Ancient Trader is a terrific turn-based strategy game on the Xbox Live Indie Games service. You’re the commander of a ship, sailing across olde worlde maps, trading goods between ports, taking on quests to earn extra gold to upgrade your craft so you can battle rival ships and sea monsters, eventually upgrading to the stage where you can tackle a huge sea guardian to win the game. Its presentation and polish are a cut above many of its independent rivals, and it’s easily one of the best games I’ve played on the service.
Yet had it not been recommended to me by another journalist, I simply wouldn’t have been aware of it. Ancient Trader isn’t in the Top Downloads or Top Rated section of the Indie Games service (curiously, its average rating is just three-and-a-half stars), and it can only be found by searching for it directly, or browsing through the hundreds of games available in the Indie Games section. In short, it’s very, very easy to miss.
Microsoft needs to do something to raise the profile of Indie Games, particularly given the number of releases each week on the service. Unfortunately, many of the titles released are of a very poor standard. Games featuring Avatars seem to be popular, but the vast majority – save for one or two exceptions like AvaGlide – are flat-out awful. But it’s easy for a new release to get shunted from the front page of games listed in just a week, meaning that titles like Ancient Trader – unless championed by the specialist press – simply get lost in the melee.
The format-holder’s own restrictions hardly help – Indie Games can’t feature Achievements nor online leaderboards, and there are some games – like the short but sweet PLATFORMANCE – whose replay value would be substantially increased by the latter in particular. It’s easy to see why Achievements aren’t allowed – some independent developers would offer a quick and easy route to maximum points, thus ensuring sales from those obsessed with their personal Gamerscore. But it’s worrying that games of this quality have to struggle for attention.
The recent run of the surreal Independint Charles Show certainly helped; games featured were rewarded with a noticeable sales spike after each episode. But now it’s over, any game over a week old faces a real fight to be noticed. Perhaps MS could find a way to promote a handful of selected titles on the dashboard each week, otherwise new games will have barely seven days to find an audience before they’re destined to be buried among an avalanche of shovelware.