Why Did PC Strategy Game Dev Stardock Release A Christmas XBLIG Game?

And would they do it again? The team chats about the Galactic Civilizations developer's unexpected Christmas surprise, and how XBLIG might be a good venue for games of a tiny scale.
Stardock is best known for its hardcore PC strategy titles, and is currently in talks to release its back catalog via Steam, after it sold its Impulse digital distribution service to GameStop last Spring. Who would have guessed, then, that the developer would publish a title for the Xbox Live Indie Games platform quite out of the blue -- and a Christmas-themed game, no less? Yet this is exactly what happened, and Elfsquad7 is currently available to download for 80 Microsoft Points, or $1, with 1-4 player local co-op platform gaming the main course. Understandably, Gamasutra's first question for Scott Tykoski, lead artist at Stardock and developer at Elfsquad7's indie team Tykocom, is: Why Xbox Live Indie Games? Why the rather odd jump from PC strategy titles to colorful and very silly multiplayer platformer? "We've been playing with XNA on the side for a while," he explains. "Its multi-platform appeal, where a Microsoft designed codebase would run on PC and Xbox, has us intrigued from the beginning. It's an impressive toolset for sure." He notes that, when it came to making a game with a rather limited theme, the platform made even more sense to his team. "When making a Christmas game, you're always aware of its limited appeal, so you scope the game accordingly. While it certainly could have been designed with a bit more 'epic-ness' for the Arcade channel, we knew that a small, one dollar holiday title would be our best bet," explains Tykoski. "At the moment, only the Indie Channel allows that price point on a console. Plus we're indies at heart, so hopefully our involvement encourages pessimistic gamers to take another look at the channel (which has a fair share of gaming gems)." That indie spirit which Tykoski mentions is even more present in that Stardock has created its own spin-off indie company called Tykocom, under which everything Elfsquad7-based has been released.
Going back to the Christmas theme, again Gamasutra must ask the question: Why? Was Elfsquad7 always a Christmas game, or did a similar concept take on a Christmas theme with the holidays fast approaching? "It was always a Christmas game," says Tykoski. "I knew it could be made in a few months and once I had a polished prototype up and running, we quickly saw its appeal and Stardock was happy to put some marketing muscle behind it." He continues, "Granted, now that the holiday season is half over I wish it was a genre that would sell year-round, but regardless, it's been successful and it was a fun side project -- and there's always next Christmas for updates and another bite at the apple!" Regarding sales and expectations of the title, Tykoski explains that sales reports for the game have not yet come in, although attention from press and gamers has been good. "The coverage and comments for Elfsquad7 have been steady and positive, which we see translating into some impressive holiday sales," he suggests.
Stardock lead designer Derek Paxton adds that the team would definitely release a game via Xbox Live Indie Games again, "if it was the right game, especially if Scott wants to release another version of Elfsquad7 next year." As for what's next for Stardock outside of XBLIG, Paxton explains that Stardock is sticking to its usual guns. "Next up for Stardock are two PC strategy titles. Elemental: Fallen Enchantress is a turn based strategy game set in dark fantasy world and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is a real time strategy game and the next chapter to IGN's 2008 'Best PC Game of the Year.'" [Update: Stardock has received sales figures since the interview took place, and apparently the game hasn't sold as well as first hoped. Stardock's Brad Wardell has since tweeted, "So clearly, the indie game channel on the Xbox is a waste of time from any sort of commercial POV."] [Update 2: Wardell has clarified the above statement to Gamasutra, explaining that the comment was made in response to "some other indies who ... believed that we were probably making 'big bucks.'" According to Wardell, the company never expected to make money on the game, which Wardell says has sold less than 1,000 units so far. "The issue with the XBLIG is it's too buried, the typical gamer is never going to find it," he said. "It's a good channel for those who want to dip their toes in Xbox game development, which is what we were doing. But if you wouldn't want to try to make a living making games that way."]

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