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How Microsoft Reversed Xbox One Policies for Indies


Phil Spencer of Microsoft Studios had a goal to bring unfettered independent development access to the Xbox One, but it tripped over its own feet out the gate, no fault of its own, of course.

As we now know, for sure, the Xbox One will function as a development kit for indie developers to self-publish to Xbox Live with no limits on RAM. Implemented properly, it may create a playscape reminiscent of the reflective brilliance of the App Store, and all the shit that entails.

Sounds great, right? So how did things get so muddled to the point that MSFT’s “Everyone-Is-a-Developer” pitch became “Everyone-may-or-may-not-be-a-pseudo-developer-limited-to-app-space” criticism? Is someone out to get the Xbox One? Will they stop at nothing to sully the already vitiated Xbox One brand? Have I used far too many questions much too early in the story? Read on.

After the self-publishing announcement, several publications interviewed indie developers for their thoughts; things were said, and, a new highly incendiary rumor fueled the Xbox One hate fires, suggesting a sinister side to Microsoft’s change of heart regarding indie developers; that is, developers would have only a maximum of 3GB of RAM through the Windows OS to work with.

The same OS whose sole job is to power the Xbox One’s apps while two other Operating Systems handle the grunt work.

Engadget, yesterday, got in touch with a few indie developers to comment on how this latest Microsoft about-face will affect games development. Brian Provinciano of “Retro City Rampage” fame had this to say:

“I’m very happy to see this. After all of the developers have spoken out, they’re finally listening. However, this is yet another example of them changing policy, but it sounding better than it is when the whole story is revealed. Make no mistake; while this is a great thing, it’s again not the equivalent to what other platforms offer. On PS4, for example, developers can tap right into the system; use every bit of RAM and all of its power. [Emphasis mine.] Indies have access to everything that the AAA studios do, from platform support to development and release. The indication on Xbox One is that it’s essentially XBLIG 2.0. Instead of XNA, it’s Windows 8. Windows 8, which is already struggling to gain developer interest, will gain a boost from developers wishing to target the console. However, it won’t be as full-fledged as published games on the system. After my experience working with them to release on Xbox 360, I have no interest in even buying an Xbox One, let alone developing for it. The policy changes are great, but they don’t undo the experience I had. I’m not ready to forget what I went through. Working with Microsoft was the unhappiest point of my career. Policies are one thing, but developer relations are another. It’s important to me that consumers don’t see things as black and white. There are still strings attached to this policy change.”

Provinciano’s comments caused the industry to speculate on the merits of Microsoft’s indie development program, which was quickly remedied by Phil Spencer who took to Twitter to right things with a community that lately always feels so wronged.

The initial Microsoft announcement was, for the most part, positively received.

GameInformer spoke with Microsoft’s VP of Xbox, Marc Whitten, who had this to say:

“Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox LIVE. This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox LIVE. We’ll have more details on the program and the timeline at gamescom in August.”

The eternally inquisitive Jonathan Blow mused the following to Polygon:

“Will it be like XBLIG, or like Steam, or somewhere in the middle? Who knows! What is the revenue split? What is the approval process? Nobody knows! Is Microsoft going to get over their cultural problem of treating independent developers like garbage? If so, how? Nobody knows! Nothing useful can be said until details like this are known.”

While Kevin Dent, CEO of Tiswaz Entertainment, enthusiastically praised the decision:

“I love it. If you want to put a swear word in there, I fucking love it. If they’re going the route of iOS where anyone can publish — where some kid in Ohio can make the next Angry Birds in his mom’s basement (just to throw in a stereotype), this is brilliant news…It’s a no-brainer…It’s like $500 or $600. I cannot stress enough how Microsoft has just lowered the barrier to entry developing on a console.”

Phil Fish, the outspoken Bad Boy of games development, Fez creator and Kevin Dent feud-inator, was….blunt.

 

Fish has been vocal about his experience with Microsoft in the past, and about his distaste in all things Kevin Dent, and he was nothing short of rye in commenting:

I reached out to Provinciano on Twitter regarding his statements but haven’t heard back as of press time. His tweets, however, provide some insight into his comments to Engadget:

 

So who is the villain here? The easy thing to do would be to point at Provinciano, whose bad experiences with Microsoft could easily have led him on a lifetime campaign to bash Microsoft at every opportunity. The same could be said of Fish, too, but then we face the possibility of a cult of disgruntled MSFT clients aiming to discredit it at all costs.

No, the real antagonist here is Microsoft, a company whose Xbox and Xbox 360 courted hardcore gamers with the romanticism of a Ted Mosby, only to have its ultimate play book revealed in the arms of a suit-wearing Barney Stinson. (I didn’t have cable for a year so I watched a lot of “How I Met Your Mother” on DVD, OK?).

For the non-awesome people in the audience, basically, Microsoft unleashed this distrust on itself by transforming a once loyal fan base into the resentful and skeptical commentators occupying message boards around the world and vowing to buy a PlayStation 4 instead. Everything Microsoft says now has to be taken with a grain of salt, where at one point in time its word was oak, at least to Xbox 360 owners.

How skeptical, or not, are you when it comes to Microsoft’s policies for the Xbox One?