Support for independent game development has been a substantial theme throughout this year’s console war. Sony has been trying their best to hammer home the fact that their PlayStation 4 supports indie development since the beginning of their console campaign. Even as far back as their original announcement in February when they announced that Jonathan Blow’s The Witness would be coming to PS4, Sony has made indie support a top bullet point in their marketing strategy since day one.
Back at Gamescom, Microsoft and the Xbox One introduced their first big show of support for independent development for the next generation of consoles: [email protected]. This program, created by taking suggestions from dozens of developers, facilitates the development of self-published indie games for the Xbox One by providing free dev kits to member developers. Membership can be acquired through a developer application process. Unlike indie games for the Xbox 360, [email protected] developers will have access to the full range of Xbox features including Achievement support, Kinect functionality, SmartGlass support and access to the Xbox cloud.
Considering the timing of this announcement, it wouldn’t be hard to see this program as a response to Sony’s marketing. And it wouldn’t exactly be the first time during this console war that Microsoft changed its policies in response to consumer criticism. According to SpyParty developer Chris Hecker, though, this program has actually been on the books at Microsoft for a while. Hecker said Microsoft had first talked to him about creating an indie development program months ago, before a majority of this summer’s marketing battles.
“I think this has just been simmering in the works for a long time,” said Hecker, who sits on the advisory board for the Game Developers Conference.
Microsoft is no stranger to indie development. The Xbox Live Arcade has helped many indie game leap into the limelight, albeit with the necessary support of a third-party publisher — like Bastion and Warner Bros. — or by partnering with Microsoft itself — like Castle Crashers and Braid did. [email protected] cuts out this sometimes-cumbersome middle man and significantly eases the indie publishing process for the Xbox One.
“[Publishing on] Xbox 360 was a bit of a pain in the ass,” Hecker told OnlySP. “With [email protected], they’re making it a little easier — a little less of a business negotiation and a little more like, “Here’s the deal. Here’s what people have agreed is a pretty good situation.” It’s a little less hand holding, but at the same time less friction.”
Giving indies more leeway unlocks many possibilities for Microsoft, though it does present an issue. Getting an independently made game on the Xbox 360 has traditionally been fairly difficult, as the games were heavily curated in an attempt to control the quality of the XBLA library. Fewer games were accepted, but the games that did make the cut, Hecker said, got more visibility as a result. With more barriers to publishing being cut down, Hecker said the question becomes how easy it will be for an indie game to get discovered in the Xbox One store.
Still, though, Hecker said this push toward indie support could mean great things for the industry as a whole.
“It’s kind of, as I call it, the Golden Age of indie games right now,” Hecker said. “It’s obvious, I think, that even the big console manufacturers want that kind of creativity and experimental stuff going on in the indie scene.”
“Hopefully [email protected] will keep extending the Golden Age of indie and make it possible to just keep getting the crazy, awesome kind of experimentation and artistic diversity that’s flourishing right now.”