Prison Architect dev outs Microsoft’s costly approach to indie developers

Monday, 29th October 2012 08:22 GMT By Dave Cook

Prison Architect developer Introversion Software has spoken out against Microsoft’s costly Xbox Live Arcade certification process, and has suggested that big change is needed for the publisher to compete with Steam.

As part of a VG247 interview, Introversion co-founder Mark Morris discussed the reasons why it would not be pursuing Xbox Live Arcade or PSN for Prison Architect, based on its costly experience of trying to publish Darwinia+ on Microsoft’s platform.

“If you look at our position: we’re two guys basically – although we’re a little big bigger than that – working on a game we’ve launched ourselves. We’re in alpha, we’re seeing money now, which is enabling us to carry on developing it.

“Hopefully we’ll get a Steam deal – I’m pretty confident we will as we have a great relationship with Valve – and then we’re exposed to Valve’s market of 20 million people. Alternatively we could spin out a team of probably ten people, we need to pay Microsoft $10,000 a go for a development kit.”

Steam is the end goal of Morris and Introversion, and the game is currently in an alpha 2 phase, allowing gamers to buy the game and invest in it at the same time – similar to Notch’s approach to Minecraft funding. Regardless, Morris feels Microsoft needs to change tact.

On the $10,000 figure stated above, Morris added, “It’s ridiculous, and it’s non-refundable once you’ve bought it. You’ve got to pay – I think our quality assurance bill was $30,000 for testing with Darwinia+, and it took four years to get the game certified to a standard that Microsoft wanted. It then sold rubbish. We hardly shipped any units on Xbox 360, compared to PC.

“There is a strong indie community now on PC that doesn’t exist within the console world, and they’ve tried various ways to tap into that with Live Arcade and Xbox Indie Games, and they just never managed it in the way Steam has.”

Although Morris is down on the idea of self-publishing Prison Architect on Xbox 360, he is open to the idea of outsourcing the work. “We’ve got no interest in working with any of the big console owners now with Prison Architect. The only think we might do, once the game’s out there, is license it to another developer to do the port on our behalf.

“But Microsoft and Sony come along and they say, ‘Well we don’t want to have your game second, we want to be first.’ Well, they can’t be first. We’re on PC because they’ve made it too hard. Also, they want exclusive content, well piss off.

“You’re not delivering the amount of sales, you’re making us work harder, and ultimately we’re getting paid less than what we do on PC. So I think they’re definitely – in the indie world – second class customers.

“If they want to work with us – and if they want indie games on their systems – they’re going to have to change quite a lot to make it attractive.”

You can buy Prison Architect alpha 2 now over at the official Prison Architect site. Stay tuned for our full interview soon.



  1. FabioPal

    Well, “welcome to the real world” where indie games don’t sell that much on consoles and where developing for a console is much more complicated than doing it on the pc.

    Enough rants, please.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. DaveDogg

    I remember playing the demo for this game and to be honest it wasn’t great it looked like it was five years old when it came out & it just didnt play that well either. it was a full arcade release rather than an indie and i just couldnt say it was worth 800 points or whatever it was. i also remember the gentleman in question being interviewed at the time saying that the build he had taken to certification first time round failed because it kept crashing and it took them 4 years to get to a point where it ran consistantly

    #2 2 years ago
  3. ShakaCarnage

    Also, What happened to all the dev kits they have for Darwinia?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. OrbitMonkey

    Huh, sounds like MS & Sony only want triple A indie titles…

    #4 2 years ago
  5. FabioPal

    @4 No, they want something that meets a set standard of quality (in terms of bugs and crashes) and that they think can sell well.

    As any other publisher in the world does. Because, yes, when MS and Sony put something on THEIR online store they’re acting as a publisher, ans having a publisher is at the opposite of being indie (with the obvious exceptions that you will all point out :p)

    Edit: “requires a set” -> “meets a set”

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @5 correct, but $10k for a dev kit has no bearing on the game’s quality. They should bend a little depending on studio size and budget.

    Say the game is of triple-a standard but the studio doesn’t have the cash for a dev kit, why should they be penalised?

    It’s a tricky area to be sure.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. FabioPal

    @6 If a game IS of triple-a standard the studio does have 10k to buy a dev–kit.

    By the way the console manufacturers don’t earn something (or plan to) on the dev-kits, even because they’re never “sold” but “borrowed” as the owner keeps on being the manufacturer and the studio is paying even the assistance provided by the manufacturer. Don’t forget that the dev kits are dedicated hardware: it’s not just a console with more memory.

    It’s like the 100 bucks to get in the Steam Greenlight, their business plan contemplates that if somebody doesn’t have (or is not willing to spend) that amount of money to jump in that studio is simply “not worth it”.

    It’s market people, just don’t make a case out of something that is like that since years (and will always be).

