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Indies on Xbone: Where's the beef? Exclusive
Indies on Xbone: Where's the beef?
May 22, 2013 | By Mike Rose

No matter what you've read about the newly-unveiled Xbox One, I'll wager you haven't seen much mention of the role of indie developers on the new console.

The reveal event bigged up plenty of consumer features that may well have whetted appetites, but when it came to talking to the people who can make or break a games platform -- the developers -- there was barely any mention of what devs should be looking forward to.

Dig deeper, and you'll find that the future for indies on Xbox consoles isn't looking any smoother than it has been before. As with the Xbox 360, Microsoft has confirmed that developers cannot self-publish on the Xbox One, and must release their game through a publishing deal either with Microsoft Game Studios or a third-party.

If Xbox does end up walling up its garden even more, it is potentially blocking out the same developers who have been reshaping the landscape of the video game industry. If mobile and PC have taught us anything the last few years, a platform holder needs to acquire a critical mass of content creators by providing them with the means to try new ideas, giving them the venue to distribute, and do its best to curate the best games. And guess what, "triple-A" and "indie" are proven to coexist in harmony on such platforms.

It's a stark contrast to how both Sony and Nintendo are going about their business. Microsoft's two main rivals have seriously upped their games as far as indie support goes in recent times, and Sony in particular is gunning for indies in a big way.

Where Sony has launched a special indie games section on its PlayStation Store, for example, Microsoft is doing the opposite, and actually closing down its Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Live Indie Games sections, making the Xbox One marketplace a games free-for-all instead.

So who is making Xbox One games, then?

Of course, this could all be a smokescreen. With E3 approaching rapidly and Microsoft promising games, games, games at their big E3 reveal, perhaps indie developers will feature heavily.

From the various chats I've had with prominent indie developers over the last 24 hours, I'd say that's looking rather unlikely.

After the Wii U reveal, I contacted numerous indies to find out who was working on what, and received a large number of responses back. When the PS4 was revealed I did the same again, and received the same level of correspondence.

After the Xbox One reveal, I went ahead and did it all over again -- but the reaction has been rather different this time around. In the same space of time that I waited for responses to my Wii U and PS4 pieces, I've received just a handful of replies, most of which said they weren't working on Xbox One games.

It could be that I've simply contacted the wrong indies. My train of thought was that Microsoft is most likely going to be working with indie devs that it has worked with before, but as of yet I've come up with past Xbox 360 devs telling me they aren't working on Xbox One games.

Joel Kinnunen from Frozenbyte (Trine) told me, "We keep an open channel to Microsoft and there are some thoughts going on, however right now we have nothing to announce for Xbox One."

He later clarified, "Generally, from a console online distribution channel, we're looking for the ability to self-publish without publishers, and to a lesser degree things like free updating and reasonable certification process."

Even more worrying is that a number of indie devs have said that they've tried to get in on the Xbox One action, but as of yet haven't received any additional information past a simple introduction.

Rami Ismail at Dutch studio Vlambeer, for example, said that Microsoft actually got in touch with him about development for the platform, and then never got back to him when he made contact. The Super Crate Box developer hadn't heard of any other European devs who were looking into creating Xbox One games either, and he's a fairly well connected guy.

And Young Horses' Phil Tibitoski (Octodad) had a similar experience, in which someone at Microsoft responded to a request for Xbox One development information, and then was never heard from again. It would appear that getting in contact with Microsoft to actually build games for their new console isn't exactly easy. [UPDATE: moments after this article went live, Microsoft did in fact get in touch with Tibitoski.]

Meanwhile, Gaijin Games' Alex Neuse (The BIT.TRIP series), another indie "in the know", said that him and his studio "haven't seen the kind of effort to reach out to smaller developers the way that Sony and Nintendo have - but of course, that doesn't mean that they don't have a plan for developers like ourselves." Gaijin hasn't talked to Microsoft about Xbox One development.

That's not to say that there aren't any indie developers working on Xbox One games right now. Nathan Vella of Capybara Games (Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP) featured in a video during the console's reveal, and elsewhere I've heard murmurings that Minecraft's Mojang are currently in talks with Microsoft (although Markus Persson was unable to confirm with me whether this was the case.)

And again, this could all potentially change come E3 -- perhaps Microsoft is keeping its hand to its chest, and will sprout forth many a developer when it's time to reveal the games.

For now, at least, the prospect of indies launching their games on the Xbox One is looking roughly as hot as launching your game on Xbox 360, with as closed a marketplace as it ever was (of course, now you can't use Xbox Live Indie Games either, as that isn't being carried over to the Xbox One, and XNA has been canned.)

But why does any of this matter? Why does Microsoft even need indie developers, or a more open platform than the Xbox 360's Live Arcade provided?

Put simply, providing a platform that anyone can publish to without the need for a publisher, or at least providing the means for them to get their game onto your platform more easily, potentially leads to more games on your platform, more development engagement, and an expanded market.

