Well then, 2013 has seen quite the turnaround for indies on game consoles.
At the start of the year, the idea of self-publishing your game for a Microsoft console was limited to Xbox Live Indie Games, while Sony and Nintendo were just beginning to dabble in the practice of allowing developers to self-publish.
Fast-forward to the present, and self-publishing is the soup of the day, everyday. Microsoft in particular has made a massive U-turn on self-publishing, with its ID@Xbox program a wonderful step in the right direction.
The company revealed the first batch of developers
that are utilizing the program earlier this week -- a raft of around 50 studios ranging from tiny indie devs to large-scale companies like Crytek.
What the announcement didn't really give much information on is how these developers were chosen, what the program is like, and how easy (or difficult) it is for studios to get involved. Gamasutra got in touch with a few different studios to get a general impression of how ID@Xbox is currently faring.
"The team is responsive and proactive and most of the business aspects are honest and fair."
Vlambeer was one of the studio's named as part of the announcement. Previously the studio has created games for PC, PlayStation and mobile, so a jump to Xbox sees the team covering even more bases.
"ID@Xbox is exactly what Microsoft promised," says Rami Ismail of Vlambeer. "It's a simple, formalized way to self-publish on Xbox One. It's obviously somewhat limited now in numbers, and I feel that the current pool of developers is sort of a pilot program Microsoft is running to see how [ID@Xbox director] Chris Charla and his team operate."
Ismail says that development through ID@Xbox has proven perfectly reasonable up to this point. "So far, we've been happy - aside from some small logistical delays everything has been as planned, the team is responsive and proactive and most of the business aspects are honest and fair," he adds.
There's been one sticking point for the Vlambeer team, which Ismail has tried to talk Microsoft out of -- Microsoft's "launch parity" clause: If a game is being developed for Xbox One and PS4, Microsoft requires the Xbox One version to launch at the same time as the PS4 version, as not to give competitors a window of exclusivity. (Microsoft does not require exclusivity.)
Devs must follow that clause -- unless they signed an exclusive deal with someone else before the original ID@Xbox announcement was made, as Vlambeer did with Sony and Nuclear Throne. But other studios haven't been so lucky
It's worth noting that this may well also be on a case-by-case basis, such that Microsoft may drop the clause for some developers -- plus, developers are still able to find a publisher at this point for Xbox One if they so choose.
"The launch parity thing obviously is a bit of a nuisance for developers that do not have the resources to develop for multiple platforms at once," admits Ismail, "and we've been trying to convince ID@Xbox to get rid of it."
Evolution on the fly
Other developers that we talked to noted that Microsoft is still very much evolving the ID@Xbox program as it goes along, working out the kinks depending on what developers say.
"The ID@XBox program is so new, and they are still figuring out a lot of it on the fly," says Iron Galaxy's Dave Lang. "But all signs point to it being a really great option for indie publishing."
"Probably the thing I'm happiest with so far is that I've gotten to deal with Charla a lot directly, and he definitely gets what indie devs want ID@XBox to be," he adds.
Indeed, much of the correspondence we received back was positive, including from CryEngine
studio Crytek. Carl Jones, director of business development at Crytek, told Gamasutra that its own dealings with ID@Xbox will allow the company to publish its own games on Xbox One, while also providing opportunities for third-party developers to self-publish CryEngine games through ID@Xbox.
And Jetpack Joyride
studio Halfbrick also told us that all signs are currently positive for ID@Xbox. "The cumbersome publishing and marketplace problems that were associated with the Xbox 360 are gone," said Halfbrick's Phil Larsen. "Xbox Live Indie Games was created to remedy that but we are all aware of how that turned out."
"From what we can see, everything is clear and on an even playing field," he added. "Developers big and small can get involved with the program and start making games. It allows a level of freedom with a lot of potential for success in the market without having labels that immediately have a certain perception like XBLA, Indie Games etc. Quality should be king here, so we're proud to be a part of it."
It's worth noting, too, that this initial announcement was far from the only 50 studios that Microsoft has onboard. As noted on the unofficial Xbox One Indie Devs Facebook page
, Michelle Juett Silva from Ska Studios confirmed that her company is also developing for ID@Xbox, but was left out of the announcement.
And plenty of other developers have responded to say they are onboard too, although it's questionable what "onboard" actually means -- many studios appear to be claiming they have been accepted by ID@Xbox, but haven't actually received dev kits, and are instead waiting until Microsoft updates retail Xbox One consoles for development use.
What's certain is that Microsoft is taking the right steps. We'll continue to see what happens in 2014 and beyond, as Microsoft drives towards its goal to open up Xbox One retail units as dev kits.