    Should we all blame and shout at Apple because you’re forced to buy a Mac to develop and ship an iOS app?

    #7 2 years ago
  8. FabioPal

    Oh, just a note: the latest news I’ve got about pricing of kits (yes, I work in the industry) place the kits far… far away from 10k, we’re more in the 4-5k area….

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @7 “Should we all blame and shout at Apple because you’re forced to buy a Mac to develop and ship an iOS app?”

    No not at all. What I was driving at was that triple-a quality doesn’t always mean the same thing each time. It’s not a question of monetary resources or polish any more.

    Some games are viewed by gamers as triple-a for their mechanics or ideas, that one killer hook that makes them as popular as the big consoles games of our day. I think the perception of quality is changing within that scene.

    So say if someone like Notch made Minecraft on a shoestring budget and didn’t fund the game at alpha as he did, but wanted to publish it on XBLA as he knew he was on to a big thing – he’d be denied sale on XBLA as he didn’t have 10k to spare. That would have been a grave injustice.

    That’s more what I was driving at :)

    #9 2 years ago
  10. FabioPal

    I got what you were driving at, the problem is the perspective.

    I don’t see that as an “injustice” from MS/Nintendo/Sony, because if I cannot afford a Mac and I’ve got an awesome idea that will change the world of mobile gaming it’s an injustice from Apple as well.

    I just thing that should’ve they said “we ain’t got the money to buy an xbox dev kit” instead of “blaming Microsoft for putting barriers” they’d have had my approval and respect.

    For “begging” (pass me the term, English is not my native language :p) there’s Kickstarter and all the other sites.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dave Cook

    @10 “I just thing that should’ve they said “we ain’t got the money to buy an xbox dev kit” instead of “blaming Microsoft for putting barriers” they’d have had my approval and respect.”

    Yeah there’s definitely a case for either side, and I see why MS need quality standards. I just wonder if we’ll see those standards lowered in future to better nurture the indie space on consoles.

    Wii U has Unity now, so that could be the first step to something bigger.

    Thanks for your feedback :)

    #11 2 years ago
  12. DrDamn

    PS3 kits for this sort of thing can be had for ~$2k too. Seems he’s a bit out of date in some respects.

    AAA does have direct connotations for budget though. I know what you are getting at – what about really great indie games without the budget?

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Old MacDonald

    Fabio, you can defend it all you want but the end result is that Xbox 360 gamers are missing out on great games because of this. It’s that simple.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. FabioPal

    @13 and PC gamers are losing Red Dead Redemption, XBox gamers are losing Uncharted and PS3 gamers are losing Halo.


    There’s a space for everything, Nintendo/Microsoft/Sony don’t like or have not understood the power of Indie development.

    Again: so?

    #14 2 years ago
  15. DrDamn

    I think they understand, but to an extent they are happy to cherry pick. They all encourage a certain amount of indie development in their own way. It’s very focused on meeting the console manufacturers needs and ideals too though. Whilst providing the end user with more of an consolised indie experience. Certain aspects of indie development can only happen on a PC-like platform, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Old MacDonald

    14: So, it kinda sucks.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. FabioPal

    @11 Dave, the WiiU has got Unity (that is awesome, try it if you can!) but WITH the dev kit, and if Nintendo keeps its policy of pricing for the kits… well… it’s gonna be pricey! (9k€ for a Wii kit 4 y ago)

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Cobra951

    I’m not sure you appreciate nitpicks like this, but since you are a journalist, I figure you might. You mention a cost of 10,000 pounds sterling, and two paragraphs below, you reference it as 10,000 dollars. I see from a quick lookup that Introversion is British, so the first must be correct.

    Edit: But then again, Microsoft is American. So which is correct?

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Gadzooks!

    You can release games on XBLIG using nothing but a PC and a $99 license fee. Barrier = gone.

    What this entitled douche is saying is that he wants the digital shelf space, promotion, QA and potential revenue of an XBLA title but he doesn’t want to put the time or money into making it fit for release because he isn’t confident his game is any good.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Dave Cook

    @18 I do appreciate it mate :)

    We work so fast here that mistakes do happen, so we appreciate whenever someone point this out. It was dollars. As they are a UK studio buying from the US branch.

    Thanks, I’ll edit that now.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. FabioPal

    @19 that’s not exactly the same thing as if you’re going for XBLIG you’re bound to use XNA that is strictly C#, no C++.

    It may sound like a small difference but, trust me, it’s not the same thing as programming in C++…

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Lahanas

    Indie developers share a crucial characteristic with PC gamers: they are whiners.

    MS and Sony are right to demand a certain level of quality. Especially in Microsoft’s case, this practice has made XBLA alone a reason for buying the Xbox 360.

    The AAA model, yes with its flaws, is the top tier of video games, and consoles should stick with it. Leave the indie and crowdfunding crap to PC.

    #22 2 years ago

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