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Microsoft's Michael Wolf offers Gamasutra a first-party perspective on Xbox Live Arcade, addressing competition with Steam and the company's relationship with indie developers.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

March 22, 2012

3 Min Read

There have been legitimate questions raised in the past about whether Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade was past its prime, and if indie developers were moving away from Microsoft's digital platform, onto supposedly greener pastures like Valve's Steam and mobile app stores. But Microsoft still wants "a really nice, eclectic mix" of games from both indies and big companies on XBLA, according to Michael Wolf, who works in marketing for XBLA at Microsoft Studios. "It's more of a coincidence" that recent titles like Ubisoft's I Am Alive and Remedy's Alan Wake: American Nightmare blur the line between downloadable and console games. They don't presage a change in direction for the service. "From the Microsoft Studios perspective, we've always just looked for compelling digital experiences," Wolf tells Gamasutra. When evaluating a game, "We just want it to be fun, approachable, easy to jump into, and deliver good times," he says. "We always look for different content wherever we find it." And when it comes to building relationships with developers, whether they're indies or big companies, "we don't really distinguish much," he says. "There's not like a specific formula for success," says Wolf, when it comes to the games on the service. "We have a really great portfolio," he says, because "we've got a really high quality bar" as a first party publisher. "It's amazing, the quality of content that I see coming through the studio," says Wolf. "There are so many creative developers out there who have creative ideas," and that's what really attracts Microsoft to publishing first party games. The company most recently picked up Capy Games' Super T.I.M.E. Force, which it announced at the 2012 IGF Awards -- a frantic 2D shooter that couldn't be further from Alan Wake. Wolf also called out Grasshopper Manufacture's Diabolical Pitch as another example of the publisher's eclecticism. The company does have something else to worry about than the quality of its lineup, though -- the rise of digital delivery platforms on the PC and indie game bundles have given consumers much cheaper avenues for buying games, and also offer developers more flexibility on pricing and new routes to finding an audience. Is Steam in particular something Wolf feels Microsoft is directly competing against? "I wouldn't say 'direct competitor'," says Wolf. "People buy games from different places." "People who buy games from Steam buy games from XBLA. There's not necessarily a competition there," he says. But what about Steam sales and promotions? "Steam does some really great things... Which work great on the PC platform," he says. "We're looking at things that could work well on the console platform." "It's important to be paying attention," says Wolf. "We listen to a lot of consumer feedback. We're always looking to evolve our products to map to the expectations consumers have." But it's not just consumers who help Microsoft make decisions. "We listen a lot to our developers; we've got a really wide open door," Wolf says. While Wolf was cautious about answering questions regarding how games are selected for Microsoft's XBLA promotions, such as Summer of Arcade and House Party, he did have this to say: "We'll spend a lot of time thinking about what titles are coming out at that time frame, what ones will people be really excited for." "It's definitely something that's a very cooperative process across several groups" inside Microsoft, he says. "A lot of conversations and deliberations... what we want is for people to be really excited for the games."

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