Chickens Can't Fly returns to Windows Phone without Xbox features. Get the inside story here

Last month, Microsoft pulled 11 Xbox games from the Windows Phone Store, 10 of which had used Microsoft Points as the payment method for their In-App Purchases. At the time, we speculated that only a few games would return at all, and mostly stripped of their Xbox features.

Today the first of those delisted games has returned: Chickens Can’t Fly. Unfortunately, it has indeed returned as an indie game. But hey, at least Windows Phone gamers can play it again – if they repurchase. We can’t place the blame for this on developer Amused Sloth, though. They’ve just posted a lengthy explanation for change on their blog. As you might expect, stripping the game of its Xbox features came from a higher power...

The road to Xbox Live

Before we go on, be aware that I’m going to be critical of Microsoft in this story. Most of the hard stuff and any information that wasn’t part of Amused Sloth’s blog post comes from my research and separate sources – NOT Amused Sloth, who are taking a diplomatic approach to this situation.

Chickens Can’t Fly arrived on Windows Phone 7 back in February 2012. The month before that, Microsoft’s interest in creating, funding, and/or publishing Xbox games for Windows Phone had just dried up thanks to the executive Karl Stricker’s departure as the Xbox LIVE Senior Business Manager. But the programs and projects Stricker had created during his tenure would linger on for a while, including the Must Have Games promotion which ran for its second and final time that February.

Independent of Karl, Microsoft has long held a restrictive policy that requires Xbox games for any platform to have an established publisher who has shipped retail Xbox games. Ostensibly, the policy was created to… Okay, I can’t think of a way to whitewash it.

The policy was created to restrict indie developers from publishing their games. If an indie really wanted to release an Xbox game, they had to sign on with a publisher and share some of the profits from the game. That policy has apparently been lifted on the Xbox 360, but this story proves that it still exists on Windows Phone.

Xbox games have higher visibility and a more elite status perception than indie games. They also include Achievements that integrate with a user’s Xbox Live/Microsoft profile, which many Windows Phone gamers consider a major selling point. Amused Sloth wanted their sequel to indie game Chickens Can Dream to be Xbox branded, and so they signed up with Microsoft Studios as the publisher.

The Microsoft Points conundrum

Amused Sloth had greater aspirations for Chickens Can’t Fly than just Xbox Achievements. They also worked to include unlockable Xbox Avatar items and In-App Purchases in their game. They would have even offered extra Achievements along with the paid DLC Dojo level, had they not been prevented from doing so by inexplicable Xbox Windows Phone policies. Only one Windows Phone game was ever allowed that privilege: Babaroga’s Zombies!!!, another game that eventually got delisted due to its single In-App Purchase.

Adding In-App Purchases to the 15 or so Windows Phone 7 games that offered them would prove challenging for developers.  Windows Phone 7 did not (and still doesn’t) natively support IAPs when it launched in 2010, despite the fact that IAPs were already a standard offering in mobile games and apps, not to mention console games, at that time. Native IAPs would not come along until the launch of Windows Phone 8 in November 2012.

Rather than updating Windows Phone 7 to natively incorporate In-App Purchases, Microsoft’s solution in 2011 was to create a framework for developers to use that accepted Microsoft Points as currency. This despite the fact that Microsoft Points could never be used to purchase the Windows Phone games themselves. Here is where the train started to leave the tracks…

See, the framework for accepting Microsoft Points was made available ONLY to Xbox developers. Indie games and apps simply couldn’t use it. Even now, there is no built-in way for Windows Phone 7 developers to sell items and goods through their games or apps.

Some games like MonsterUp Adventures have offered purchases through a separate website that can then be redeemed within the game itself (The Windows Phone 8 version of the game has IAPS built in). Other games like the Windows Phone 7 version of Ragdoll Run have opted to use Fortumo’s carrier-based billing model for IAPs.

Death sentence

Beards & Beaks from Microsoft Studios

Shirking the non-Xbox developers wasn’t the real problem with incorporating Microsoft Points as the sole payment method for Xbox Windows Phone 7 IAPs though. The REAL reason it should never have been done is that Microsoft Points were already on their way out.

Windows Phone Central has learned from multiple sources that Microsoft knew that a transition from Points to regional currency was in the works at the same time the Windows Phone 7 IAP framework was developed in late 2011. In fact, we covered that exact rumor in January 2012 – just as Gravity Guy became the first third-party Windows Phone 7 game with IAPs (Microsoft’s Beards & Beaks was the first 1st-party title in August 2011).

Knowing that the IAP method was not future proof and that any Windows Phone game to accept Microsoft Points as payment would have its IAPs broken by the transition to regional currency, Microsoft still provided that payment framework to Xbox developers. They sent Chickens Can’t Fly, Zombies!!!, Tentacles, and several other games out to die.

In August 2013, Microsoft Points were finally decommissioned. The next month, 10 of the Windows Phone 7 games that accepted them for IAPs got pulled from the Store.

