Saturday, December 25, 2010

Show Developers the Money

In late November 2010, approximately one month after the launch of the App Hub website, two major criticisms were reported by the developer community towards the Windows Phone Marketplace:
  1. No App Hub store analytics
  2. No payouts until Feb 2011
No App Hub store analytics
Initially, the App Hub did not provide developers with store analytics to indicate how many titles they had sold. One potential explanation for the missing functionality related to sales data in the App Hub was:
An intentional effort to avoid any leaks of hard data that may indicate poor sales of Windows Phones 7 devices.

Fortunately, store analytics are now available on the App Hub.
In fact, there are two main types of reports:
  1. Graphical view of daily and cumulative downloads plus raw data break-downs
  2. Payout Reports with aggregated and detailed views of Marketplace payouts
No payouts until Feb 2011
The App Hub supports quarterly payouts for all sales of Xbox LIVE Indie Games. The minimun threshold is $150: if this target is not reached within the quarter then all sales are rolled over into the next quarter.

The App Hub also supported quarterly payouts for all sales of Windows Phone apps upon launch in October 2010. The minimum threshold is $200, however. As Microsoft allows up-to-45 days to payout, this meant there would be no payouts until Feb 2011.

The announcement: no payouts until Feb 2011, prompted much concern from the developer community, categorizing: Windows Phone 7 development as a hobby or a learning experience rather than a source of revenue until the App Hub issues are sorted out.
Hardly the response Microsoft were targeting after spending $500m on the Windows Phone ad campaign!

Fortunately, there has been an update: the first payout will be in Jan 2011 for all sales of Windows Phone apps in Qtr-IV 2010. After Jan 2011, developer payouts will be processed on a monthly basis for all sales of Windows Phone apps that meet the minimum payout threshold limit.

Going forward, there is an opportunity to align monthly payouts for all sales of Xbox LIVE Indie Games. Another option would be to consolidate monthly sales figures for all platforms: if total sales accumulated across all platforms meet the minimum payout threshold limit then payment should be made.

Developer has published two games: one on Windows Phone and one on Xbox LIVE Indie Games:
  • Monthly sales on WP7 Marketplace = $100
  • Monthly sales on Xbox Marketplace = $100
Currently, the developer would not be eligible for an end-of-period payout on either platform.
However, if there was an option to consolidate total sales then payment would be made.

In conclusion, the App Hub does have potential. In fact, Microsoft has announced over 15,000 developers have registered for Windows Phone development since the launch. There are also whispers that XNA will eventually provide Kinect API support in the future as well.

Therefore, there are encouraging signs that should hopefully increase the number of applications and the quality of games available for sale on the App Hub, which in turn, generate more revenue for developers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

XNA Creators Club now the App Hub

In October 2010, Microsoft re-branded the XNA Creators Club website to the App Hub. The new website continues to support Xbox LIVE Indie Games as before, but now includes support for Windows Phone development.

All existing XNA Creators Club memberships have been migrated to App Hub annual subscriptions: they function as before however, independent game developers can now submit "apps", that is, apps and games to the App Hub for sale or free download in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Therefore, the focus from Microsoft is now clearly on the Windows Phone.

All App Hub subscribers must activate their account and complete the following registration tasks:
Verify your email address
Subscribers new to the App Hub will need to register an account to verify email address. Existing XNA Creators Club members can simply verify email address from the My Apps page.

Publisher Identity Verification
Developers require a process to authenticate their identity. Identification validation is the process to ensure developers within the Windows Phone Marketplace are authentic. This protects from someone assuming their identity while also maintaining end-user trust.

Important: identity validation must be complete before developers can unlock Windows Phone devices, deploy apps to the phone, and submit to the App Hub for certification testing.

Microsoft partners with GeoTrust whom provide identity verification services. On Microsoft's behalf, GeoTrust will contact the developer during the identity validation process. Developers outside the U.S. are required to complete a GeoTrust form that includes a copy of government issued photo identification and the developer's signature. Once identity is confirmed, GeoTrust will issue a unique digital certificate; the App Hub uses the digital certificate to sign all applications published by the developer.

New subscribers to the App Hub should experience smooth transition here: after verifying email address, GeoTrust will contact the developer and begin the Publisher Identity Verification process.

However, existing XNA Creators Club members may find the Publisher Identity Verification process confusing and frustrating: after verifying email address, the App Hub displays the following message:
This message is misleading and incorrect: as existing XNA Creators Club memberships are migrated to App Hub subscriptions, no new details are sent to GeoTrust. Therefore, GeoTrust has no knowledge of existing members, thus no contact is made. Meanwhile, the developer will wait indefinitely for GeoTrust to contact them, as per the App Hub message!

Fortunately, there is a workaround this issue for existing XNA Creators Club members:
  1. Create dummy app
  2. Submit dummy app
  3. Upload capabilities
  4. Follow steps: description, artwork, pricing
  5. Before submitting, uncheck the Automatically Publish to the Marketplace
    This will ensure that the dummy app is not published!
Submitting a dummy app should initiate contact from GeoTrust. From there, GeoTrust will request documentation from the developer, as required, in order to complete Publisher Identity Verification.

Unlock your phone
Once publisher identity verification is complete, Windows Phone device(s) can be unlocked:
  1. Download and install the latest Zune software
  2. Connect Windows Phone to the computer
  3. Launch Zune software and synch phone
  4. Start Menu, Programs, Windows Phone Developer Tools, Registration
  5. Enter Windows Live ID, password and click "Register"
Status: Your phone has successfully been registered.
Apps can now be deployed to Windows Phone.

Eligibility for Payout
While this step is not required to unlock the device, developers must provide bank and tax information
to ensure payment is made from the sales of apps on Windows Phone Marketplace.

Navigate to Payee Details. For all subscribers, the App Hub currently displays the following message:
New subscribers to the App Hub must submit the relevant Form W-8 tax form to Microsoft.
Pls read this post for more information.

However, existing XNA Creators Club members may find this message very confusing, especially if they have previously submitted Form W-8 and their Xbox LIVE business information status is as follows:
"W8 Form processed. Ready to be paid."

As of the time of this writing, Microsoft has issued the following statement:

I have confirmed with internal authorities that the commerce mechanisms are now integrated. You only need to set up the W8 once for your account, and then it will work for all the technologies supported in the App Hub.

Also, the bottom of the Payee Details page states:
This assumes the VAT identification number is optional. However, developers are currently unable to save their bank and tax information: when the VAT textbox is left blank, the following error is displayed:

Fortunately, Microsoft has acknowledged this issue and confirmed a fix in the next update release.

In conclusion, the App Hub launch has caused much confusion and frustration for developers:
  • apps cannot be deployed until Publisher Identity Verification is complete
  • tax status is inconsistent across Windows Phone and Xbox technologies
  • bank and tax information cannot currently be saved on the website
Note: to be correct, some developers have reported the ability to hack bogus VAT identification number in order to successfully save their bank and tax information, although this does not seem appropriate.

On a brighter note, there are encouraging signs for games on Windows Phone and paid games are a hit on the device: games occupy the Top 10 slots in the Windows Phone Marketplace; good news for independent game developers whom wish to publish on both Windows Phone and Xbox platforms.

Hopefully the App Hub experience will also improve once these issues have been resolved.