Challenges, Bugs, and Rumors
Many games have come out with some pesky bugs in their release version (e.g., Alien Hominid HD‘s save game glitch, Trial to Full game upgrade issue in Mad Tracks, Marble Blast Ultra leaderboard problems, various achievement issues.). This is despite a notorious reputation for XBLA certification being very difficult. How has certification changed since launch and what are you doing to prevent these problems from happening in the future?
The certification process is always being reviewed for potential improvements. Unfortunately, it isn’t an exact science, and it’s always going to be harder for newer developers. People often forget that many XBLA developers have never produced an Xbox 360 game before. We help our developers catch a huge number of bugs, but ultimately, we’re only human.
I should also add that the certification process isn’t designed to catch every last possible bug. It’s designed to help, but it’s also designed to guarantee consistency of experience. For example: were achievements implemented correctly? Were leaderboards?
You have talked in the past about encouraging developers to leverage the Xbox Live environment through multiplayer, achievements, and the like. But specifically regarding achievements, what kind of input does Microsoft have on achievement design? I ask this because as XBLA is positioned as a casual friendly service but achievements like those in Catan (1000 victory points in ranked matches) have disappointed or even offended many of my friends due to their hardcore nature.
We make suggestions, but ultimately developers are not required to adhere to those suggestions. It’s their game.
Achievements are a delicate balancing act. You want the majority to be obtainable by the majority of players, but you also want a few that can be aspired to by your most devoted customers. Some of our games do a particularly good job of leveraging the achievement system by fundamentally changing the way you think about a game or by inspiring a positive community response. I’m particularly fond of the Geometry Wars pacifist achievement and the Small Arms “six degrees” viral achievement.
In your recent call for community feedback, you highlighted many recurring points. One of those was the challenges (and frustrations) inherent in the current DRM scheme. As someone who has replaced their console I can certainly commiserate on this one. Is there any way that this can change or is this hardwired into the system?
Honestly, I don’t know much about the engineering side of our DRM system. We’ve noted that some people are frustrated by it and have passed that along to our platform team. They’ll have to balance the cost/benefit of changing how DRM works against the cost/benefit of making other changes that our customers have been requesting. Ultimately, we want to make the greatest number of people as happy as possible, and we’ll filter all potential improvements via that lens when deciding what our priorities are.
What do you say to all the voices in the forums shouting, “The game is done! Just release it already!”?
I say “tell the developer – it’s their game and their call.”
Can you imagine what would happen if we forced the developer of a highly-anticipated game to release before they were ready, and as a result, a serious imperfection made it into the final game? Or the game was “too short?” The same people who shouted for early release would shout for our heads on a platter. 😉
Why do you wait until the last minute to announce the XBLA title(s) for the week? Is this due to the tenuous nature of certification? Or maybe due to shorter development cycles with more flexible and volatile schedules?
Sometimes we wait because we want to surprise our customers. But we often wait precisely because XBLA development cycles are (as you suggest) relatively short, and it’s hard to know whether a game will be ready this week or next.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for XBLA as a platform? Spurring and fostering indie development? Fighting off the competition?
Personally, I’m most concerned about fostering innovative games (which is related to, but not completely synonymous with fostering indie development.) For years, people have complained that the cost of game development has risen too sharply to permit for experimentation and/or the development of original IP. I think that’s a huge problem because an art that fails to reinvent itself on a regular basis is doomed to stagnation and irrelevance.
That concludes the interview. I’d like to thank David again for his time and also say that I am very excited about the bright future of XBLA.