Just interviewed Daniel Haffner from Highbrow Games, for the Scoreoid Featured Developers Series. I think this was one of the funniest interviews I have done and really great to talk with an Xbox Indie Developer especially one that has worked at Microsoft on the Xbox.
I asked him a number of questions about Xbox and Microsoft it’s great to see some real feedback on Microsoft when it comes to indie developers.
Daniel Haffner, Highbrow Games
Where are you located?
Rainy Seattle, WA
What type of game developer are you?
The term “Indie” is getting kind of abused these days. “App developer” sounds boring. I’ll stick with “Undesignated”!
What types of games do you develop?
It seems that my games either piss people off or make them laugh. My goal isn’t to offend, but sometimes I guess you can’t help it. In reality, my goal is to make things that are unique or groundbreaking in some way.
Barf and Beer – the first drinking game on Xbox. Avatar Boogie – in 2010 it was the first game where Xbox Avatars could dance (Microsoft’s now selling avatar dance moves for the cost of my entire game!).
What platforms are you developing for?
I stuck with Xbox Live Indie Games like an abused spouse, despite the fact that Microsoft keeps pushing XBLIG developers down the stairs. I made one Windows Phone game but I may break free from the proverbial Microsoft chains (to quote Wilson Phillips) and give other mobile platforms a go too.
You worked at Microsoft and had a chance to work on the support tools for the Xbox. How was it? What made you want to become an indie developer?
The Xbox team was amazing to work on, it was the best time of my life. Regardless of how much I rip on Microsoft for certain decisions, I will always love Xbox, which I feel was birthed from my loins (along with the collective loins of tons of my many teammates, of course).
Anyway, I left and started making indie games because thought it would be fun to be able to create games from scratch, and do whatever crazy projects I wanted. Also after ten years of working on the same thing, it’s usually time to mix things up.
You have developed for the Xbox Live Indie Games. What’s your take on the future of the Xbox and the future of indie developers developing for the Xbox?
Xbox is sitting pretty right now. They are popular with hardcore gamers, they have their casual audience with Kinect. They just have to not screw it up at the transition to the next generation, which as Sony proved last generation, is harder than it looks.
There are two different places indie developers can ship games on the Xbox: Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) and Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG). I’ll answer separately for each: Microsoft needs good games from indie devs on XBLA, and developers need to make money, so the XBLA market will self-regulate via supply and demand. If MS scares away too many of these developers with draconian terms (as per the 2D Boy post you reference) they can just throw a bunch of money at the problem to fix it.
I’m about to pour one out for XBLIG though – Microsoft has demonstrated repeatedly that they don’t care about that channel, which saddens me, because they used to be very gung-ho about it. I still have hope they’ll turn things around since the top games on there are making in the [Dr. Evil voice] MILLIONS of dollars. But not much hope.
Do you think Microsoft is alienating their indie game developers? What’s your take on past issues MS has had with indie developers.
I think mid-tier indie developers are going to Steam because there’s no place for them on Xbox. By mid-tier, I mean devs whose games are cool and high-quality, but not deep enough to make it to the curated XBLA marketplace. You can spend a year on a game and if you ship it on XBLIG, one of their frequent “new release list” freezes or other technical glitches can nullify all that work by causing your game to not show up on the new release list, which is a death-knell for sales, so that’s a risky platform to ship on. XBLIG also has significant technical limitations in terms of centralized leaderboards, achievements, and server support. As in, you’re not allowed to use them.
There is a good blog post by 2D Boy, “Is XBLA Past Its Prime?” Which brings up lots of talk about Xbox Indie developers moving over to mobile development what’s your take on all this?
I’ve never shipped on XBLA, but it sounds like they have a lot of good points. As far as mobile development, it’s usually cheaper than console development and still has a high potential for returns. I just wish someone could find a way to stick a D-pad on a phone without causing people to freak out that they’ll either look nerdy, or lose a miniscule amount of screen space. If I could play Contra 4 on my phone I might actually get around to beating it.
Is there any tips you can give to new game developers wanting to develop for the Xbox?
If what you care about is shipping something, on Xbox, for money, then making a game for XBLIG using XNA is a cheap, easy way to do it. Just don’t do your magnum opus on there or you’ll be disappointed when it’s outsold by a screensaver app or gets no dashboard exposure due random factors out of your control. Oh, and don’t focus your game around Avatars or you won’t be able to port it anywhere else, and everytime you brag that you made a game your friends will get excited and search for it on their app store, and you’ll have to tell them it’s not on there and then be forced to look at their sad faces.
If you just want programming experience and don’t care specficially about selling a game on the Xbox 360, learn C++ and DirectX. Those are what all the professional developers use. You’ll be more likely to get a programming job with those skills, which is likely to earn you more money anyway.
Also stay off facebook or you’ll never get any work done.
What tools do you use?
Anything that’s free. Except Photoshop which was mega bucks.
Microsoft BizSpark is actually great because they give startups free software licenses for their software. There, hopefully I redeemed some Microsoft Karma for my previous comment (please don’t cancel my BizSpark account!).
Stick with known technologies so that if you encounter a problem, someone smarter than you has already solved it.
How are you making money from game development?
Money?! I do it to for the ladies!
Who do you follow?
John Carmack, who I’ve idolized since I was in high school. And Snooki. Wait, are we only talking about game development?
A little self promotion is always good
What’s your favorite game that you developed?
I made it as a kid, and it taught me I could basically do anything in game development while still maintaining a sense of humor.
What’s your most popular game that you developed?
Barf and Beer for Xbox. Like real alcohol, people pretend to despise it in public but still buy it when nobody’s watching.
Is there a game you would like to promote?
I just added high scores (via Scoreoid of course) to Face Slapper for Windows Phone so check that out. Hopefully it will be on other platforms soon too.
What social networks are you on?
Whats you website or blog?
Tell eveyone about Scoreoid!
How did you feel about adding Scoreoid to your game?
I spent a lot of time researching which high score service to use and looked at several services. The thing that mostly sold me was that Scoreoid used HTTPS instead of pre-built client libraries, meaning that I could port an app to any platform without waiting for someone else to produce a client library to support that platform.
Some other services also had an issue that, for whatever reason, their players have pre-assigned player names like like “Player12345678″. It makes a game’s leaderboards less personable and that is a dealbreaker for me. With Scoreoid I can make people enter a player name, and my games’ leaderboards all have unique names. This makes the leaderboards more friendly, competitive, and “human”.
Scoreoid’s support was also very responsive.
Whats your favorite part about Scoreoid?
It hasn’t gone down once. Also the APIs’ behavior hasn’t changed since I started using them.
What was your favorite feature?
Besides reliability, the ability to test out any API you want via the web console was indispensible. It has saved me tons of testing and development time.
Lets wrap it up, Have the final say.
“When the going gets tough, the harder they fall” -Launchpad McQuack, DuckTales