In today's tough retail game climate, these things truly matter -- and with so many other potential platforms for indies to develop for, including Microsoft's two home console rivals, you have to wonder what the Xbox One is offering the small (but highly important) independent developer.

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Francois Verret
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The accessibility of a console for indie developers is certainly an important issue, one that Sony understands. That being said, are we calling the next XBOX Xbone now? Because I like it.

Kris Graft
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"Xbone" is not exactly in the Gamasutra style guide...YET.

Mike Rose
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So begins my mission to make Xbone the default term to describe the console

Jonathon Green
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... I'm predicting Indies will be getting Xboned.

Kujel s
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In the end I expect most of us indies to move on to Ouya at least they are trying to solve the discovery issue unliike sony or MS.

Paul Speed
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Hahah... I thought the same thing. If "x-bone" is a thing, I like it.

Mike Ferguson
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Now that you've said it, I cant think of it as anything else...

We can do this. Xbone!

Morgan Schouler
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Well, it's always the same story, they are torn apart between two choices.
1) completely open their platform, and the store will become a big mess, where few really succeed. (and if you take the XBLIG really few games worth it)
2) or Keep a straight selection and guidelines, so you get fewer games but they will have a better exposition and ensure that they possess a real quality for customers.

As a customer I prefer the second choice.

Max Danielsson
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It's also possible to have a semi open option where indie developers are allowed to produce and share games under different circumstances from the bigger titles.

It could be hidden away or function as something completely external, it would just be nice to have some entrypoint for development on the console.

TC Weidner
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dont agree at all, if you dont like large, messy options simply dont click on that section, problem solved.

They arent mutually exclusive.

What is so wrong with freedom of choice?

Morgan Schouler
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Split small indie games (XBLIG) and published games (XBLA) works on 360 because they are categorized by price. Without this it doesn't work.

- And yet, price restrictions exclude a lot of indie games dev, who don't want to produce only cheap 1 to 5$ games. So it's clearly not a good solution. (not for every indies at least)

-but if you allow no price restrictions for both Published+indies there is absolutely no point to present 2 categories on your platform,it will leads to confusion and at the end, most of indies will be angry as they will feel laid aside, as the published games category will feels cleaner to customers. So One unique games store is the only solution to get equality. And this is the open messy option.

However i hope MS are working on this problem, maybe they will find some magic solution by working with indies.

john bonachon
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Right now the xbox indie catalog is a mess not because the vast amount of crap that exists but how MS show the list of applications, IS A MESS. And Microsoft is doing the same with windows phone, the marketplace application is a mess, specially the search feature.

IMHO, MS is clear, they only care to sell games that are starred while they don't care about the rest of indies, no matter if there are some hidden jewels.

Thomas Happ
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They're sending such a weird message - on the one hand, there's all these features for "casual" users who mostly want to channel surf and skype while maybe occasionally gaming. But on the other hand, the games these users want are all on platforms with self-publishing app stores like Android and iPhone .

David Amador
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Xbone? Ok I'm cool with that.
I hope they announce something for indies really soon, right now it's not looking good

Ron Dippold
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Since they say they're getting rid of all the different games categories, they'll have to be seriously restricting the number of entries or the browsing and discoverability will be even more of a nightmare than it already is. And that means cutting indies.

On the other hand... 'Can't find a game? Why not just watch TV?'

Jack Nilssen
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I feel I should say something about MS not allowing indies to upload anyold crap to their upcoming console, but like most indies I don't have anything worth uploading *to the Internet*, never mind a premium piece of gaming hardware.

Josh Griffiths
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I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I really hope this system fails miserably. Forced Kinect, used games fees, all this crap about TV, now this? Indie games are more popular than ever with Steam and Kickstarter, so they think its a good business decision to cut them out?

It defies all logic and common sense, but I can't help but cross my fingers and hope the Xbox One crashes and burns. Hopefully it won't take all of gaming down with it. Is this how fanboy-ism starts or is that the sane thing to do?

Kujel s
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With AAA gaming about to implode I doubt the one will fail in fact I see it's non-gaming elements being the part that saves it while sony burns and Nintendo survives just fine on it's rep, quality, and awesome IPs.

Todd Boyd
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"...make or break a games platform..."

Indie devs? Seriously? While I love the community, and I live it as much as I possibly can, I think that's shooting for the moon just a bit.

E McNeill
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Pretty sure he was talking about devs in general at that point. Narrowed to indie devs afterward.

Chris Melby
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LOL! XBone!

Daniel Burke
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Throw an indie a freakin XBone man..

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Indies are lucky Sony and Nintendo are being as friendly as they are.

The fundamental problem is who owns the platforms and the problems. If your indie game f***s up and wrecks system data or something on a PC, it's the game makers and end users problems. But if it does the same to the console, its the console makers problem.

