When we started the [email protected] program (almost nine years ago!), we really didn’t know much. We knew that independent developers were driving the pace of video game innovation faster than we’d ever seen, and we knew the work they were doing was incredibly progressive and important. We also knew that our players on Xbox loved the artistry and diversity delivered by these developers, and that to make sure our players got the best, most diverse array of games possible, we had to do everything we could to help developers maximize their success on the Xbox ecosystem.
So, we did a lot of listening – directly learning from developers what they wanted, and what they needed. They were never shy about telling us what worked, and what didn’t. Innovations like cross-play across other consoles, for example, came directly from [email protected] partners. Stemming from their feedback and requests, we made a lot of changes to our back-end publishing systems and even our app framework. These changes may seem mundane but are really important as we seek to enable independent developers to ship their game easily across Xbox and PC.
The results have exceeded our wildest dreams. Since the program’s inception, independent developers have earned more than $2.5 billion in royalties and total revenue generated by [email protected] partners on Xbox almost doubled over the last three years. These are staggering numbers, and it speaks to the power of independent developers.
We’ve also paid developers and publishers across Xbox hundreds of millions of dollars in Game Pass license fees. There are amazing games out today on Xbox (and other platforms!) that would never have existed without the support of Game Pass members, and that’s really been an incredible phenomenon. Ensuring that millions of Game Pass members get to experience some of the best independent games ever created has been transformational for Xbox players and developers.
We know talent is universal, and supporting developers of all sizes, from start-up, single-person studios to veteran indies with multiple successful games in the market is crucial. We’re proud that more than 4,600 developers from 94 countries worldwide are looking to deliver experiences to players via Xbox, including more than 1,000 creators who signed up to the [email protected] program over the last two years.
Even with over 3,000 games from independent developers on Xbox, we still have a long way to go. One area we talk to developers and players about a lot is “discoverability.” Teams across Microsoft work every day to help solve discovery challenges so players can find games they love, and in turn, ensure developers find the audience for their games. Whether it’s helping announce games like WrestleQuest or Escape Academy to millions of viewers in a /[email protected] Showcase with /twitchgaming, providing opportunities for creators to highlight their games on Xbox channels or including their titles in themed sales and promotion, we’re always looking for ways to connect creators with new audiences.
Game Pass is another avenue that helps encourage Xbox players to discover new genres and games. After joining, the average member plays 30% more genres and plays 40% more games, with a majority of those games being outside of Game Pass.
Beyond that, we’re investing a lot in marketing and merchandising programs all the time to ensure that Xbox players anywhere discover the more than 3,000 independent titles available on Xbox.
This GDC, Microsoft also introduced a new program that was born out of feedback from developers – [email protected] It’s led by Nick Ferguson, Director of [email protected], (who was an original [email protected] team member back in 2013, when we were just a virtual team with an idea), and it’s for developers on any platform, from iOS and Android to Switch, PlayStation, and PC (and Xbox, of course!) who want to use Microsoft’s cloud gaming services in their games. If you’re a developer, please check it out at http://www.azure.com/id
Nine years ago, we made a promise to independent developers that we’d work as hard as we could on their behalf, because we knew Xbox players would be stoked to support their work. We don’t by any means consider that promise fulfilled, because we see our work as an ongoing commitment from Xbox to independent developers. But through [email protected], the launch of [email protected], our work with Game Pass and beyond to help developers bring their games to Xbox, and with the community response to the amazing games we’re seeing come to the platform, we feel we’re making progress in the right direction.
Game Developers Find Their “Superpower” with Xbox Game Studios Game Camp
Xbox Game Studios Game Camp was founded in 2020 on the belief that extraordinary talent resides everywhere. The goal of the program is to enable people from traditionally marginalized communities and non-traditional backgrounds to realize their potential in the gaming industry and grow thriving games communities and industries in places all over the world.
In this Q&A series, we aim to highlight the stories of Game Camp Alumni with unique game creation journeys. Today, we will be chatting with the CEO & Creative Director of LemonJuice Game Studio Austin-Taylor Caldwell, about his experience at Game Camp and his current project, Beyond the Nightlight, a 3D horror adventure game that sheds light on mental health and addiction.
Tell us about yourself (if applicable: your team and the game you’re working on)?
