Rather than continue to be negative — which apparently only works if you’re a fast-talking British bloke — let’s instead look at what was great about XBLA. Part 1: high royalties.
Why does a high royalty rate matter so much? All it really means is a bit more money for us greedy developers, right?
To quote Alaska senator Ted Stevens, circa two years ago: NO!
Allowing developers to keep the lion’s share of royalties was one of the most striking aspects which set XBLA worlds apart from retail. It was a quantitative difference which enabled a qualitative change in how developers approached making commercial games. It meant that a game didn’t have to sell incredibly well to break even — it could be behind the curve in terms of sales, and still be successful!
Allowing developers the opportunity to be successful with less-than-average sales was one of the most revolutionary aspects of XBLA — perhaps the most revolutionary aspect — certainly the one that created the most opportunity for indie/small developers. Unfortunately not everyone may have realized this, and thus failed to take advantage of such a unique and unprecedented state of affairs.
The main problem we have with retail-level royalties is that they lead directly to retail-level quality — to use a sports analogy, if everyone is always swinging for the fences, they’re going to strike out a lot more often than if they were just trying to get on base. When you need higher-than-average sales to break even, there is more pressure to appeal to absolutely everyone, seeking the lowest-common-denominator, taking no chances, and inevitably pleasing no one. At least, this is one theory for why so many games lack personality/soul/”flava”.
Maybe it’s naive to believe that games will ever overcome Sturgeon’s Law. Maybe it’s unrealistic to think that a giant corporation would be interested in spearheading a paradigm shift in commercial gaming. Maybe it’s stupid to think that professional game developers would ever choose to make something they wanted to make, over something they thought would sell well. Maybe it’s hopelessly optimistic to think that all the people making terrific, weird-ass freeware games on their own time could actually hope to do so on a full-time basis. Maybe it’s borderline communist to think that some day the IP-stealing, price-driving-upping middle-man publishers would be cut out of the equation.
*shrug* Welcome to Metanet Software! Hopefully we aren’t the only ones daring to dream about these crazy possibilities.