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Lanning: Xbox One team should be fired over indie stance

Friday, 19th July 2013 11:45 GMT By Patrick Garratt

According to Oddworld Inhabitant’s boss, Microsoft should cull its Xbox One team and start again. Lorne Lanning speaks out on Redmond’s great next-gen indie disaster.

“Out of Washington, we see a pretty good understanding of who makes really expensive great games, but beyond that there’s not really any insight into how people get there from nothing… I’m not sure who they’re listening to. Whoever their PR people are, whoever their marketing agents are, they should fire them all. That’s where they should start.”

E3 left “Microsoft” and “indie” as immiscible as oil and vinegar. Phil Harrison did his best to make Minecraft look like the future of smalltime console games, but Sony presented something infinitely more sensible with its swathe of independent variety. Xbox One won’t allow self-published games and PlayStation 4 will. Microsoft’s backpedalling so fast it’s had to turn its handlebars ass-ways, but without another major policy u-turn it seems next-gen Xbox, baffingly, is refusing to acknowledge the importance of indie development to the future of video games consoles.

“I’ve watched them make this mistake before,” Oddworld boss Lorne Lanning told VG247 in LA last month. “I’ll give you a true story. When they were launching the first Xbox – and we were a launch title on that – it was an exciting time as well. We did a European tour before Xbox released, and I was with Peter Molyneux and other designers of note, and we met with the press in Germany and France. We could not talk about the games. The press were so irate about the price point, about the way they were handling the euro in different territories, and we couldn’t talk about the games. We couldn’t get in that discussion, and they wanted to hammer on Microsoft.

“We get back to the States and we were like, ‘You’ve got a big problem. You’re sinking, tanking in Europe.’ ‘No, no, no, no. You don’t understand. We’ve got our numbers covered.’ We could not get them to avoid the train wreck that was right in front of them. You know what this feels like? Déjà vu.”

Lanning was one of eight indie developers on stage at Sony’s E3 press conference with Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, and was “floored at how open Sony’s been, and, in my opinion, really smart and prophetic they’ve been. The indie aspect is going to be a big thing. But just being there was winning enough.”

A new generation of problems

While Lanning’s relationship with Sony means PlayStation owners will have easy access to Oddworld’s games in the future, Microsoft has proved to be a puzzle the creative, and his UK partner Just Add Water, couldn’t crack.

“At the business level, Microsoft isn’t acknowledging people like us,” said Lanning. “It’s as if we don’t matter.”

Microsoft’s stance towards indies with Xbox One is a continuation of problems encountered in the current generation: Lanning and JAW boss Stewart Gilray tried for over a year to get Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD released on Xbox Live before ultimately failing.

“The target kept on moving, and eventually we couldn’t get clear answers for 15 months. We don’t have five biz dev guys and two attorneys and some PR people to send up there to roll out whatever carpets you have to roll out to get attention.

“We were like, ‘Look. We’re on seven other networks. It’s been no-brainers on all of them. We’re not asking you for money. We’re not asking you for advertising.”

Lanning added: “We’re little guys, we have to release. We can’t get a straight answer. Then we release on PSN, and we get a mail the next day that says, ‘Oh, you released on PSN at a lower price point, you didn’t meet our margins, sorry you can’t be on the system.’ Boom. And that was it.

“We’re not on the radar. We’re little guys. It doesn’t seem like any of the little guys are on the radar. When we listen to them talk, we have to laugh. It’s pure rhetoric.”

Refusal to change

The problem Microsoft is presenting is this. For an indie to get published on XBLA, it needs a publishing partner as self-releasing on Live is prohibited. This partner may be Microsoft itself, the most prominent example of this type of deal being Minecraft. This means the indie has to give up a revenue share to get onto XBLA, whether it’s to Microsoft or a third-party like Warner, the publisher of Supergiant’s Bastion.

“We’re not on the radar. We’re little guys. It doesn’t seem like any of the little guys are on the radar. When we listen to them talk, we have to laugh. It’s pure rhetoric.”

