Recently, I had the opportunity to contact David Edery (Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade). Such opportunities should not be squandered, so I posed a massive number of questions to him about the past, present, and future of Xbox Live Arcade. The questions (and his candid answers) will follow in this multi-part interview. (Also posted at XBLArcade.com)
Successes, Sequels, and Casual Gaming
Here we are in the middle of 2007 and it seems that Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) is finally hitting its stride. Was the flood of releases just inevitable or is this a perfect storm of sorts?
I’d like to call it “inevitable”, but the portfolio would not be hitting its stride if not for the tremendous efforts of our production, marketing, and PR teams, as well as the significant efforts of our many developers and publishers. There was a time when very few people believed that XBLA would be successful. A handful of very passionate, very hard-working people got us where we are today, and I’m lucky to be working with them.
Will we continue this relatively frantic pace of releases?
I’m not sure I’d call it “frantic,” but yes, you can (generally) expect this pacing. We’ll still have some weeks with just one title. There’s the very remote possibility that we might even have a week with no new game releases. But more often than not, we’ll be releasing two titles a week, and who knows… you might see three a week someday. The goal is to eventually reach a point at which the vast majority of our customers are saying “wow, there’s something I want to buy every single week!”
Do you work to keep the number of weekly releases down in order to highlight each game that arrives?
Managing the XBLA portfolio is a very delicate balancing act. On one hand, we really want to offer our customers as much content as possible. But on the other hand, XBLA is still a maturing market, and many of the developers who pitch us their games are indies who are planning on self-funding their work. We need to maintain a reasonable probability that good games will generate meaningful returns for their developers – otherwise indies will suffer, and the innovative content they are bringing to XBLA will (with rare exceptions) simply disappear.
Other things factor into the size of the portfolio as well. For example, we’re adamant about maintaining a certain level of quality, which has become easier to do now that so many people are excited about our platform. We also want to make sure that multiplayer games don’t suffer from a lack of available players. If we were to distribute 10 new multiplayer games every week, it’s almost 100% certain that most of those games would lack the critical mass of players necessary to offer a fun experience.
At the end of the day, we try our best to do what’s right for the XBLA ecosystem. If we have to err, we’ll err on the side of more games. We know that’s what people want.
Microsoft has made it very clear in this generation that Xbox is not just for the hardcore. With an internal push within Xbox to gain traction with casual gamers, do you feel a particular burden on XBLA to attract those casual users? And how are you reaching out to them?
XBLA was founded, in part, on the principle that casual games can and do have a strong audience on the console. That’s why we launched with games like Zuma and Bejewelled 2, and that’s why we’ll continue to include a healthy selection of casual titles in our portfolio. I’m personally interested in increasing the number of multiplayer casual games that we offer – especially cooperative multiplayer casual games. I’m also looking for casual games that take advantage of user-generated content in interesting ways.
XBLA may be designed for casual gaming but hardcore gamers (myself included) have latched onto it very strongly. Why do you think that is happening?
I wouldn’t say that XBLA is “designed for casual gaming.” We’ve got games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Doom, and Street Fighter 2. That isn’t accidental.
What we’re really striving for is a service that offers something for everyone. If there’s an overarching theme, it’s accessibility. Casual games are an extremely important part of that, but great “hardcore” experiences that are easy to get into (like Geometry Wars and Small Arms) are equally important.
Considering the success of certain games (such as Marble Blast Ultra), do you ever feel pressure (or exert pressure on developers) to produce sequels?
Developers and publishers have more than enough internal pressure to produce sequels. We don’t need to add to it.
How successful was Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Vol. 1? Is a Vol. 2 likely?
Unplugged served an important purpose – it helped make consumers aware of the existence of XBLA. The battle for awareness never completely goes away, so we’ll continue to evaluate our options, and another Unplugged SKU is one of them. There are others, but unfortunately I can’t discuss them at this time.
The XBLA size limit has now been raised to 150MB. Has that affected the development of any games already underway? (We know The Behemoth said that Castle Crashers would be delayed partly to add more content.)
Some XBLA developers have opted to take advantage of the new limit, yes. But many developers remain committed to the idea of delivering great experiences in small packages. For example, we’re particularly excited about Undertow, a gorgeous game built on Unreal Engine 3 that delivers 16-person multiplayer action in under 50mb.
Part 2 will cover how David sees the competition and where he sees XBLA heading in the future. Stay tuned.