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Microsoft lifts veil on ID@Xbox - Xbox One's self-publishing program
Microsoft lifts veil on ID@Xbox - Xbox One's self-publishing program
August 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Digital self-publishing on the new video game consoles has been a major discussion among developers for several months. Now, Microsoft is offering the first details of Xbox One's indie developer program, which revolves around ability for developers to self-publish.

Dubbed Independent Developers @ Xbox (ID@Xbox), Microsoft is promising developers a smooth experience in terms of game development, distribution and discovery of digital games on Xbox One's digital storefront. The announcement of the program reflects a refreshed view on Microsoft's relationship with independent developers, as Xbox One's launch looms large.

Heading up ID@Xbox is Chris Charla, a Microsoft video game stalwart (and a video game stalwart in general) who's been curating Xbox Live Arcade games as XBLA portfolio director since 2010. He'll be director of ID@Xbox, working closely with game developers.

Microsoft seems to want the program to be driven by the content creators. An announcement from Microsoft stated that the ID@Xbox team met with over 50 game developers to find out what they wanted out of a self-publishing program.

Chris Hecker, the developer behind the upcoming Spy Party (and sometimes-critic of the game industry), had good things to say about the program in a prepared statement. "I'm really excited that Microsoft has listened to feedback from developers and created this program. As an independent developer, I want Spy Party to be available to as many players as possible, and it feels like Microsoft is interested in not only removing roadblocks for indies to get their games on Xbox One, but they're also genuinely interested in finding ways to bring new and innovative indie games to their platform to help games reach their potential as an art and entertainment form."

Other game companies like Splash Damage, The Behemoth, Other Ocean, Team 17, Ripstone, The Odd Gentlemen and Dlala voiced their support of the program alongside Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft's ID@Xbox program brings the company more in line with the digital policies of its game console competitors, Sony and Nintendo, which already allow for self-publishing. That's not to mention Steam and mobile storefronts, which have helped make self-publishing an expectation of developers.

What this means for you

ID@Xbox does not mean that Microsoft is breaking down all of the walls of its garden -- just hammering away some chunks. Developers need to apply at (registration opens today). If developers qualify, they become a registered Xbox One developer. Early applications are for the "initial phase" of the program, which is beginning this fall.

"[Registered Xbox One developer] status will be granted with priority to independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft said there are no application fees, no certification fees and no title update fees.

Charla told Gamasutra, "We'll evaluate each application on a case by case basis. Making a console game isn't trivial so we want to be sure that they'll be able to create great content.

"However, our plan for the program is to eventually open up the platform to all creators. We want Xbox One to be a great place to not only consume content but to also create it."

Registered developers will receive two Xbox One development kits at no cost, and access to the console's full features, including the "full power of the console," cloud, Kinect and Xbox Live toolsets and more.

Revenue splits will be "industry standard" Charla told us. (Digital deals often give the platform holder 30 percent, and the developer 70 percent.)

As for exclusivity deals, he said, "We do not require exclusivity agreements. However, we do ask for day one parity with other console game platforms."

A team of developer-facing community managers will also provide responses to submissions and ongoing support as part of the program. Microsoft said it will hold developer events as well, with ID@Xbox gatherings happening in Seattle, London and San Francisco, starting this fall.

Focus on game discovery

With self-publishing also comes the problem of game discovery -- when you lower the walls, a lot of content spills in, and the chances of customers finding your games lessen. Microsoft said discovery will be a focus for the "Xbox One Store."

Here, "All games are located together in the Xbox One Store and rich search scenarios using voice will get results across the entire catalog of experiences," Microsoft stated.

Players can discover games through (straight from Microsoft's announcement):

  • Trending keeps your finger on the pulse of what friends and the community are playing.
  • Recommendations bring forward new games, based on what you like to play.
  • Spotlight showcases Editor Picks for great games across the entire store.
  • With Game DVR and Upload, new games will be found as gamers capture and share their videos across the service.
  • Achievements and Challenges enable developers and the community to create special events out of games.

Moving forward

Back when Microsoft initially announced that self-publishing would actually be a reality on Xbox One, chief product officer Marc Whitten said that eventually, every Xbox One would be able to be used as a development kit.

That goal is still somewhere on the horizon, and won't be initially be implemented in the ID@Xbox program. "Longer term, our plan is to enable any Xbox One console to be used as a development kit for self-publishing purposes. This means that any hobbyist with a great game idea can make it come to life on Xbox One," Microsoft's latest statement read.

Charla added, "The independent development scene has matured and changed a ton in the past couple of years, so we are acting on that to meet the needs of the development community. We're really proud to offer this new path onto Xbox One and we're excited to see what independent developers will build."

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Christian Philippe Guay
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''Microsoft said there are no application fees, no certification fees and no title update fees.''

