Microsoft Holds Out Olive Branch to Indie Game Devs

It was just about a month ago that Microsoft relaxed the rules for players of its forthcoming Xbox One, and on Thursday it made a similar concession for small game developers. Specifically, in a break with past policies, the company announced that it will allow small, independent game makers to self-publish their games on Xbox Live.

“Our vision is that every person can be a creator; that every Xbox One can be used for development; that every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox Live,” said Marc Whitten, Microsoft’s chief product officer for Xbox.

“This means self-publishing,” Whitten added. “This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox Live.”

Previously, Microsoft required independent game developers to have an established publisher behind them to get their games distributed on Xbox Live Arcade.

Microsoft did not respond to our request for further details.

Age of the Indies

While Microsoft has yet to provide details on this new capability — it says those will be forthcoming at the Gamescom show in August — media reports suggest that it will include allowing self-publishers to set their own release dates and pricing.

Given that Sony has also embraced indie game developers, and even showcased some titles at last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show, it seems the age of indies is dawning — at least on console systems.

“We’ve already seen the door open on the age of indie games across the past decade via the rise of PC platforms such as Steam, plus digital marketplaces for major consoles,” Steve Bailey, senior analyst for games at IHS Electronics and Media, told TechNewsWorld.

“We’ve also seen the definition of indie itself slide around somewhat, but the essence of the matter is that the opportunities presented by the retail and distribution capabilities of game-focused online services have allowed smaller dev studios to gain access to new/bigger audiences,” Bailey added.

“Game content and pricing propositions have become rather fluid, enabling a more diverse and experimental ecosystem to emerge,” he said.

Pedaling Backwards

In some ways, however, Microsoft’s move could be seen as more of a defensive measure.

“This isn’t the catalyst for indie games, and actually Microsoft is backpedaling,” Wanda Meloni, senior analyst at M2 Research, told TechNewsWorld. “They haven’t been great at supporting indies so far.”

The question, Meloni added, “is whether they’re backpedaling and supporting this because of a backlash that they’ve seen since E3.

“When they launched they didn’t do a good job with their messaging, and they are trying to fix it,” she added.

New Genres

While larger publishers have established franchises, the game market has seen sales dip in the past year. Part of that could be the aging systems, but it could also be that the large developers and publishers aren’t willing to take chances.

Indie developers could break from this cycle by bringing in fresh ideas and new blood.

“Indie developers can take risks and focus on a specific market and genre,” Meloni noted. “That is what is so great about the indie marketplace.”

Silicon Sisters, for instance, tailors its games for a female audience. It is also the first Canadian video game studio owned and run by women. Instead of action-packed shooters, Silicon Sisters produces games based on romance novels.

“They are completely self-funded and look to focus on a specific genre,’ said Meloni. “As an indie developer they can do that.

“Games should be a family entertainment,” she added. “Not just something for boys who like shooters.”

‘Xbox One Will Have to Prove Itself’

How far Microsoft will go in supporting indie developers, meanwhile, remains to be seen.

“The question for Microsoft is just how much it wishes to involve itself in this ongoing movement,” Bailey noted. “Xbox One will have to prove itself, in its indie-friendly capacity.”

The Xbox 360 had its own indie-gaming channel, but it came under fire for being poorly promoted and residing much lower on Microsoft’s list of priorities for Xbox Live, added Bailey.

“It will have to display greater willingness to position indie-published content more prominently, or prospective developers will take their efforts elsewhere,” he explained. “By comparison, Sony has been more proactive in recent years. Many indie games released through its PlayStation Store, for both PS3 and PS Vita, have received billing and visibility on a par with titles launched by major publishers.”

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