Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to Honk Off the Indie Gatekeepers

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 20, 2010

LateWhiteRabbit asked for my opinion on this particularly ugly little feud amongst indie developers for the XBox Live Indie Games channel:

The Controversial Saga of the Zombie Massage Makers

I’m not directly involved with the “Indie Games” channel. So once again, I’m probably talking about stuff of which I know very little. Please correct me if I’m clearly off-base here. But by my understanding, to get your indie game approved and put up for sale on the XBox Live Indie Games channel, you have to adhere to Microsoft’s rules, and then you have to gain the approval of your competitors. Yeah. Your competitors. Call it “peers” if you will, but really – the people active in that community that act as the gatekeepers for your games’ opportunity to even be offered for sale at all are all potential competitors.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. With small businesses and indies, competitors must cooperate out of necessity. They are allies as much as competitors. It’s like if you ran a small specialty clothing shop.  You wouldn’t want to be all by yourself in the boonies, you’d rather be surrounded by somewhat similar businesses catering to your same market. Sure, there’s a chance they could steal your market share, but they are probably going to attract more business than they are going to steal away from you. Together, you can grow the pie rather than simply squabbling over the size of the pieces.

Same thing with indie games. Sure, you could say that money going to buy Eschalon: Book 1 is money NOT going to buy Avernum VI. Or you could recognize that every new customer that buys Eschalon: Book 1 is ten times more likely to buy Avernum VI at some point down the line than they would have been otherwise, now that they have “discovered” indie RPGs of this kind.

The serious indies get that. They understand the role cooperation plays. They understand that the “indie games market,” such as it is, is a common resource that they all have to work together to preserve and grow. Just like maintaining the quality of the little shopping district with all the small shops. Microsoft gave the community the power to police itself, and the success of the indie games channel so far is evidence that it’s been successful. Said community has its beliefs on how that common resource is best served and cultivated.

Evidently, releasing “the epitome of a shameless cash-grab” runs counter to this belief.

So when someone goes in, announcing their intent to create a Tragedy of the Commons kind of situation, turning the community’s mutual  wool-producing resources into Lamb Chops. The community reacted harshly in response.


I guess it’s clear where my sympathies are on this one. Look, I admire an entrepreneur’s attempt to exploit a perceived market need as well as the next red-blooded pro-free-market capitalist pig-dog. While I think the original concept of the Zombie Avatar Massage “game” (toy) is an idea so stupid only a marketing-program flunky could be so uncreative as to come up with it, it could have turned out to be the next Jump To Conclusions Mat. I don’t want to stand between a guy and his dream of making millions thousands from a dumb idea.

But what did these guys expect when they start popping off like that? If your business depends upon passing through gatekeepers – whether it is a community of peers / competitors, or a major publisher, or anything in-between – it’s rarely a good move to start out the relationship by antagonizing them. And if you didn’t know your actions or comments would antagonize them, well, you didn’t do your basic research. Free market Darwinism means you deserve to fail, so please do so swiftly and quietly so you can try again or let someone else take your place.

Besides, it’s not as if they couldn’t have made games for a more open platform, like the PC… But wait! That’s HARD! And it doesn’t get to take advantage of an audience that the community and the platform provider has carefully cultivated already.

In the real world, it generally takes much more time to repair one’s reputation that it does to destroy it, so I can understand how they came under far greater scrutiny for a while. To JForce Games’ credit, they stuck with it, and after a few months were finally able to get games onto XBLIG. Are they “bad guys?” No, I don’t think so. Inexperienced, a little stupid, and a lot arrogant coming out of the gate, but I hope they’ve smartened up and learned a little humility now. Did the community hold too big of a grudge for too long? Maybe. I can’t say. I wasn’t there.

But I think the important point is that JForce Games was able to release games to the channel again after a few months (probably after working a little harder than developers who didn’t flagrantly violate the community’s sense of honor and purpose). Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.  And I hope they’ll go on to release many wonderful games that people will enjoy and not feel taken advantage of.

I call it a happy ending.

Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Jesse Chounard said,

    Actually, rather than learn any lessons, I think they’re probably laughing all the way to the bank. All of this drama has lead to them getting lots of press, and tons of eyeballs on their game. From the “top sales” chart, it appears to be selling very well.

    This is on top of their first game, which is still selling quite a few copies. (Yes, I’m very jealous, because my new game is selling abysmally by comparison.)

    They have a ton of charisma, and I find their videos to be quite funny (when they aren’t doing immature racist garbage.) I just hope they can grow up a bit and turn into solid indie devs.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Bummer that they are still acting obnoxious and that you aren’t selling well. Particularly on the latter. Can you think of anything you can do marketing-wise to improve sales?

  • Jesse Chounard said,

    Marketing is a difficult problem for xbox indie games. The web marketplace is terrible, and getting people to leave their computer (or tv/radio/newspaper/etc.) to go search for the game on their xbox isn’t very easy. People have tried various forms of web advertising, and no one has had an measurable success.

    Getting mentioned on Kotaku or some other large site seems to be the best thing that can happen, but that’s not exactly something we can control. (I’ve gotta give credit to JForce on that. They know how to get people to pay attention.)

    I guess I should keep my head down and make more games. I’m still new at this, and I’m just paying my dues.

  • fluffyamoeba said,

    “We feel like we just can’t reason with these people, they’re like women”

    Aaaah, how to win friends and influence people. It’s a good job that gamers are mostly male :p

  • McTeddy said,

    Yeah, I’ve heard that about XBox Indie.

    During the initial months following it’s start, it was was filled with junkware that couldn’t make it as a flash title. Oh who am I kidding… how is PRESS THE A BUTTON TO WIN THE GAME!? not worth 5 dollars.

    Nowadays, I don’t know anyone who even looks in the Indie Section. I’m sure that there are some good games in there, but it’s hard to find them past the junk.

    I’ve actually been thinking about stuff there, since I’ve been working on my own XNA title, but I’m not sure what could work just yet.

    Either way, your game looks good so I’ll spread your page link around. Don’t know if it’ll help, but it can’t hurt.

  • Kelly said,

    “We feel like we just can’t reason with these people, they’re like women”
    You couldn't pay me to play the game. Of course, I doubt they care, since I'm just a girl.

    It's a shame, actually. If it hadn't been for that comment, I might have been more hopeful that they learned something.

  • Xenovore said,

    JForce’s complete lack of maturity, professionalism and respect is quite evident. They deserve to rot in a hole if they continue being like that…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That’s the danger of trying to take a specific case and generalize it like I did. In the general case – Meh, the screwed up, got smacked around for it until they shaped up, all is well. The specific case — yeah, the more I hear about them, the more disgusted I get.