April 16, 2009

A Couple of Community Games Thoughts

In the last week, there were a couple of newsworthy items (loosely) related to Microsoft’s Community Games initiative. Their most recent news post over at the XNA Creator’s Club web site has a list of review sites which cover community games. They got a lot of details wrong for Worth the Points, but hey–there’s no such thing as bad press! More important than the tiny little traffic bump, game developers are now more aware that there are in fact sites out there promoting their games. While I have gotten a couple of emails asking for reviews in the past, since that news post went live they’ve started trickling in with greater regularity (about 1 a day).

The biggest problem with the community games review space right now has nothing to do with those of us that are actually reviewing games–it’s the larger review sites who don’t review them. Run a Google search for pretty much any community game (for example, google two recent games we reviewed–FreaKick or Planet Crashmania 9,000,000) and you get a litany of results from the “bigger” players in the game review space: IGN, Gamespot, GameRankings, GameFAQs, GameStats, Gamespy. All of these sites automatically create pages for all the XBox games, but the problem is that they don’t actually cover any of the community games. After a half-dozen search results yielding no actual content, it’s no wonder that only the developers themselves (who are willing to scour through pages of results for any press) seem to be finding the actual reviews. Unfortunately, the only solution to this problem is time.

The second newsworthy item was the announcement that Amazon has started carrying XBox Live Arcade games. There are some kinks (you’re actually buying download codes, which means you have to punch them into your box manually), but this has the potential to be a huge boon for arcade games in general. While they don’t carry any Community Games yet, it’s a short leap from Arcade titles to Community titles (assuming Amazon doesn’t have any hang-ups over the lack of rating). Putting the community games on Amazon would instantly solve the number one request by community developers: game ratings. WTP and other review sites allow users to rate games, but for it to really be a useful feature you need a TON of ratings–something Amazon could provide. Having community games listed on Amazon would also create an instant revenue stream for any site reviewing community games (referral links). I doubt the conversions would be all that high (it would be MUCH better if Microsoft had their own referral program, as you can actualy tell your XBox to buy/download games through their marketplace site), but it would probably beat ads. The more I think about it, the more I think Microsoft should just let Amazon run THEIR marketplace–they’ve got way more experience in the space.