In the last generation Microsoft held plenty of cards, but Xbox 360 released in 2005 and the world has changed. The truth Microsoft must now confront is that it is wrong to force publishing deals on independent developers when faced with enormously popular self-publishing platforms such as Steam and the App Store. Sony clearly understands it can never be prudish on the subject of self-publication again. This isn’t even an ethical issue: financially, larger indies like JAW and Supergiant simply don’t need Xbox any more. Millions of sales are possible through other platforms, and as a result Microsoft appears to be both draconian and out of touch. For a tech company, especially one in a market as fast-moving as video games, that’s unacceptable.

“In order for us to give up the revenues we depend on as a share, they have to be bringing something of value to our sales,” said Lanning. “We haven’t been doing badly ourselves. Maybe we’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, we’ll be on Xbox too,’ but right now people like us are clearly not in Xbox One’s business model. And there’s nothing we can do about that.”

It isn’t just the here-and-now in which Microsoft is making life difficult for itself. Lanning warned that by stifling indies and their innate creativity, Xbox’s policies show a gross lack of understanding about the formation of future hits.

“Ten years from now, the biggest banners out there, the hundred million dollar games, are going to be what happened in the indie community. That’s the only place we’re seeing real innovation because that’s the only place people can really afford to. You can’t do it on a hundred million dollar title because you have to be dialled into what that audience really knows and wants.

“Someone’s going to be burning the next hundred million dollar properties here, and it might be the least likely guy that was on that stage at the Sony conference. But that’s where it’s going to come from, and the smart people know that. I don’t see any indication of that foresight up in Redmond. They do not seem to be listening to their audience.”

Lanning was blunt about solutions.

“Quite frankly, out of Washington, we see a pretty good understanding of who makes really expensive great games, but beyond that there’s not really any insight into how people get there from nothing.

“It’s a bit puzzling. It’s clear they’re not listening. I’m not sure who they’re listening to. Whoever their PR people are, whoever their marketing agents are, they should fire them all. That’s where they should start. There should be a big, mass firing and they should publicise that. Then they’d get people saying, ‘Hey, maybe there’s going to be a good change.’ But if they keep the rhetoric flowing, obviously everyone’s looking at it saying, ‘This isn’t real.’ How are they going to keep what they’ve got today? That’s a big question.”

Microsoft is in the middle of one of the most difficult periods ever experienced on the Xbox project, and while Xbox One pre-orders are outpacing those seen for Xbox 360, there are great risks involved with shunning such a powerful market sector as that of the indie. Redmond needs to start making the right noises, and soon. Either way, it’s doubtful the likes of Lanning will hang around to listen.

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26 Comments

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  1. Ge0force

    I’ll repeat my message for all Indies: just ignore the Xbox and focus on other platforms where your amazing games ARE welcome. It may take a while, but of indie-games will follow.

    #1 9 months ago
  2. Ali

    I firmy believe the indies are going to be an important factor for consoles fierce war against the emerging mobiles. With technology providing enough power to be handled by the indies, I think more devs will be forming small studios and produce small budget hitters.

    It all follows the simple logic of ” more options, more interest”, I certainly loved some indie developed games more than triple A hitters that simply werent well thought off. Besides, some of the younger generations will have more opportunities getting into the business.

    #2 9 months ago
  3. Legion

    I find this very valid for point on Indie development for XBLA titles. But just the opposite for the smaller actual Indie titles that can be released on XBL Indie titling.

    As Sony does not have a true avenue for such launching on it’s platform. I can’t develop for Sony without having money. I can develop for MS from my garage though.

    Though MS has recently stated they will announce their Indie support outlook in the near future.

    we will have to see hat they have to say. Because nothing official has been mentioned for XO yet.

    #3 9 months ago
  4. machy

    ^the system is lunching after 3 months their plan for the division isn’t clear they keep making u-turns and as far as I know a division such as Xbox plan must been in work for at less 2 years to 5

    M$ is in bad shap .. bad news since the beginning of this year bad PR, and those whom perordering x1 now r the halo and froza hardcore fan others r jumping ships, and with mainstreamers I think 500$ won’t help

    my opinion nothing more

    #4 9 months ago
  5. MCTJim

    Yes their PR team stinks..That I can agree on..time to re-organize that part of their team. Other than that, I am happy with what they are offering.

    #5 9 months ago
  6. Erthabutt

    Yeah Ive never been strong on indie games on consoles, only on PC. So it totally doesnt matter to me when I’ll get an Xbox.

