Microsoft planned to reveal its indie developer self-publishing initiative for the Xbox One at Gamescom in August along with plans to make every console capable of being turned into a dev kit. Instead, it was leaked out Wednesday leaving Xbox executives the task of trying to explain these plans on the fly. Here’s a breakdown of how both self-publishing and turning a retail Xbox One into a dev kit works plus what Microsoft must prove.
Xbox VP Marc Whitten says that self-publishing won’t be available at launch but will be fully released within the first of the console’s release with a beta rollout beforehand. Anybody will be able to sign up with Microsoft, develop a game and then publish it via Xbox LIVE.
These will be proper Xbox One games and not Win 8 Apps or limited XBL Indie Games
According to Microsoft, indie developed games will have full access to the Xbox One hardware unlike Xbox LIVE Indie Games for the Xbox 360. This includes access to Xbox LIVE, the Azure Cloud service, Kinect, SmartGlass, system memory, graphics processor, etc. Whitten told Giant Bomb that there’s no “second class sort of experience” and that indie developers will have the same level of system access as TitanFall developer, Respawn.
Additionally, Phil Spencer sounded off on the subject via Twitter by saying, “Goals is to allow devs access to full pool of resources available, no indie RAM limit.”
Rumors spread on gamer forums such as NeoGAF that the Xbox One indie games would be equivalent to Windows 8 RT apps with limited system access to only 3GB of memory which is the same amount of memory that is reserved to the system OS. Whitten’s statement above appears to contradict that as well as a statement to Polygon that these won’t be “Windows Store apps.” However, Spencer includes a big qualifier by saying “Goal” that is already leading some to believe that Microsoft is leaving itself a way to wiggle out of allowing full system access.
Xbox One indie titles will not be segregated from full blown retail games
Microsoft says it plans to list indie titles published for the Xbox One in the same area of the console’s Marketplace as other retail and downloadable games.
“Our intention is that there will not be an indie ghetto,” Whitten explained to Polygon. “I do believe in some curation and I want the best to flow to the top. But I also want to be able to see what’s trending on the surface. At the end of the day, discoverability will be driven by spotlight human curation and by usage.”
What has been revealed of the Xbox One so far indicates that all titles will be listed on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and Microsoft will then provide filters (or pivots) for the user to narrow down what they are searching for whether it is indie games or retail RPGs. Social promotion and highlighted games based on the user’s interests also appears to be key.
Prices will be set by the developer, not Microsoft
Microsoft had a fairly rigid pricing structure for not only Xbox LIVE Arcade titles but titles in the Indie Games as well. Indie developers who self-publish on Xbox One will be able to set their own prices however. This is likely due in large part to Microsoft’s decision to do away with MS Points and deal with real world money instead. The end result is something that is much more flexible from a developer standpoint.
Every Xbox One can be turned into a dev kit
Perhaps the most surprising and interesting news to come out of the unintended announcement is that anybody will be able to purchase an Xbox One from a retailer and turn it into a dev kit after going through the sign up process with Microsoft. This is a huge boon for small developers or those just starting out as dev kits for the Xbox 360 can run in the thousands of dollars.
There will likely be some kind of trade-offs due to the fact that full-blown dev kits come with 12 GB of memory versus the retail limit of 8 GB. What effect that will have in the end is currently unknown until developers actually get their hands on the systems.
Microsoft still has quite a bit to prove
While Microsoft undoubtedly took a huge step forward with the Xbox One by not only allowing self-publish but making every console a potential dev kit as well, it still has quite a bit of work to do. For starters, it needs to fix its relationships with many of the independent developers who felt slighted or abused when trying to bring their games to Xbox LIVE Arcade or even Windows 8. For every success with Mojang and Minecraft or Behemoth with Castle Crashers and BattleBlock Theater, there are seemingly more complaints from the likes of Jonathan Blow (Braid), Brian Provinciano (Retro City Rampage) and Phil Fish (Fez).
Microsoft must also prove that its infamously lengthy certification process can be shortened down to allow quick releases of not only games but patches as well. This must be done while also allowing what will inarguably be a larger influx of games that must be tested. This is likely part of why Microsoft is doing the slow rollout over the course of a year with a beta rollout to try and work out the kinks in its systems and internal processes before opening the floodgates to everyone.
There should also be obvious concerns about how Microsoft will curate the potential flood of copycat and low-quality games that first appear. When the XBL Indie Games channel first launched on the Xbox 360, silly massage games that used the console’s controller were all the rage for the first few year or so while copy cats of Minecraft currently dominate the charts. This is not all that different from issues that visitors to the Google Play store for Android devices and iTunes store for iOS devices must endure. How Microsoft allows the cream to rise to the top will be a key determinant to whether its push for indies flops or thrives.
Whether Microsoft’s turn to indie self-publishing is a success or failure depends on these questions along with important details such as the revenue split and what kind of tools and system resources will be available to developers. The deal with Unity to support its Unity 3D engine and tools is a big first step but Microsoft will need to nail down all of the fine points at Gamescom in August or face the wrath of the gamers once again.
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest news or you can subscribe to our RSS feed or email alerts. Scott can also be found as part of the Furious Fourcast podcast and videocast where a crew of freelancers discuss games, movies and other assorted geekery.