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Platform Trial and Errors

The last few years I've been struggling with finding the right platform to release my games on. In this post I'll talk about my experiences with XBLIG, iOS, Ouya, and PC and what is on the horizon next.

The last few years I've been struggling with finding the right platform to release my games on. I have 10 XBLIG games and even though I haven't released a game since Dec/January, I still pull down a decent income (mostly from my two trivia games that feature Avatars). I won't tell anyone that you can't make money on XBLIG because you can, but the ceiling isn't close to as high as it used to be. The last couple of my releases sold a fraction of what the releases from 4-5 years ago did. I’m certain in that time span I’ve improved as a developer and it is frustrating to see what I perceive as better games selling worse. The style of games I like to make generally take a minimum of 4 months of work and on the XBLIG platform, I feel the most I can make off that is about 2,000 sales at $1 (70% of which I get to keep). For me, the time and money spent on assets like art and music simply don't make it a worthwhile investment.

I tried iOS and my first game sold well but maybe it got lucky (Apple featured it). My second released didn't come even close, it just fell into the void without anyone really noticing. I also reached a point where my Mac is borderline too old and the iPod I use for testing is too dated. My Mac can’t run emulators at more than 1 FPS (if that) or update to the latest version of XCode and my iPod is too old to test the new phone features like widescreen display, so I need to invest in new dev and test hardware if I want to do more iOS games. Whether or not paid games can be viable over F2P games is also questionable. My designs work better as paid games and I do not desire to make lesser games or do things to take advantage of my customers so I can earn more. All these things coupled with a general sense that my games play better on a TV while using a gamepad make me want to pass on iOS / mobile development.

I released two games for Ouya and lost money overall on that venture (I haven’t even made back half the $300 price required for the Xamarin license I needed to buy in order to port C# code to an Android device). I was nearly finished with a third release but one of the Ouya updates in January left me unable to debug (my PC can no longer see my Ouya). I spent a few hours trying to fix this and asked around on some forums but could not find a resolution and given the extremely low sales at that point, it did not seem worth the effort to spend any more time on this. Sometimes cutting bait is your best option, something I really should have done after the first Ouya game.

I released a PC game that's only sold a handful of copies (outside of Steam, it's really hard to sell PC games). If I can get on Steam this will change or possibly get included in some bundles, but until then PC isn’t a very viable platform for me either. Getting on Steam is hard when you’re a little guy who isn’t already on Steam.

I have since been looking into the various next gen consoles. XBox One development seems too closed off. I'm not a big enough player to attract Microsoft's attention and the [email protected] indie program is little more than XBLA with a mailing list and Twitter account. Nintendo seems like they have a reasonable indie program but I worry about the long term viability of the Wii U and there is a somewhat high (for an indie developer) cost to get going, which is more worrisome given my first concern. I could do 3DS as well and I think my games would work well on that platform but this would also require me to completely rewrite the engines for my games which is something I would ideally avoid.

I’ve decided my next platform will be Sony’s PS4. I feel like the ceiling on PS4 is much higher than any of the platforms I’ve released games on so far, the people I’ve talked with at Sony seem to be very helpful, and being a console played on TVs with gamepads is exactly the kind of device I want to be making games for. The past few years have been kinda rocky for me but I think I may have finally found a platform where I can find the success I desire. Wish me luck!

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