Publisher apathy

While the loss of a game’s IAPs will be damaging to its revenue structure, the majority of the delisted games were not free to play. They could have been updated to remove their IAPs without doing much harm. Makes sense, right?

Well, the decision to update a game doesn’t fall on the developer; it’s up to the publisher. “The option to do the update was out of our hands,” Catalin Zima-Zegreanu of Amused Sloth explains. And this is why you don’t want Microsoft to publish your Windows Phone game. Microsoft, the platform holder and company behind the Windows Phone 7 IAP debacle, has opted not to update any of the affected games it published. Chickens Can’t Fly, Tentacles, and Beards & Beaks will not be returning to Xbox Live.

It would be so easy to disable the IAPs in those games and return them to the Store with removing their Xbox features. It’s not like the source code was lost or anything. When publishing a simple title update is too much trouble, it looks like Microsoft just doesn’t care about supporting Xbox games on Windows Phone any more.

Many gamers had hoped that the restructuring of the organization instituted by Steve Ballmer before his departure would lead to better decision making towards Windows Phone games. But clearly decisions like pulling these games and not allowing them to be updated come from someone who is apathetic (if not hostile) towards games.

Chickens CAN still fly though

Thankfully, Chickens Can’t Fly is a high quality game that can live on without Xbox support. Amused Sloth released an iOS version a few weeks ago, followed by the Android version this week.

Now Chickens Can’t Fly has returned to Windows Phone 7 and 8 as an indie game as well. The game still costs 99 cents, but now includes the previous IAPs for free. It also runs at 60 frames per second, whereas the previous version only ran at 30. The former Xbox Achievements are still available as in-game Achievements, though not being able to share them with friends removes some of their luster.

Gamers who bought the Xbox Windows Phone version of Chickens Can’t Fly can seek a refund through Microsoft by heading to the Xbox support website (opens in new tab) and initiating a support chat. I personally scored refunds on two (!) of the 11 delisted games, although I own all 11. If you really like Chickens, make sure you grab the indie version. Amused Sloth created a great game and they deserve our continued support.

  • Chickens Can’t Fly – Windows Phone 7 and 8 – 46 MB – $.99 – Store Link

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

99 Comments
  • xbox live branding should go away, seems like a headache for developers to me. 
  • No, because many of my friends have switched to wp because of Xbox live games. I know its stupid, but it draws alot of attention to people who have xboxes
  • One of the main reasons I went WP was for Xbox achievements.
  • I agree.
  • The problem isn't the branding itself, guys. It's the policies and decision making from Microsofts end.
  • IMHO it should work exactly like Game Center / Google Play Games where anybody has access to using acheivements in their games (also it is AMAZING that you can remove a games achievements from game center completely if you want). Supposedly the concept of 'Indie Games', 'Arcade Games', and 'Retail Games' is going away on the Xbox One (which probably just means that indie games no longer have any access to publish at all) - I would like to hope that this means a change like this is incoming, but something tells me not to get my hopes up.
  • That's not correct.  Microsoft announced Indie Development back in August.
     
    http://www.gamespot.com/articles/microsoft-outlines-xbox-one-indie-dev-p...
  • True, but there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding that program. And in the meantime, many indie developers are working on Playstation 4 games while Microsoft struggles to get their indie program (why does it need to be a program?) squared away.
  • I was just saying that the information that a "program" doesn't exist is incorrect.  As for the program, I sort of understand it.  Nothing is more frustrating from a consumer perspective that a game or app doesn't work as expected.  If that's the first experience, use of the app again goes dramatically down.  However, there is a fine line to developing an ecosystem to where you have full and complete control that you squander any sense of development, or you have rampant publishing of useless fart apps.
  • I don't see any uncertanty with it, the only roadblock is that they can still block or not accept you to start if you haven't already worked on something before.  The thinking behind that is that they want experienced developers who have games or have made good games to start before they open the flood gates to everyone and anyone.
     