    HOWEVER, of course, Microsoft should get their head out of their asses. They have so many great offerings & smart peeps, but jesuschrist some of their execs are just so out of touch with everyting other than their office desk. I believe they live in somekind of Executive Wild Dream. I hope the restructuring helps over time, and that their indie strategy will be something solid. We can only hope.

    >:(

    #6 9 months ago
  7. VibraniumSpork

    “Whoever their PR people are, whoever their marketing agents are, they should fire them all. That’s where they should start. There should be a big, mass firing and they should publicise that.”

    Right on the money. With all the mixed messages and back-pedaling and ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, it’s felt like Microsoft have been experiencing a Marketing ‘Amateur Hour’ for the best part of 2013. The XB1 and the PS4 are, in large part, so similar that you could barely fit a Rizla between them – it’s the promo and marketing messages that have turned so many people off. They can backtrack all they want, but there’s only so many bridges that they’ll be able to unburn.

    That said, it’s only a matter of days/weeks before Microsoft announce that indies can also self-publish on their system. It’ll be interesting to see what the indies do then; to see if this really is about business ethics as much as it is about profit margins.

    #7 9 months ago
  8. DarkElfa

    I’m sorry but “You should fire them all” is something I expect from an angry fan-boy, not some developer.

    #8 9 months ago
  9. noamlol2

    who cares really? cause they’ll make more sales on PS4 and steam

    #9 9 months ago
  10. OlderGamer

    I would think that indies (for the most part) will do better on PC/Mobile then they can on any console. Esp traditional consoles. There are exceptions, there are hits, like Minecraft for XBLA, but that game didn’t start on XBLA as an unknown indie game. It already paved its way to success on PC. It was already a name brand. And it had MS promoting it. And it Still sold more on PC then on XBLA.

    And that is the biggest indie I can think of on a console as a poster child for success. But w/o PC, if the game had released straight to XBLA(or the true indie channel) I doubt it would have succeeded.

    I believe Indies are the spark and the nudge the dev sides needs. The games are fresh. They are affordable to make and purchase. I love indies. I don’t know yet what MS will do. Or how indies will do on either platform. If I had to guess, I would say that MS(prolly Sony too) will keep an eye out for indies on PC and then promote the ones that look like they could market and take off…ala Minecraft.

    But that isn’t the same thing as promoting indie selfpublishing, or reducing the dev costs, liscencing fees, etc. In short, time will tell.

    As for X1, I think it has been on the wrong path for awhile…in a lot of areas. Very misguided.

    #10 9 months ago
  11. bradk825

    This is costing them beyond just missing out on indie development. They have a lot of great things being offered that no one is paying attention to, they are focusing on one marketing gaff, and then the next, and then you get a little 2 or 3 small paragraph story about something cool, then onto the next marketing gaff.

    #11 9 months ago
  12. Dirkster_Dude

    Microsoft’s attitude about Independent developers is similar to what happened when LINUX was becoming popular and Microsoft tried to make FREE and INDEPENDENT seem less appealing than PAY and CONTROLLED. While most of the old guard are computer users they are rarely going to be gamers and they are the ones that will be the hardest minds to change. The problem is they can’t quite let go and let a new generation run the company.

    #12 9 months ago
  13. Matthew Doucette

    Sort of a sensationalized title, as it’s only the PR and marketing teams, basically the communications of Microsoft, he wants re-worked: “Whoever their PR people are, whoever their marketing agents are, they should fire them all. That’s where they should start.” I agree this is Microsoft’s weak point. Indies, like ourselves, need communication that Microsoft does not offer. The more rules and blockades you construct for the indies, the more you need to communicate with them.

    #13 9 months ago
  14. KAP

    Don’t you just love when people make excuses for Microsoft downfall..

    #14 9 months ago
  15. Ireland Michael

    Though I usually admire Lanning’s willingness to stick to his morals, wishing for the systematic firing of people with jobs and families is way beyond excessive, and reeks of self entitled ego. Reel it in a bit, mate.

    #15 9 months ago
  16. Cobra951

    Microsoft’s in it for the money. They’ll do whatever they think will bring the most in for the least cost, and hang the rest. If they see Sony getting the upper hand–and the better money–they’ll do another 180, like the One’s DRM policies, and the game-patching fees. They don’t care about indies per se, or big publishers for that matter. They never will. It’s all about the bottom line. If Sony and others prove how much money Microsoft is leaving on the table, the changes will happen overnight. For now, my attitude remains wait and see. No way am I diving into those murky waters in November.