It sounds great, but I would really like them to clarify what ''no title update fees" means. Are we talking about 100% no update fees or is it only true if the update is smaller than a certain size? Will we be able to update a title let's say with 1-2Gb of free content and updates?

Ahmad Jadallah
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Another question would be, why is the list of countries from where you can register limited only to 8?

I understand the retail unit will launch initially in 13 countries but developers should be able to work from a wider list.

Adam Bishop
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Presumably there are tax implications that their lawyers need to work out.

Matthew Mouras
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So there will be self publishing with Achievements? After XBLIG, I find it hard to believe.

Kris Graft
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Microsoft says self-publishers will get access to the full capabilities of the console, Achievements included.

Matthew Mouras
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Thanks, Kris. I want to believe that's good news for an indie.

I haven't followed the proposed changes to the Achievement platform on the Xbox One closely, but I have heard there will be some: time based achievements, "challenges", etc. I guess I'm curious if they will find a way to make self-published achievements "lesser" achievements. How will Microsoft retain the value of achievements as they existed in the 360? Will there be a huge flood of cheap "Cheevo" games that indies will release with the primary intent of bumping up a user's score? Will achievements become marginalized? And will that be okay because there is some new persistent collectible thing on the Xbox One?

E Zachary Knight
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With a statement like this:

"[Registered Xbox One developer] status will be granted with priority to independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet," according to Microsoft's announcement.

I seriously doubt there will be a flood of "cheevo" games. Microsoft will probably still be reviewing the games and making sure that the achievements are in line with their policies. So the value of achievements (whatever that actually is) will probably be safe.

Katy Smith
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For the Xbox 360, XBLA games had to have a different amount of achievement points than regular games. I believe it was 1000 for a console title and 100 for XBLA. I'm assuming they're going to do something similar with the ID games.

Chris Charla
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Games that come through the program can have the exact same number and type of achievements as any other game on Xbox One. They are not hampered in any way compared to other games on the system.

Ryan Christensen
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Sounds promising. Sucks they had to be coerced into it so trust is definitely less with Microsoft than others at this point. Let's hope they don't renege on certain areas after people are invested with time, games, etc.

Kyle McBain
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They are being incredibly vague. The statment "prepared" by Chris Hecker did not pinpoint one specific nor did the article talk about why other studios are on board. Are they about to receive some special treatment? And yeah this definitely looks like a PR driven move. There is definitely less trust with Microsoft here. I am curious about some of the things mentioned like trending, spotlight, recomendations, achievments, etc. Are they going to do the same for all games or just ones associated with ID@Xbox? If they do will Indie games be kept seperate?

Bob Johnson
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When everyone was raging about OUYA I said all that it would take from MS was a snap of its fingers to make their console support indie games and self publishing. And here we are.

Ian Stocker
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This is reassuring. If they follow through with this, it sounds like the best of both worlds between XBLIG and XBLA: curated marketplace, but without a huge barrier to entry.

Kujel s
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I still prefer Ouya's method of self-publishing, yes my games will be competing with more games but at least the Ouya Team is trying differnet things to help us get noticed. I appreciate MS making development on their platform more open then before but I still prefer nearly no restrictions even if that comes with more competition.
Unless something major changes the X1 will be one of the platforms I target for projects of mine going into the future.

Daniel Dobson
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This is indeed promising, a good step for the indie movement :)

I like the plan to make all retail units usable as devkits, this is how computing should be - open.

Thomas Happ
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Application submitted . . . now let's see if they can respond within the 3-5 days they promised :)

Mike Kasprzak
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Looks like they closed the page.

EDIT: never mind, its back up now.

Sergio Rosa
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I wonder if/when developers reach will get wider. People from my country can't apply... not that it makes much difference since there are only like 3 (really small) companies making games in El Salvador (including mine), but still.

ken adams
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mmm, another promise of a wonderful future, where eventually everyone everywhere will able to make games, like with xbox live indie games which that "eventually" never happened, when xbig was launched, they said it would be available in all the places where xbox live was available, well, after 7 years it never happened and a lot of people were just left out in the cold, but ms was glad to sell the xna cc membership to countries they didnt even support, how convenient

so i guess it would better to invest effort in platforms that are available RIGHT NOW instead of hanging there indefinitely for a potential better future

Jochen Meckel
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"We do not require exclusivity agreements. However, we do ask for day one parity with other console game platforms."

This one is going to cause a lot of pain.
(if current gen is any hint Sony will not state any rules like this but secretly bear a grudge against any dev who does release on the ps4 second.)

Maybe i am overreacting but i do not see indie devs with the manpower to port to or even develope for two big systems.

Mike Kasprzak
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Well thy only "asked" for Day 1 parity, which is a fair request. If MS end up being the bottleneck to that, oh well, its on them.