Microsoft's Charlie Skilbeck believes Xbox Live Community Games are "poised to break out" and that we're turning the corner toward developers making real money on the channel.
"I'm fairly sure nobody has made a million bucks yet, but I'm fairly certain it's only a matter of time," Skilbeck, a developer account manager, told a Develop Conference audience during his Community Games for Fun and Profit talk today.
"We're getting to the point now where we can see a momentum behind the platform that we think is definitely going to catapult it into proper money-making territory. We know there are multiple games that have made a profit already."
One of those games that hasn't, however, is Clover, whose maker Daniel Jones is an outspoken critic on the "financial validity" and "woeful marketing" of the Community Games - now Indie Games - service.
"Those guys," Skilbeck added, addressing Tank Strike maker Daniel Steger as well, "I understand they're upset, they've made a lot of effort and it hasn't done what they expected. But I know it has exceeded expectations for others."
Skilbeck said he felt that, like the iPhone App Store, the Indie Games channel is getting over the initial wave of "junk" and apps that come with running an "unmanaged portfolio". Quality projects are close, he said, claiming that he knows "plenty" of multi-month, multi-man projects in development right now.
"We can expect the quality bar to start rising rapidly," boasted Skilbeck. "It's definitely poised to break out."
Apparently over one million people have downloaded the XNA Game Studio tools and the graph of submissions is "rising rapidly". "It's getting real traction now," said Skilbeck, who announced that 338 games are approved for download today. And that number, he added, is likely to grow "substantially".
Skilbeck wouldn't bet on a timeframe for us to see these "commercially viable" projects from more ambitious teams, however.
Another criticism levelled at the Indie Games channel has been exposure for the games. Skilbeck isn't aware of any changes being made to the dashboard to address this, but reckons the soon-to-be-implemented community ratings will help dramatically.
"What we're going to see is the community rating feature make a big difference. We expect that to change the game completely, in terms of being able to find the gooduns. That's the problem, right? With the community ranking feature I think we're just going to suddenly see the real gooduns become really visible."
Migrating to Xbox Live Arcade is another possibility, but to do this a game must have a publisher. Going it alone is "not happening any time soon", and there are added costs to doing so. But if that is the goal, then the Indie Games channel can be used as an effective prototyping tool.
"This is an extremely cheap way to prototype ideas," said Skilbeck, who reckoned a day or two was all one would need to produce a "simple", working project. And, he added, "A really good community game will trump any CV."
Skilbeck wasn't sure about developing and selling solely for PC using XNA, and suggested focusing on Xbox 360 as early as possible in the development cycle. You'll need a premium version of the XNA Game Studio to do so, however, plus a retail Xbox 360 to play your game on. Still, the combined cost of this shouldn't be more than 200 quid.
The Game Studio recently also updated to version 3.1, adding Avatar and Xbox Live Party support - an anticipated feature Skilbeck said will arrive on Xbox 360 with the next dash update, whenever that is.
Natal, too, will eventually be supported, although Skilbeck explained there is a "lag" between feature release and XNA support - Avatars being a case in point.