My name is Austin-Taylor Caldwell. Like most other individuals in the gaming industry, I grew up playing video games. However, to think about making a career in gaming was laughable to me from a young age. I was raised in the poorest county in my state where resources and connections to the tech industry were extremely far and few. Fast forward to 2020, I decided to jump into the deep end and founded LemonJuice Game Studio to make cinematic games within the horror genre. From solo development to Game Camp, LemonJuice now stands at 20 members who are working closely together on our current title, Beyond the Nightlight. It is a 3D horror adventure game that centers around mental health and addiction in hopes to shine light on the topic and potentially help those struggling with these illnesses every day.
Why did you decide to center Beyond the Nightlight on mental health and addiction?
Beyond the Nightlight centers around the study that when we die our brains have seven minutes of activity left, during this time is when our life ‘flashes before our eyes.’ Our protagonist Jolene is in her final seven minutes and does not know it yet. She races through this odd world in a porcelain doll body, chased by Death, to reclaim her memory of what happened to her and how she can get a second chance at life.
I lost my mother in 2019 to drug addiction and that was probably the hardest point in my life. A year later, I found out from my therapist that I have both depression and anxiety…which didn’t help the situation. Beyond the Nightlight is built from real trauma and experiences from real people to show the players that do struggle with similar if not exact issues, that they’re not alone.
“Xbox Game Studios Game Camp taught me things I would have otherwise taken 10 years to learn. Game Camp helped me identify my “superpower” in development and focus on that instead of spreading myself thin.”
Austin-Taylor Caldwell, CEO & Creative Director of LemonJuice Game Studio
Walk us through your game creation journey before you attended Xbox Game Studios Game Camp?
Before Game Camp, I taught myself game design through Unreal Engine Documentation and a ton of YouTube. Working a full-time job made devoting time to learn game development difficult, but not impossible. I would wake up a couple hours early to get through a few lessons or add a new feature to my project, then go into work and use my lunch to research various systems or solve some problems I may have run into that morning. Returning home after work was when I really put in the work by staying up way later than I should to continue adding features to my project and learning everything I could to make a playable product.
What are some of the key takeaways you learned from your experience at Xbox Game Studios Game Camp?
Xbox Game Studios Game Camp taught me things I would have otherwise taken 10 years to learn. Game Camp helped me identify my “superpower” in development and focus on that instead of spreading myself thin trying to be distinguished in every department. That alone is invaluable, but more than that it also taught me how to manage a team, communicate and network to establish long lasting relationships, how to create and manage a development pipeline, and so much more. Game Camp truly changed my life.
What excites you about the game creation process?
Seeing the first prototype is a feeling words cannot describe. Spending days on days crafting this world and seeing it come to life is enthralling. Directing that is extremely fun to me and seeing others get inspired and watching their eyes light up over a new idea they propose is truly what makes game development so beautiful.
What are some unique challenges your dev teams overcame? Were there any tools/services that helped overcome this?
The biggest challenge we faced was switching our 2D project from Unity to the 3D project it is now within Unreal Engine. Having to rebuild the code in a different language took a bit to get off the ground, but Unreal Engine Documentation helped us as a team get our bearings together and now, we are back up on the ground and sprinting!
Tell us about the tools you are using for game development and why.
We are utilizing Unreal Engine 5 and Quixel Megascans for Beyond the Nightlight . We decided to work within Unreal Engine 5 as the amount of tools provided free of cost truly tip the scales on what we can accomplish. Plus, having Megascans that we can use with ease and easily import into Unreal Engine is amazing for painting a very detailed and immersive environment.
Can you tell us about your experience working with an Xbox Game Studios mentor and what you learned from them about the game creation process?
Working with our mentor, Rosa Dachtler, was a great experience. She was extremely helpful and always available to help in any way she could. Particularly, she guided and supported us as we made an extreme switch in production with only 2 weeks of production time left. She taught us how to build a powerful narrative around action-packed gameplay and how departments can better communicate with each other throughout the design process.”
Now that you’ve attended Xbox Game Studios Game Camp, what’s next for LemonJuice?
Game Camp readied LemonJuice with the tools and knowledge needed to dive headfirst into the industry. We are currently in the final stages of wrapping up our prototype for Beyond the Nightlight. We intend to bring it to publishers so LemonJuice as a collective can work on this project full time and be equipped with the necessary tools to make it as beautiful as we have envisioned. I have always dreamed big, and it is still my dream and goal for my company to become a 1st or 2nd party studio for Xbox Game Studios.
To learn more about Xbox Game Studios Game Camp visit xbox.com/gamecamp.