    The same program should extend to Windows Store and WP games in the future to, everyone tossed up a fuss over the need for a publisher and that should be ditched like it is for XB1 going forward. 
    The thing I see here is that we're looking at and talking about WP7 titles specifically, while I don't see WP8 having issues.  Sad to say but WP7 is dead, while I believe they should do more to support it till it's pushed out of the market but 8.x someone at the time didn't think so.
  • This issue does affect WP8 in a couple of ways. One, most of the delisted games worked fine on WP8, including this one. Two, the publisher requirement is independent of WP version and thus affects WP8 too. Three (which connects to #1), the games could have been republished with their IAPs removed for everyon to enjoy, but Microsoft just didn't care. The uncertainty lies in things like how difficult it will be to get in the program, how indie games will be promoted within the Xbox One storefront, whether there will be any barriers to updating indie Xbox One games or size limits on those games, etc. Microsoft has a poor track record working with indie games. We all hope that changes, but until the program is live or fully detailed, a lot remains up in the air.
  • That's the problem with MS, they doesn't care about customers on WP8 now, all they do is rip people off my launching games and a few months later they delist the game and again a few months later they republish the game (that we must purchase again) as an indie title minus achievements. Either this or they do things like publisher/developper switch (Fruit Ninja case). Is it so hard for MS to think about in advance before doing things like this?
    The MSP thing should have not existed since the beginning and go with local currencies, like Sony do now since the PS3/PSN/PSP.
    This should have solved many problems now and problems like this should never happened.
    Glad that I am done with MS and all their stupid policies and go back with Sony with the vita and ps4, at least, they care about people and support them. Gonna enjoy my 10 free Vita games that I got on my Vita as a ps+ member.
  • Yes, that was the point i was trying to make.  Seems liek a headache just to get the branding on a game.  It probably isn't worth it for a developer to go through the hoops.  I would like to see the impact of xbox live branding helps a game, it does help if users are already on wp8, but im not too certain it makes a huge impact for those that are not using wp8 right now.  is xbox gaming/branding on popular games going to get ios/android users to convert?  Probably not as much as people think or hope it would. 
     
    If i was a developer and knew that, i'd probably just release as indie without branding.  Maybe MS will relax on the their policies like xbox 360/one, but the primary reason they did for consoles because of the uproar it caused.  Dont think people will making a big deal on wp8 regarding indie games and MS policies 
  • As a Microsoft fan (not a fanboy), the last 2 years have been difficult. Its as if they're trying to piss everyone off, but mostly the fans that have invested in their ecosystem. Zune
    Windows Media Center
    Zune Music Subscription
    Xbox One
    WP
    Windows Home Server
    TechNet subscriptions
    Server 2012 Some of these they completely killed. Some they made useless, some it seems like they are trying to sabotage on purpose. As a side note, I put server 2012 on there because the lack of a start menu. What a pain it is to manage. Nobody even mentions Microsoft anymore, its apple, google and amazon. Its as if they don't exist. They are basically turning into IBM, still relevant, just in the background. Flailing, like with this Xbox game thing seems to be what they do best. Its no wonder developers don't bother with this platform. I see that now.
  • Don't forget PC gaming's GFWL (Games For Windows Live). Going to be decommissioned in April 2014, publishers are now scrambling to patch out GFWL, with some of them already going to Steamworks (Bioshock 2, Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City). This is a burden on publishers, possibly a boon to customers considering the love of Steam and loath of GFWL. Microsoft treated their game platform on PC and WP7/WP8 with pisspoor negligence, I just can't defend it at all. I prefer games come out without pointless achievements in favor for better support from the devs. The whole certification process does not help anyone but Microsoft's pocket.
  • "is xbox gaming/branding on popular games going to get ios/android users to convert?" It absolutely would convert a lot of iOS and Android users IF Microsoft was actually pushing it like they should be doing. If intead of having 150 Xbox games on Windows Phone 8 and a measly 50 Xbox games on Windows 8 we had more--including big name titles like Halo: Spartan Assault--and IF Microsoft properly markete that, Windows Phone would undoubtedly see some gains. I know a lot of people (myself included) who switched to Windows Phone specifically for Xbox games. These same people are the ones who 1) are more likely to buy games, 2) more likely to talk about them to friends. The ripple effects are some people who were sitting on the fence about WP will be nudged over. But Microsoft is really dropping the ball here. What should be a huge selling point (can't tell you how many times my friends saw my phone and said, "You have Xbox games on there!") is proving to be nothing but frustration as the Xbox game releases are sporadic or, even worse, disappearing. We need to let Microsoft know our opinions.
  • I dont see the incentive to develop a game under the xbox name on WP, especially if their more pricey. (I am assuming that alot of people dont buy apps cuz their pricey). I think it should be a type of award system for games. Say a game is doing well, MS can give them the option to upgrade to xbox and help them out.
  • I was thinking about what was going on, after I read your article on Android Central about this game going to Android. Well...honestly it was a game that I never cared about. Without Xbox Live I'll care even less. It's a pity that Microsoft keeps being so stupid as to the potential Xbox Games on Windows Phone have for attracting people to the platform.
    If this trend by smaller developers of removing Xbox tiles and relaunching them without Xbox keeps going, I think the only ones who will benefit will be Android and iOS. Because at least there games go free quite a few times (Asphalt 8 has been free for sometime on iOS because Gameloft made some promotions. You seldom see that happening on WP)
  • +1
  • About seeking a refund--I bought pretty much every one of those delisted Xbox titles. How do I go about doing this?
  • go to xbox.com and start a chat with support, I got a refund for all of the games that i bought that have been delisted and/or that I bought on WP7 that do not work on WP8.  
  • https://support.xbox.com/en-US/request-chat?service=games&category=win-p... This is the correct link for chat support about refund, there is also one for the Ambassado