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GDC '08: The sum of N+ dev's XBLA experience

Independent publisher Metanet says a working prototype was key to securing its Xbox Live Arcade deal.


SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) has seen its fair share of hits and misses, but for aspiring developers, the online downloadable service is still an extremely attractive way to get their game out to a wide audience without the hassles and costs of full-scale publishing and distribution. Mare Sheppard from Metanet Software--developer of the about-to-be-released N+ on XBLA--has one major piece of advice for those wanting to jump on the XBLA bandwagon: Have a working prototype of your game before you apply.

N+ started its life as a freely downloadable flash game called N way back in 2004, but for its Xbox Live debut, Metanet handed off development duties to Slick Entertainment while it took on publishing duties. In N+, players take the role of a sprightly ninja as he attempts to traverse a wide array of environments filled with environmental hazards and dangerous enemies.

"For our Xbox Live application, a prototype really helped. It basically lets financiers and publishers pretty much see exactly what they're going to get. It's a tangible example of the look and feel of the final product," she said.

"It also helped everyone see the commercial viability of the project. There were some issues with graphics--Microsoft was concerned that it wouldn't translate to HD in a really exciting way. So it was nice to have a prototype so we could point to it and have evidence that the graphics worked, that people liked them, and it wasn't really going to matter very much."

Sheppard also revealed the cost to make the freeware N into the N+ Xbox Live Arcade title--roughly $214,000, which includes production and marketing costs. However, Sheppard said the project could have been done for even less providing further sacrifices were made.

"If you were to do all the work in-house and not pay yourself much, we still figure it would cost around $145,000 to develop it," she said. "However, in order to acquire the amount of funding necessary to cover development costs, we had to pretty much defer everything, including all of our salaries. So things got very difficult later. My point here is to pay yourself as much as you can because there are always delays and there are always unforeseen bumps in the road."

N+ will be released on XBLA on February 20 for 800 Microsoft points (US$10), with PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS versions due out next month.

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