed the importance of providing high-quality trailers to sell games, saying, "People who have high-definition TVs set up with good stereo systems want to be able to watch high-definition trailers." He also encouraged publishers to release lower-quality trailers for customers without hard drives, small enough to fit into memory cards. Currently, most trailers are released in 720p and 480p formats.

But while demos and trailers all help games for their launches, Miller argued that Marketplace still has untapped potential even after games hit shelves. "There's a tendency in the industry to ship the game, then figure out the extended content," said Miller. In order to hit "the sweet spot for a launch, [publishers need to] make sure there's content available within 30 to 60 days of the release of a game."

He emphasized that there are many benefits to this strategy, such as keeping consumers interested in the title and providing an additional revenue stream. "From the launch and beyond, Marketplace will help to keep the game in the hearts and minds of everyone and is the biggest opportunity for gaming teams for significant follow-on success."

For publishers to achieve this kind of success, Miller pointed out that they couldn't look at add-on content as an afterthought. Instead, he suggested that they form a small, secondary team to begin development of add-on content before the game has shipped. This team allows the primary developers to focus on hitting the launch date, while still providing content after release.

Xbox Live Marketplace isn't just about game content, though, Miller said. He gave examples of content expanding outside of game trailers, including the popular machina Red vs. Blue and various high-definition movie trailers and music videos.

Miller explained his future vision of Marketplace as one that could become a "home media distribution point," and his desire for publishers to consider Marketplace during a game's planning and design stages. This desire could also be described by a quote from an Xbox forum post that he displayed at the beginning of his presentation: "I like Xbox Marketplace more than I like my dog."

And you can almost see Miller wagging his tail when he shows it.

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