I received a press release in my inbox the other day—a pretty rare occurrence, perhaps because GameCola’s news coverage isn’t so much…actually news coverage, as it is coverage of things that I personally find interesting. I can only assume that the company added me to their mailing list because of some of the things I’ve said about them in the past, such as that I truly believe that they have no soul.
Yes, Silver Dollar Games has reached out to me, personally (and probably a lot of other people who have made fun of them) to tell their side of the story. Who they are, how they came into being, why they insist upon making games whose entire selling point is that you can watch real-life video footage of pretty girls (and then pretend to take pictures of them), and so on.
I’m hesitant to publish the press release, because 1) deep down, I’m disappointed that I’ll never be able to achieve the level of success that they have in XBLIG, so I’m a lil’ jealous, and 2) the press release is over 3,000 words long. Nevertheless, I present it here, in its entirety, because I missed the day in journalism class where they taught whether or not it’s OK to edit other people’s press releases. Enjoy!
Silver Dollar Games has been called the scourges of XNA. Here’s the full story behind the developer that has brought so much controversy to the Xbox Live Indie Games platform.
Silver Dollar Games is best known for their dating games, in fact, they’re only known for their dating games. Actually, if it wasn’t for their game Who Did I Date Last Night, we wouldn’t be around at all. It was that game that allowed Silver Dollar to make all the cool, offensive, funny, stupid, lame, and strange games that we have.
I’m Jon Flook, and my brother is David. We make video games for Xbox Indie Games, although you wouldn’t guess it by looking at our past. We have no programming experience and no formal artistic or computer skills of any kind. We’re just a couple of hacks making games because it’s fun.
In 2007 David was working at a grocery store and I was working at a TV station. David took programming in high school, but never really explored it past that. When he heard about XNA he started learning it immediately. After a couple test projects he began working on his first game, Blazing Birds. Working every day at the grocery store and every night on Blazing Birds didn’t leave much time for World of Warcraft, so he came to me for help. My job at the TV station was no picnic either, but whatever spare time I had I offered up. After months of work, we submitted Blazing Birds to Microsoft’s first Dream Build Play contest in 2007. To our surprise it was the co-winner that year. We were blessed with the huge opportunity to put Blazing Birds on XBLA.
In 2008 David worked with Microsoft to put Blazing Birds onto XBLA. We also started working on another game for next year’s Dream Build Play contest, a game we called Blow. Blow ended up a finalist that year. We didn’t win and when we saw the competition that year we quickly realized we were way out of our league. We were very thankful to be a finalist though. It seemed like a miracle really. On November 21st 2008 Blow was released as one of the first games on Xbox Indie Games, which was called Community Games at the time.
For months there was no sales data for developers on Indie Games. Only Microsoft knew how well everyone was doing. Finally in March of 2009 the sales data become accessible to the developers. We looked at our numbers and Blow brought in $4000. For most Indie Games that’s fantastic. Unfortunately we spent $2500 licensing the music and a year of our time working on it. Financially it just didn’t make sense. We’re still very proud of Blow and it’s one of my favourite games, but I guess the gamers just weren’t into blowing bubbles. Can’t blame them.
On May 20th 2009 Blazing Birds was released for XBLA. Did I mention Blazing Birds is about robot badminton? One reviewer wrote, “Be careful what you wish for” in reference to winning the 2007 Dream Build Play contest and all of Blazing Birds’ faults. Although I must say it was, and still is, a dream come true. It wasn’t a great game by any means. It had no online play, along with many other things. It was missing many features for one simple reason, my brother just didn’t know how to do it, or couldn’t do it well enough. Plain and simple, he’s just not as skilled as the Jonathan Blow’s and the James Silva’s of the world. That’s ok, for a complete amateur, I think he did ok. Unfortunately the Xbox users aren’t too hot on robot badminton. So, for many reasons, the game didn’t do too well.
In 2010 our game Mirror was a finalist in the 2010 Dream Build Play Contest, we got lucky… yet again. But 2010 wasn’t just about the contest. A while ago, we told the XNA community that we wanted to stop making larger, more time consuming games, and make smaller more lucrative games. It turns out that wasn’t the truth. I’m correcting that statement now. We never stopped making larger games. We have submitted a game to every Dream Build Play contest since 2007, and have a new game Jump Hero for this year’s 2011 Dream Build Play contest that is really fun to play. As well as last year’s release of Ranger, which I feel is one of our coolest games to date.
We have also made forty smaller games such as Try Not To Fart, Raid, Head Shot Z, Lazy Gamer and Hockey Fights. Not because they are lucrative, they’re not at all. Each small game we make probably brings in 100 to 300 units sold at one dollar a piece. While a larger more complex game can make fifteen times that. We do it simply because we want to. Some of the games we make are purely for our own entertainment like Why Did I Buy This Game and Fortune Cookies In Bed. My dad joked about a fortune cookie game one day at the dinner table. We laughed and thought it would be hilarious to see in a game. So we did it. The game’s description is “The most advance fortune cookie game every made”. Clearly we’re just having fun with it. My sister and I were camping one night and while sitting over the camp fire she said, “Wouldn’t it be funny to have a game that combines sniping and dating?” She then said, “You can call it, Shoot or Date”. So we did it, and Shoot or Date came out on May 10th 2011. Its tag line is “If only there was a third option.”