    #16 9 months ago
  17. zmotorola360

    “While Lanning’s relationship with Sony means PlayStation owners will have easy access to Oddworld’s games in the future,”

    >>> COULD SOMEONE inform M. Lanning that in Europe (excepted the UK) we have been waiting FOR A FUCKING YEAR a release of Munch oddyssee and that there is still no release date on euro PSN. We cant even get on US psn because of bank card security system (checking the address and comparing the one given at US psn account subscribtion) Thank you Lanning…

    #17 9 months ago
  18. lookingglass

    And I can’t believe we now have gaming hipsters who promote garbage indies in order to seem intellectual and cool. “So I played this awesome retro 2D game by this developer you’ve probably never heard of and you probably wouldn’t “get it” ya know, but its like my favorite game ever.”

    Not to mention these developers jumping on the PS4 freedom-penis bandwagon so that they look cool to these hipsters on the forums.

    “Yea man, like stuff should be free and open and like, totally about the consumer. I’ve got this cool side scroller game that’s like, WHOA man, and the corporations wouldn’t let me make it so I did it anyways! *sips a PBR dressed like an idiot while listening to a record no one cares about*”

    They aren’t changing the world. They’re making games that play like Super Nintendo games and getting excited about it. /facepalm

    P.S. of course there are some diamonds in the indie mountain of turds, but it’s still just a pile of shit with a couple rocks in it.

    #18 9 months ago
  19. Nikaas

    @18 So you try to say that AAA titles are not few exceptions in a huge pile of shit?

    You must be clueless if you think that multi-million title can risk to experiment with unproven design choices.

    P.S Honestly i don’t want to insult you, but you still sound like angry fan-boy kid :P

    #19 9 months ago
  20. Lord Gremlin

    Microsoft really needs to die. As a company. They are cancer of PC market, tablet market, phone market and they harm game industry.
    They need to die. And they eventually will. Only they have so much money now that it will be slow, agonizing process.

    #20 9 months ago
  21. Lengendaryboss

    @20
    No-one needs to go anywhere the big three are here to stay until they go irrelevant.

    #21 9 months ago
  22. bamn66

    Indie games are horrible . Stop making shitty articles just to get a hit . Indie devs need to stop crying and focus on what the can do , develop bad games for the ps3.5

    #22 9 months ago
  23. DSB

    I know some of the guys from JAW read VG247, so when are we getting the HD upgrade of Munch’s Oddysee on Steam?

    Lanning has every reason to hate Microsoft though. First there was the whole Stranger’s Wrath fiasco, and then when he actually brings it back, Microsoft cockblocks the rerelease with their utterly moronic publishing system.

    Beyond the incompetence, I just don’t think they really give a shit about gaming. They approach it in the same way they’d approach any other software production.

    #23 9 months ago
  24. ps3fanboy

    here’s a tip for the indie guys that are xbots… ignore the micro$hafts and go to sonys playstation where your amazing games ARE welcome… just saying.

    #24 9 months ago
  25. macdaddy42

    I’m so sick of Lorne Lanning trashing Ms for Indie games, 95% of them not worth spending any money on,..If he did not think Xbox1 would sell a lot of systems, He wouldn’t be trashing MS so much over this, He just wants his game on Xbox1 is all…Funny thing is he all bout the PS4 but he sure is doing a lot of PR work for MS for Free, cause that’s all he talks bout is Xbox1, So Lorne Lanning???? keep up the good work my Friend, We xbox1 gamers like to thank you

    #25 9 months ago
  26. Kreion

    @16
    Just to point out (as I always have to ) that every company ever made is in it for the money. That includes, but is not limited to: Sony, Valve, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Samsung…the list goes on. Even small ‘indie’ companies are only generally artistic because they aren’t large enough yet. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – but making a profit is always going to be the end goal.

    In terms of the indie argument: Microsoft do need to have a look at the gaming scene and see that some indie games are worth having. That’s not to say that all of them are, because many are pretty generic and rubbish (anyone want another pixel platformer?) but there are some genuinely good games among that. Honestly, I’d say they need some sort of vetting process ala Greenlight – but not even Valve likes greenlight.

    #26 9 months ago