Xbox One self-publishing: there's work to be done
Xbox One will now allow self-publishing following another policy u-turn from Microsoft, but what do the developers think? VG247's Dave Cook speaks with inXile, Hello Games, Vostok & Bossa to find out.
To say that Microsoft's rolled-out reveal of all things Xbox One has been rocky so far is to put it kindly. First we saw immense scorn from all corners of the industry following the company's heavy-handed DRM policies, which were then quickly revoked.
Then Microsoft came under pressure from the independent sector following confirmation that Sony will allow self-publishing on PS4. The development community became quite vocal on the matter, slamming the company for not giving a hoot about the small-to-mid-tier scene. Oddworld co-creator Lorne Lanning said some pretty heated things to us on the matter, and suggested the Xbox team be fired for such gross oversight.
But then Microsoft performed its second big about-face by confirming self-publishing on Xbox One. Sneers and cheers were uttered from both sides of the issue but as I said in my recent opinion blog on the subject, we still don't know the small print of the decision. From where I'm sitting there's still little to celebrate.
We still don't know what caveats and clauses lurk below the sentiment, so I decided to ask a group of independent studios what they thought of Microsoft's sentiment. Some of these teams operate in the consoles space, while others are PC developers. Given how PS4 is encouraging many PC teams to bring their games to Sony's machine, I thought this was apt.
Here we go, and please note that these are simple transcripts without any headline-grabbing editing or paraphrasing. I wanted to give an accurate portrayal of what these studios think on the matter, so that's all you'll hear from me in this piece. Now then, over to the developers:
Brian Fargo: inXile Entertainment
(currently working on Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera)
"Microsoft has been locked into a retail mindset for some time and up until now you needed to be a boxed games publisher in order to be on XBLA. Every entertainment industry has moved over towards a more open model in which having a rich and diverse selection of content is a killer app in itself. Every indie deserves a shot at the same audience as the big guys."
Sean Murray: Hello Games
(Currently working on Joe Danger and Project Skyscraper)
"We've been talking to Microsoft about this for a while. The things that have been leaked is that you could self-publish on 360, and use your machine as a dev-kit. I guess that’s what XBLIG already was on the current 360. Microsoft didn’t properly support that, and it became a kind of wasteland.
"So while this is totally a good move, it only works if Microsoft promote self-published games equally with their own and with those of EA/Ubisoft or whatever. I think that’s what Steam and iOS are doing really well. If they don't learn that lesson and indie games are hidden away, then self-published games will again end up in a little cul-de-sac that people won't know about or be able to discover the best games in.
"I really appreciate Microsoft listening to developers and making this happen, but giving access is only the start of making something that can help bring amazing games to their console."
Henrique Olifiers: Bossa Studios
(Currently working on Surgeon Simulator 2013)
"Microsoft's self-publishing announcements is good news indeed. Any steps towards removing barriers between game creators and their players will boost creativity and the availability of original content for us all. It certainly fuels our interest in the platform, I'm now curious about the details that are hopefully surfacing shortly.
"Unfortunately, this is not the core issue we should be talking about. The elephant in the room is discoverability, and it remains to be solved by both Sony and Microsoft. There's no point in allowing indies getting their games on the platform if no one is going to find them.
"If the digital stores remain editorial, run by a team wielding the ultimate power over who gets exposure and who is forgotten, this will all be in vain because editors will never get it custom-tailored for each individual player as it should be like.
"Every time a digital store wastes 'shelf space' by offering me to buy a game I already own, I die a little bit inside. If this is a result of lack of vision or sheer laziness to check it against my library, I honestly don't know.
"But I'm certain that in this day and age there's no excuse: look up the games I play before suggesting me something new; pool what my friends are buying and playing as I'm likely to get into that too; peer into my achievements to find out what kinds of games I enjoy the most. And for all that's sacred, please, don't push me a DLC of a game I don't have.
"All these scenarios are missed opportunities to allow us, gamers, to discover something special we will buy and enjoy based on our behaviour and play patterns. This is absolutely crucial to bring developers close to their players, giving big devs and indies alike a chance to successfully build their audiences based on quality, content and affinity with the fanbase -- as opposed to be destined to obscurity because an editor somewhere never gave your title a chance in the limelight."
Oleg Yavorsky & Ruslan Didenko: Vostok Games
(Currently working on Survarium)
Yavorsky: "I find it a pretty positive move, especially for a Ukrainian studio like ours who historically had it a real challenge to even start speaking with a console holder about bringing our game to the platform. I can see the tendency for new consoles potentially getting as open a development platform as PC, which is definitely great. Such moves make us consider releasing on next-gen consoles much more seriously."
Didenko: "This is undoubtedly going to increase the number of projects available on Xbox One; it opens a possibility to take the risk to create innovative projects. At the same time it's important to avoid the large wave of low-quality projects as that may be detrimental to the image of the console."
Let us know what you make of the above in the comments box, and thanks to all developers who participated in our discussion.