One developer wrote to us in reference to our game Why Did I Buy This “You are just flooding the market with reams of crap, and making people think this is all the Xbox indie platform will produce”. My response is clear. I believe that if Xbox Live Indie Games was restricted the same way as Steam, XBLA, and PSN there would only be 150 titles thus far. I don’t think Microsoft wanted to make an amateur version of XBLA, but rather model XBLIG after the massive success of Apple’s App Store, which as you know is not restricted and I don’t think that platform only produces reams of crap.
Some developers feel that XBLIG is different from Apple’s App Store because the App Store has no other market to compete with. Whereas XBLIGs has XBLA right around the corner. It’s easier for customers to bypass XBLIGs altogether. I believe that’s exactly why Crisis Nuclear Holocaust, Murder on Snake Road and The Secret To The Perfect Pickup Line can shine on XBLIGs. You can’t go to PSN, Steam, or XBLA for titles like this. In fact, if you want to make a great shooting game on XBLIGs, be ready to compete with Geometry Wars and Assault Heroes. If you want to make an RPG, get ready to compete with Torch Light and Costume Quest. If you want to make Mirror, Ranger or Blow, get ready to compete with no one but yourself. I feel the only reason XBLIGs competes with XBLA is because we allow it to do so, by trying to mimic what’s already been done. My brother has always said, if you can’t do it better, do it different.
To all readers if you’re confused and can’t find your way around the ‘reams of crap’ on XBLIG here’s a hint. Check out the Top Rated and Contest Winners section. While you’re browsing the top rated make sure to look for our game Head Shot 2.
A developer commented in the XNA forms about us and said “ If I understood you correctly you’re saying: we CAN do great games (e.g. Blow was really stunning!), but we’ll rather start producing much crap and hope that people will buy our stuff. It should be well-known by now, that XBLIG is the wrong place for that.”
I would like to respond to that comment and the entire world by saying, no, you did not understand us correctly. We will always make games like Blazing Birds, Blow, Mirror, Ranger and Jump Hero. We have never stopped and never will. Just you wait until the Dream Build Play 2011 and 2012. But we will continue to make games like Don’t Be Nervous Talking to Girls, Johnny’s Skydiving Lessons, Cassie’s Corner, Load and Outbreak on Uranus.
Who Did I Date Last Night was our first game that allowed us to express our twisted humour. It showed us that we can make whatever our hearts desired and that was pretty cool. If we had to be restricted on Xbox Indie Games like many, dare I say it… ‘video game snobs’ would like, than it just wouldn’t be fun. Our logo’s “everything’s a game”. And the fact is we’ve tried to make everything into a game from Shooting Models, to Office Affairs, to Toad Man’s Bizarre Quest. Not because the customer wants it, we just love making every idea, cool or stupid, into a game.
One developer wrote on twitter, “I wish Silver Dollar Games would stop making games.” After we released Load (which I should mention is about a sperm trying to get to the egg). Another wrote “Silver Dollar Games is one of the scourges of XNA”. I would like to respond to everyone who thinks the same. We are not going anywhere. But thanks for noticing us. I guess with games like So Many Girls So Little Time, it’s hard not to notice us, but isn’t that the point?
David has left the grocery store and I have left the TV station. We now work full time from home making games. We make much less money, but we’re not doing it for the money. We do it because it’s fun.
If you’re not familiar with Xbox Live Indie Games, it’s a peer review system. This is how it works. You submit your game to the App Hub and other developers on App Hub review your game. This means that your direct competition is reviewing your game. It seems strange at first. It’s kind of like, if EA could fail Call of Duty: Black Ops in peer review then Medal of Honour would probably sell better over the holidays. Well that obviously couldn’t happen in the real world, but in some occasions, that vibe can be present on the App Hub. Some developers feel that they’re game won’t get a fair shot in the fifty game long new release list if other games are released around their own game. Or other things to that effect, I’m sure you can think of a few.
I must mention two people that have been extremely fair and non bias when it comes to maintaining reviews and the community on the App Hub. I have incredible respect for them for keeping an open mind and truly helping developers rather than just pushing their values onto other. Andy ‘The ZMan’ Dunn and George Clingerman have always been helping out and I personally feel it takes great strength to not push your influence to get what you want. They are two people I have the up most respect for.
Thankfully Microsoft has put some rules into place when it comes to peer reviewing games. Most members are great at following them. This doesn’t mean members can’t troll you on the App Hub forums and try to get other developers to shun your projects. This can happen from time to time. A developer wrote in response to Why Did I Buy This, “Rubbish like this should be banned… Hopefully other indie developers will realise this and refuse to let things like this through review.”
