Our indie team, Kindling Games, is currently developing a game for Windows Phone 7. We’re in the final throes of getting this thing out the door and the other day we had this simple, well proven idea for generating a little more revenue and adding a different dimension to our game. For a small fee, you would be able to customize your rainbow duder (we need a better name) with a few skins and also be able to customize your levels. For example, you’d pick up a Zeus skin and a tiny Zeus sits on top of your rainbow cloud and extra lighting particle effects rain down terror on the townspeople. Essentially, the purchase would include a small bit of additional functionality along with the cosmetic change. We’re well beneath the maximum package size so we thought this would be a great way to add extra content and some extra fun! After having this idea, I had a flash of sudden realization that the Windows Phone 7 does not support micro-transactions. Arrrrrggggh!!!

I can’t say that I’m really surprised but it definitely made me reflect on the platform as a whole. With the current state of the games industry, Microsoft continues to lag behind. Microsoft wants an ecosystem that is friendly to developers but so far they haven’t made it easy for developers to make money on their platform. In order to truly be successful and move past the “hobbyist game maker”, indie developers need to be able to control their monetization. The extreme popularity of free to play games recently have certainly shown us that non-traditional ways of gaining revenue work. In fact, will spend more than $50 for a game they enjoy. That means some players will pay almost as much as a retail AAA game for a small indie dev’s game. Without the ability to implement different ways of monetizing, indie developers are missing out on crucial, nontrivial amounts of cash. Cash that could fund another title or even allow you to quit your day job.

Microsoft’s development environment is fantastic for beginners and I can’t say enough good things about XNA and the ease of use. However, until Microsoft’s game development platforms (Windows Phone 7, XBLIG) become easier for developers to control more of their monetization schemes, they will continue to lose dedicated developers once they grow beyond “Beginners” level.

There are a few key things Microsoft can do:

  • Implement micro-transactions on both platforms
  • Improve discoverability in the marketplace on both platforms (this includes getting rid of the monopoly on players that live enabled games have on the Windows Phone 7)
  • Allow DLC on XBLIG
  • Allow developers to sell their game for free on XBLIG

There is some hope for the future. Microsoft is testing micro-transactions for live enabled games right now. Unfortunately, as a developer I need to see more from Microsoft. I need more care and consideration for the indie developer before I ever return to the platform after this game… and that’s just not happening right now.