So on consoles you have to put a thorough harsh testing cycle for all new games and patches. A cycle so thorough that you need to spend a large amount of cash to do it. Who then pays? Well, the game creator. If we have indies we then end up in the Fez situation, where Phil wanted to patch the game but couldn't because of the cost, and MS probably ALSO wanted Phil to patch the game, but can't make exceptions.

So you end up in situations where everybody wants to do the right thing, but it doesn't happen.

Then, what's going to happen with Nintendo and Sony? Well, it comes down to either

1) They won't have a thorough testing cycle
2) They will pay for the patches themselves
3) They won't allow patches
4) They will follow the same model

1 seems unfeasible as it will only take one bug to crack the platform. 2 also seems unlikely for cost minded big business. It's 3 or 4, either of which are terrible for indies.

tl;dr: Grass is always greener. Don't over-hype Sony and Nintendo or under-hype MS yet.

Erin MacGillegowie
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Or, you know, instead of pretending that's the only option we could instead have properly sandboxed system access.

Ryan Christensen
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This is truly strange considering what has happened on mobile appstores that believe in a free market. They have benefitted heavily from it. Lots of new great companies like Halfbrick, Firemint and Rovio might not have happened.

At the most basic level they will lose lots of hardware sales as the app/game development that surrounds mobile appstores sells lots and lots of hardware, which leads to sales, and why not take the 30% like appstores do?

Ballmer's scream should be changed to (Approved) Developers, (Approved) Developers, (Approved) Developers since Microsoft knows better what is good and what isn't than an open gaming market. The top down ivory tower controlling nature of consoles still seems to exist in the Xbone to its detriment.

Kyle McBain
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"Same space of time"? So what about overall? How many indies are involved that you haven't told us about? And why are you cherry picking? Have you done research for potential of other indie companies getting involved? Maybe they are looking to attract a new crowd of devs which is why 360 devs are not really involved. And yeah I'm sure E3 will give us a way better perspective. It's like a friend told me when I complained about x-box one, they had to show the hardware off. Even if it was ridiculous. They will have a lot more time for games come E3.

Erin MacGillegowie
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They had to show the hardware off? No they didn't. They actually spent less time discussing the hardware of the Xbone than Sony did the PS4. And excluding the 360 devs doesn't do anything but alienate those developers and give Microsoft an even more hostile-toward-indies reputation.

Amir Sharar
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I think there's a good chance we'll see something as open as Apple's Appstore or Google's Play store. My reasoning is as follows:

First off, Microsoft has one already for Windows 8. The foundation is in place for a self-publishing scenario for Indie developers.

Secondly, the console has a decent amount of Windows 8 in it.

Furthermore, it's pretty clear that MS is reacting to potential threats from Apple and Google in this space, and maybe as a result focus on TV Programming a bit too much. But if they want to at least keep up with them, they'll want App support, something Apple will likely integrate into their future TV products.

This is the same MS that did take the unprecedented risk of allowing for Indie, self-published games on its platform. Some of those games did very well and in turn made MS a decent chunk of change.

There were rumours of BUILD being big this year. This could be due to Windows Blue, that's in fact likely. But note the Xbox logo at With XBLIG canned, it would be hard to fathom that it refers to XBLA titles being made by your typical BUILD attendee.

Lastly, and maybe I'm reading too much here, but there hasn't been a complete denial of self-publishing. They simply said what the current process was, and that they're looking into other avenues.

There are some good reasons for saying that self-publishing WON'T happen, and frankly this is probably the most sound position. One of which, it would have been huge news to announce and would have been an incredibly positive highlight of the showing. Few would pass that up. Secondly, the version of Win 8 on the box may be modified, and an explicit mention of "web-powered apps" may be all that it can run simultaneously with other functionalities.

I'll concede that I'm overly optimistic. Apps seem like common sense, and a game changer for the battle of Living Room domination. With it making so much sense, one could argue that it wouldn't be a Microsoft thing to do. So we'll see.

Caleb Garner
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I have to get in on this one.. i'm sure someone with real artistic skill could do better.. but here goes

that said, i agree with Amir in that maybe it's not this stark.. because frankly this is the last thing i would have expected from MS. Windows 8 outreach has been commendable to help devs get apps ported / developed for windows 8.. so i guess we'll see

Jarod Smiley
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What exactly is Sony doing with PSM/PSN/Vita/PS4 etc...I hear they are really hungry and making there process of approval easier and more accessible etc etc...Can anyone give details on this as I'm seeing a lot of games pop up on Vita and wondering exactly wth is going on?

Is the Indy section of the PSN store just for exposure or is it a different approval process for devs?

Jim Perry
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I read the title and knew this article wasn't going to be worth the time it would take to read. While I don't like the name either, at least I'm professional enough to go with something decent, like X1 and not derogatory.