In a world where people are calling us the scourge of XNA, how do we get any games through the peer review? It would appear that no one wants to review our utter rubbish. The fact is we have over 700 reviews under our belt, basically two a day for two years, and we try to review the games people skip over. There are literally hundreds of games from other amateur hobbyists and students that are never looked at even once while in Play Test and sit in the Review process for weeks. Because there are so many developers that get so little attention, we try our best to give them all of our attention. And they do the same for us.
Who are we to judge another game? We’ve never said someone’s game was trash. We never tried to restrict, block, or shunt someone’s idea. We’ve never trolled another developer or another game for any reason. Not once. There’s one thing you should know about Silver Dollar Games and the most important thing of all. It breaks our hearts to see such negativity directed at other amateur developers, when all they want is to make games. I am shocked by the rage other developers have. In fact, I will continue to cheer on all games, even though many developers troll people on Twitter every chance they get.
I would like to send a message to anyone who thinks we produce shovel ware. We’re amateur, we’re learning and we hear you.
There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s still missing, a source of controversy behind Silver Dollar Games. Many developers feel that shovel ware we produce is hurting the XBLIG platform as a whole. Some of these titles sell, but ultimately create bad press. When developers talk amongst each other they come to the same conclusion that the massage, dating sims, and fart games ultimately drive customers away from the platform. Have we ever asked the tens of thousands of customers who check out XBLIGs each day what they think? I know there’s tens of thousands because we’ve received 50,000 game trial downloads on a few occasions. Here are a few quotes from customers who have taken the time to write us.
“Let me start off by kissing your asses and say how funny and strangely addicting your games are.”
“I write this e-mail just to wave and say that you guys are great, it is my opinion that you are the smartest XBLIG developer.”
“Yo I played your game Office Affairs and got inspired by you, and got a idea of a game.”
If you visit any XBLIG Developer’s website you’ll see similar quotes from people loving their games too. But that’s just a few people out of millions of Xbox Live users, that’s not really what I would call ‘good press’.
Our game Don’t Be Nervous Talking To Girls was mentioned during Conan O’Brien’s and Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue after the show’s researchers noticed the sheer masses of people talking about it on the internet. The App Hub community manager saw this on TV and congratulated us afterward. Now, one could argue that critics would call that game a pile of junk, so that’s actually bad press. I won’t debate that, but rather follow up with a game I know critics don’t like, Try Not to Fart.
Fart games in particular give XBLIGs bad press, so I’ve been told. I’m especially proud of Try Not to Fart because it’s really fun to play. You don’t believe me? Check out what Kevin Pereira had to say about it on Attack of the Show!
“This is an emergence folks, we have to cover this… There’s a new Xbox Box Live Indie Game called Try Not To Fart, from the geniuses over at Silver Dollar Games. I’m in love with it as you can imagine… In it you follow couples relationships starting from the first date all the way to the wedding. I wasted a significant portion of my weekend on this. The dialogue is funny at times and it’s actually kind of fun to play.”
Attack of the Show talked about our game The Lazy Gamer as well. Believe me when I say, I understand developers point of view when it comes to bad press. But there are millions of gamers out there that feel the same way as Kevin Pereira. Some of our throwaway titles isn’t in fact that easy to throwaway. The people at PAX and other game developers don’t exclusively represent the will and motivations of the twenty million Xbox Live users. I think we have a few games that are proof of that.
I believe developers want to shape Xbox Indie Games into a service where creativity is rewarded. A place to find cool gems, like Ranger, Blow and Mirror. Shovel ware clearly doesn’t fit into that vision. What some developers don’t understand is the customer shapes XBLIG’s as well as the developer. Time and time again I hear other developers writing in the App Hub forums saying, don’t take your frustrations out on the developers for making shovel ware, take it out on the customers for buying it. Developers who want to take their frustrations out on customers for buying shovel ware have a pretty daunting task ahead of them. Do these developers know that there are millions of people interested in the Try Not To Fart’s, the Office Affairs’, and the Head Shot’s of the world? I personally wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t think yelling on forums and Tweeting “Start loving cool particle effect games” is going to do it. Or maybe some customers just find value in something other developers don’t?
There are a few people on XBLIGs that have had enough success to work on it full time. Many made it big with one title and are still riding that wave. Others have made it big with multiple titles. We don’t make games for money. Our game Help Fight Breast Cancer is an example of that. It turns out, if you just work really hard, all day and all night, you’ll make enough to get by. We make games like Mind Warp and Drop Zone because it’s fun to make games. But yes, we have been doing it for three years and are probably one of the more experienced people when it comes to the XBLIG market. My advice to anyone looking to get into XBLIG is just have fun.
Silver Dollar Games is best known for their dating games, or maybe only known for their dating games. But we have plenty of others. Some award winning, some just plain stupid. We’re inexperienced, not educated and amateur, but that’s what makes Xbox Indie Games so cool to develop on. It’s a place to learn and grow and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Hey guys, it’s Paul again! Kudos for making it this far! So, what do you think? Am I too harsh on the company? Do they truly not deserve all the crap they receive? Or are they solely responsible for the decay of Xbox Live Indie Games? Sound off in the comments!