(Cross-posted to my blog)
So, the Xbox 360 has a new dashboard update! Has the sky fallen on Xbox LIVE Indie Games? Let's take a look at what changed:
What We Got:
Indie games show up in Bing search results. If someone knows your game, they can find it relatively easily. A big addition that could change the effectiveness of advertising online and word-of-mouth.
Rate from Library
It's now much easier to rate indie games since you no longer have to go back to the marketplace. I think the percentage of users that rate games will increase, and hopefully the effect of "ratings manipulations" is diminished.
Each game now has 3 (expandable to 10) additional related game suggestions. Should help the service as a whole, though you see a lot of the same titles being suggested. Still, this is a really nice addition.
Included in "Picks"
The Games Marketplace now has 3 (expandable to 10) "picks" based on a user's history. This could help expose more indie titles - the picks seem to include indie titles surprisingly frequently. However, the selections seem pretty bizarre. If the suggestion engine can settle down, this could be a nice win for a small subset of indie developers.
A High Level "Indie Games" Tile
The current "Indie Games" tile is actually in a pretty good place, even if you have to wait for the carousel to rotate (or do it manually with RS). If this was a permanent tile, I'd be happy. As it stands, it feels like it's only a matter of time before another promo is rotated in.
Included in Quickplay
I think this is new. The Quickplay tile on the main page of the dash (and in the guide popup) now includes indie (and AppHub-deployed) titles. A nice-to-have, but it cannot be seen by anyone but you.
New Releases List Now Has 100 Entries
I suppose this is good. I'm referring to the "Games -> Games Marketplace -> Games -> Indie Games -> New Releases" list here. There's also "Games -> Games Marketplace -> Games -> Game Type -> Indie Games -> New Releases" that has ALL indie games sorted by release date. Yikes.
This is the new indie games section! Well, one of them.
What We Didn't Get:
No big surprise here. Would have been nice, but really not necessary. Probably would have made peer review a bigger headache anyway.
Beacons & Activity
Beacons may have helped fledging mulitplayer indie games maintain some sort of community. Activity would have been a nice way to spread the word about popular games in a viral manner. Indie games do not exist as far as these features are concerned.
Included in New Releases, Most Popular, Genre and Title A-Z list with Other Game Content
As before, indie games are not lumped in with "real" games, XBLA, DLC, Games on Demand or Xbox Originals. Not surprising, and I don't genuinely expect Microsoft to give indie games the same status.
This is the other, permanent indie section. It's just one big list, with four sorting options.
What We Lost:
Ability to Filter by Genre
Genre is simply gone as far as indie games are concerned. There is a Genre list in the Games Marketplace, but it does not include indie titles. The only way to see an indie game's genre is by looking at the full game description.
Ability to Quickly Sort by Title
If you want to browse indie games, you get one big list of all 2000+ titles. You can sort that list by Release Date, Most Popular, Rating or Title - but that's it. Want to find Zombie Accountant? Sort by title, scroll through almost 2000 games and presto! No more jumping to a letter.
Indie games used to be a category on par with XBLA and Game Demos. Those categories have changed, but indie games didn't get an equivalent spot on the virtual shelf. No game content has as little visibility as indie games.
If the Carousel Tile Goes Away...
The "top-level" tile in the carousel is probably what people think is THE indie section. To me, that's the temporary section that will disappear as soon as Microsoft decides to run a different promo in its place. Then what? We have one big, sortable list. And that's it. No Kotaku's Favorites, no contest finalists. Why the "Game Type -> Indie Games" tile doesn't link to the same section as the carousel tile is beyond me.
Update: Apparently the top-level carousel tile is not going anywhere anytime soon. Its existance is a fairly big gesture from the dashboard/marketplace team - thank you to whoever pushed to include it.
While I think there are some great wins for indie game discoverability (Bing, related games, picks), the usability of the indie games section has taken a big hit. There's nothing to browse anymore. There's no reason to visit. There's no sense of there even being a place to visit at all, even if you do manage to find it.
Frankly, I'm surprised and impressed at what we got. I think that what we lost is overwhelming though.
Update: To clarify, I think older titles in the catalog will suffer since there's no real way to browse them effectively. Then again, the marketplace was never really strong in that regard. Support could be better (it can always be better), but if the carousel tile sticks around as indicated, things might not be so bad for new and top performing titles. The lack of Genre filtering stings, but is frankly the one I feel has the best chance of getting resolved.
As always though, time (and data) will tell. But hey, at least it's not in the Speciality Shop.
Make a post in this thread in the official feedback forums. Even if it's just to say that, yes, you do care about indie games: http://forums.xbox.com/xbox_forums/general_discussion/f/2386/t/155168.aspx