It has taken me a little over 1 month to get this game approved. Being my first game into the Marketplace, I suspected a few hitches, but this experience was torture. There were a surprisingly small number of bugs, most of which were in code that I used from examples. A lot of the bugs seemed to come from the Highscore code.
I am just glad to finally have the game in a playable state, and available to the world. Game development is not a difficult thing to do, but it is very difficult to get it right. The devilish details are enough to drive a person mad, and the mountainous stacks of caveats don’t help your situation either. Things are especially scrutinized on consoles, where games are not expected to have the usual run of performance issues, or glitches that many PC gamers have accepted over the years.
My experience with Seizonrenda was a bit of nostalgia, reminding me of my time at EA. It was my last experience with consoles back then. This approval process has reminded me of the stress of printing that gold disk and waiting for the thumbs-up. It is both terrifying and exciting at the same time. Now my fears have moved on from that approval process and in to the next stage of approval, the gamers. There is no one more opinionated and vocal about their experiences than a video gamer. On the blogs, they can make or break you. I hope that their experience is enjoyable, and I hope that a 400 msp price point is attractive enough for them to give the game a try. Skip out on your Grande Latte for one day, and buy Seizonrenda! =)
In short, busy…
I have most recently been working on Seizonrenda, a game that will hopefully see the light some time soon. It is currently in review through the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) community. The review process has been anything but graceful, and I can only hope that it will be over soon. In the process of getting this game approved for the Marketplace I have had a few conversations on the topic of arcade-style games. While I wait for the game to be approved, I thought it would be a good time to write about some of my influences.
The peer review process is easily one of the most broken and frustrating aspects of App Hub. The list of requirements is deceptively simple, a mere handful of abstract statements that highlight the common pitfalls, like game crashes or inappropriate content. The process usually goes as followed:
- Submit your game for Playtest.
- Submission expires after 1 week with no community comments.
- Submit you game for Peer Review.
- Get failed in the first day for an obscure GUI text alignment bug on someone’s 13inch PAL monitor.
- Tighten up the graphics on level 3, and wait the mandatory 7 day period before re-submissions are allowed.
- Return to step 1.
This cycle continues until you are lucky enough to stop getting that one guy with a total of 10 posts under his belt to genuinely evaluate the game. Most comments I have received have been generally inconclusive and don’t help to resolve the game’s issues. I have mostly been failed with little more than, “bad graphics in German”, which is about as clear as hitting a general memory exception. And here is where my issue is with the review process.
It is clearly stated that users are not allowed to “game the system” by pushing games in the Peer Review. That means that users are not supposed to auto fail a game or auto pass a game, just to push their own submission up in the queue. I can only hope that people actually follow these conventions, though there is little in the way of proving this behavior.
I understand that a community review system is the most scalable, and avoids the need to staff hundreds of people in a building at Microsoft; I get that. My only wish is that some effort be put into ensuring a more professional review process. Failing a game is a serious thing. It means that the person you just failed will have to wait 7 days before he can even try to ask for another review. I would hope to see a minimum length in the comment’s section that describes the error. I would like to see a formalized approach to inform the creator of how to resolve their issue. The whole intent of a peer review is to make every creator in the community a tester, not just a judge and jury. Otherwise, what is point of sitting in the fail loop forever?
It is kind of funny that I am sitting on a complete, playable, and actually quite enjoyable game, and I may never release it. To be honest, the whole submission process has turned me off of XNA. I went into this venture with some hope of defining a new revenue stream, but it has taken me longer to submit the game than it did to create it. I spend more time in the forums, disputing a failure, arguing about which versions of Xbox logos I can legally use, than coding anymore. It has taken the fun out of making games when Microsoft refuses to step in and define a clear set of guidelines for legal usage rights or express concern in the lack of details that a creator is given when his/her game is rejected.
Some self-regulating systems like Wikipedia clearly work in most cases, but it doesn’t seem to work as advertised for Xbox Live Indie Games developers.
Did you ever have one of those days when you just didn’t feel like yourself? Or maybe a day that ended with your spirits a little lower than that same morning? I am having one of those moments right now. I don’t know why, but I just don’t feel inspired to do anything. Well… I do know why, but they are so many reasons that it is hard to pick just one.
Ugh.. I wish M$ would take that stupid 1 week waiting period off. Now I have to sit on the game for ANOTHER week because of one line of code that no one bothered looking at in play testing. I’d put it back in play test, but it didn’t do anything for me last time. I guess I’ll sit and wait to get failed next week for something else. This superficial wait period has easily been the most frustrating part of the whole process. I can see why so many would-be devs just give up on XNA. It’s enough to make me want to go to the iPhone.
The more I play-test, and especially review, the more I REALLY wish there was a “seal of approval” page in the review process; something to add a bronze/silver/gold/platinum star on the box. I put a lot of effort into the experience around Seizonrenda and it bothers me that I have to compete with someone who didn’t even bother to check if the Xbox Guide was active. It would be nice to have a page, similar to the Prohibited Content page, that had a series of check boxes. These boxes could detail some of the common “not so evil” misuses that would not fail a game, but influence it’s overall professionalism. I know people who have given up on purchasing Indie Games because of inconsistent or unresponsive controls, slot 1 only controller recognition, poor pause management (if any), and difficult menu systems, or just an overall lack of attention to the game mechanics.
I’m not asking whether it’s a good game or not. The gameplay is subjective, and may find it’s target audience, but there has to be something that bubbles the games to the top when they spend that extra time on the experience around the game, and not just the gimmick inside the game. Adding a Community Seal of Approval would certainly help games that put in a little more professional effort than some script kiddie with a box of crayons and a copy of the example XNA games.
I don’t know, maybe the ratings system is supposed to resolve this. I am not sure if that is enough. I overhear words like “shovel-ware” from people who insist that most XNA developers can’t spend more than 160 man-hours on a project if they are hoping to turn a profit. If someone is using the Xbox Indie Games as a platform to learn game development, that is great! My concern is that it tarnishes the perception of the entire market, making it difficult for anyone to take interest in the people who are making a serious effort to polish their games. How do you separate the game that was made in a weekend from the game that put in the time to enhance your overall experience? How do you get people to find your game through an ocean of pet projects?
When Seizonrenda is released, I guess I’ll find out how well the ratings system works. I’ve done everything I can to make the experience whole, and I hope that gamers appreciate that.