Xbox Indies Can Now Control Release Dates (and some advice)

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Some really good news was just posted to the XNA blog:

We’re excited to announce a new feature on App Hub that we have added to the peer review system for Xbox LIVE Indie Games. Based on developer community feedback, we have enabled developers to control the release of their games that have passed peer review. This feature will help developers to better coordinate social networking, press, and other opportunities for the release of their titles on Xbox LIVE Indie Games.

Why is this a big deal?

Before this change, developers submitted to peer review and their games were published as soon as they passed review.  This could be in 48 hours (the minimum) or take up to 30 days (the maximum a game can sit in review).  This made timing any press around the game’s launch pretty much impossible.

In the new system developers can choose to hold the game in a pending state after it passes review, and then click “publish” the day they want the game to go live.  This means a developer can coordinate a marketing campaign and press coverage with the game’s launch.

While I have no problem beating up Microsoft for the (little) support they give Xbox Indies, this is a very good thing and I hope it is a sign of things to come.  Now, I have some advice for developers on using this new power as someone who runs a review site…

You want to have several review sites ready to post a review the day the game is launched.  If several of the indie sites cover your game positively at the same time, that’s going to amplify the chance main stream press covers the game.  Most, if not all, XBLIG review sites have a backlog of game codes to review on top of handling the 10-20 titles released every week.  Sending a bunch of emails that your game will hit “publish” in two days isn’t giving much time for sites to ready a review.

Here are my suggestions:

Submit to peer review at least 6 weeks before you plan to publish your game.  This will allow time to handle a fail (the 7 day jail time still exists) and handle the worst case of taking a long time in peer review. 

Contact XBLIG review sites at least 2 weeks before you plan to publish your game.  Let the sites know the day you plan to hit publish and that your game has passed review (if you are still pending review, you’re likely to be passed on because of the risk you’ll fail review, and the site will be left with a review they can’t publish).

Make available copies of the game to the sites before release.  (Seems obvious, I know!) Review tokens won’t exist until after you publish, so this means sending out a ccgame file and/or a PC version.  Most XBLIG review sites can handle a ccgame, just don’t try to email it as an attachment!  Setup an FTP site, or use a service like Dropbox.  Make sure you send the same build that was submitted and past peer review as well.  (I know I would pretty upset to find a developer gave me a version different from the one on the marketplace.)

Ask sites to post the review the day after you hit publish.  There is still a delay on when exactly the game will be available, and you want the reviews to link to the game in the marketplace so people can impulse buy – or at least put the demo in the download queue.

Do the stuff here and here.  Dave Voyles at Armless Octopus has done a great job listing things every indie game should be doing to market their game.  The first thing I do when someone contacts me for a review is check out the game’s website and the studio’s website.  This is a “sniff test” to see how worthy this developer is, and how serious they are about their game.  If there isn’t so much as a trailer for a game, there probably isn’t going to be a review – it will be bumped in favor of another game in the 20 being released that week.

By no means a magic bullet, but with the proper planning we could see more games break 100K sales in the first week, without the need to shamelessly clone someone else’s game!


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