This Week In Indie: ID@Xbox Publishing Program Examined
In Gamescom news this week, Microsoft revealed their indie publishing program. Further details about the program have surfaced namely through press releases on Microsoft’s website. So lets have a look at these new developments, to further understand Microsoft’s battle plan.
The first few details that came to light earlier this week was that Indepedent Developers @ Xbox Initiative (ID@Xbox) was the name of the program, and that it entailed an open door policy to developers from all “all scales” of the games industry. If developers register with the program they receive two Xbox One dev kits at no cost, with costs covered by Microsoft. However, there are some other factors which need to be considered.
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The first element of Microsoft’s indie approach struck me as a good go-between in dealing with self-publishing versus traditional publishing on the Xbox. Chris Charla, the director of ID@Xbox, said this about the process of publishing:
We’re really proud to offer this third path onto Xbox One for developers, and we’re excited to see what independent developers will bring to the system. At the same time, many independent developers will still want to work with a publisher, either Microsoft Studios or a third party, to bring their content to Xbox One. Publishers can provide support such as testing, QA, funding and marketing and promotion services. While some independent developers want to “do it themselves,” for others working with a publisher is the right decision, so they can focus 100 percent on the game itself. It all comes down to enabling developers to make the choice that makes the most sense for them. That’s ultimately what’s going to deliver the broadest and best games onto our platform for gamers.
This issue was a major problem with Steam where having a traditional third party publisher is problematic, as the process of submitting indie games to Steam is now governed by Steam Greenlight. If a title starts off, at one stage, in Steam Greenlight and obtains publisher support whilst in Greenlight it is seen as a violation of Valve’s terms and conditions. The option to send a proposal to Valve is no longer considered viable and Steam Greenlight is now the norm for the submission of indie games to the platform, which creates a vastly negative situation for some indie developers. With Microsoft’s approach, as described above, you essentially have the best of both worlds as the parameters for entry on to Xbox One isn’t shoehorned.
The process is indeed very simple and you receive tons of documentation to supplement the whole process, particularly when it comes to the beginning of the Title Licence Agreement (TLA) for a game being developed. This is all part of the certification process. To become certified for ID@Xbox, Microsoft will evaluate each developer individually when an application is received. However, in the initial phase of the program, Microsoft are seeking professional indie developers with a proven track record of shipping games, to start the ball rolling. Microsoft’s longer term ambitions for the program is that eventually anyone can apply to ID@Xbox and can even turn their very own Xbox One into a fully fledged dev kit. But this plan is still very much in the works. The game information form that a developer needs to full out is pretty simple, and is in all probability a typical game design proposal form to get certification beginning.
In relation to standards for entry, Microsoft outright states that they’re not interested in objectionable content, be it vulgar or offensive in any way. Yet they maintain that they don’t want to be censors in the development of games. So they ask developers to be reasonable with the content they choose to apply with. Furthermore, Microsoft states that they will be very strict with the certification process, and says that managers will be available to developers, along with plenty of documentation, to navigate the certification process and all the necessary requirements, and ratings. Devs will be freely allowed to update and patch their games, and content at their own will, without any cost. In turn, there is no limit to the number and extent of updates. This is all an added bonus.
Indie games will receive equal standing with major AAA titles in the Xbox One Marketplace, with the exact same standards of discoverability, spotlights, trending and recommendations. Finally indie developers who join ID@Xbox have full access to all the amenities of the Xbox One that third party and first party developers have access to. Indie devs have full access to Live, and multiplayer functions. Indie developers can incorporate Game DVR, Kinect, in-game transactions, updates, DLC and SmartGlass as any other developer would. Microsoft promises that all the features of the Xbox One available to major AAA developers, will be available to indie developers signing up for the program.
Microsoft is heading in the right direction with their indie policy. So far, the indie policy appears to be balanced and Microsoft are doing the right thing with this approach. According to Charla, the director of ID@Xbox, the ID@Xbox program was built around feedback from around 50 indie developers which has a great influence on how Microsoft will approach indie development and self-publishing. The options available to indie developers are great, and it is important that both traditional publishing and self-publishing options are available to applicants. The inclusion of two free dev kits is a nice touch, and allowing developers access to all of the Xbox One’s functionality is a warm welcome. Although Microsoft won’t allow new indie developers, who are fresh in the industry and without a proven track record, to apply to the program the initiative is a step in the right direction. As it stands, indie has a more certain home at Microsoft now.