Indies welcome Xbox One self-publishing, but remain cautious on discoverability

Self-publishing and game development on every Xbox One just made Microsoft’s next console a lot more appealing to indies.

When Microsoft announced its latest post-E3 move last night, it marked another twist in Xbox One’s increasingly convoluted launch. After its DRM U-turn and the departure of figurehead Don Mattrick, the latest revelation marked another positive step for the console, and the indies we spoke to just after the announcement agreed – with caveats.

“Microsoft opening up to more experiences, allowing for more diverse developers and allowing more content for gamers isn’t something we should applaud, it’s really something we should expect of any serious contender in a platform war in 2013,” Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail told us. “This is literally Microsoft removing arbitrary barriers that stopped us from releasing on Xbox platforms at all. Removing barriers between developers and gamers is always a good thing.”

NimbleBit co-founder David Marsh’s verdict was pithier: “The Xbox One announcement has definitely shifted our attitude towards the console from ‘don’t care’ to ‘very curious’.”

Punch Quest collaborator Kepa Auwae of Rocketcat Games said that “It’s a good start” for the platform holder. “They’ve really been getting hammered lately by devs that soured on them, even developers that were made millionaires by XBLA,” said Auwae.

Gun Monkeys studio Size Five Games is particularly impressed by the idea of every Xbox One doubling as a devkit. “It’s one less barrier, one less hurdle to have to get past,” said studio founder Dan Marshall. “If I can pick up a console and know 100 per cent for sure that my game’s going to run the same on everyone else’s, that’s a godsend. This is a brilliant idea, and something Microsoft should be shouting from the rooftops. Massive saving for indies ultimately means more games, and better games thanks to that extra bit of cash flying around.”

Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail agrees – particularly with Unity on the platform. “Unity in combination with every Xbox One being a devkit is amazing,” he told us. “At that point, it’s simply a matter of Microsoft’s final set of limitations between making a game, and releasing it.”

It’s an attractive prospect for mobile game studios like Rocketcat, too. ”The doubling as devkit part sounds pretty cool, since I’m used to that already,” says Auwae. “As an iOS developer, my testing devices are just normal ones. It’s good to see that become more common.”

NimbleBit’s David Marsh is similarly enthused over the combination of Unity, self-publishing and Xbox One’s capabilities as a devkit. “The Unity support is an even bigger deal now, because the community of developers behind Unity tend to make resources that help smooth out getting your game running on different platforms,” he told us. “So you can be sure that there will be a host of tools and plugins created specifically for the Xbox One by Unity devs that make it easier to get up and running.”

While the majority of the feedback thus far is overwhelmingly positive, concerns remain around how smaller studios’ games will be sold through Xbox One’s storefront. As Rocketcat’s Auwae puts it, indie games on Xbox One shouldn’t be thrown into a “dark pit where games go to die”.

NimbleBit’s David Marsh is similarly critical of 360s existing shopfront. “XBLIG had a big problem being represented as the ‘kids table’ compared to XBLA games. The curation and presentation is a big unknown at this point, and it’s the part that will make the difference. Self published games need to have the chance to be top billing next to bigger publisher games if they are popular enough, and be presented in the same store.”

Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail agrees that there shouldn’t be any distinction between the games available for download on Xbox One. “Obviously good curation for featured titles is a must for the audiences of the device, but having a separate section of the store might be a disappointment,” he says.

Improvements in the certification process would be welcome too, says Size Five’s Dan Marshall. “When indie devs have meet-ups you could always tell who was going through certification because of this constant pained, drained look on their faces; I think Microsoft have got a huge, long road ahead of them. They’ve had this horrendous, hugely damaging rep in indie circles for years now, because they’ve traditionally been doing certification so disastrously wrong, and that’s not going to rub off overnight.”

Lucky Frame co-founder Yann Seznec adds that Microsoft still has plenty of questions to answer on this topic. “For me, there’s not really enough information to draw any conclusions,” he tells us. “I like the idea of an Xbox one doubling as devkit, that seems like a really great thing. But ‘self publishing’ can mean a lot of things! What will be the approval process? How much will it cost? How will the storefront be designed? Will ‘self-published’ games be hidden in a million sub menus? Will there be a structure for marketing support? Will terrible games get rejected? If so, who decides what is terrible?”

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