Yesterday, in an interview with Official Xbox Magazine, Lionhead Studios’ Creative Director, Gary Carr, spoke of Microsoft’s commitment to courting indie developers on the Xbox One. He describes Microsoft as “very passionate” about building strong relationships with Indies, noting that the gaming business’ future is in jeopardy without independent developers.
Gary adds that while the big players like Sony, Microsoft, and Amazon “kind of hold it all together,” independent development is a major force behind innovation, and both big and small players alike can co-exist. Carr’s comments regarding an upcoming presentation from Phil Harrison could be interpreted as a hint that Microsoft may be re-evaluating its approach to publishing on Xbox One.
In a separate interview, Phil Spencer also discussed some of the challenges faced by both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One with regards to game publishing. The ease of development and publishing for the Xbox 360 has been both a blessing and a curse for the console. There have been some immensely high-profile, high-quality releases from a number of independent developers, but much of the Indie marketplace has also transformed into a dumping ground for woefully mediocre titles and clones of clones of clones.
At this point, so far into the console’s lifecycle, it can be difficult to reliably identify Indie games worth playing, and this has led to a significant shift in Microsoft’s publishing strategy for the Xbox One. Thankfully, Phil Spencer is aware of the parallels to Apple’s heavily-curated, closed ecosystem, and addresses them to an extent.
However, the goals are still potentially antithetical to each other; in order to attract good developers who create great content, a market cannot or should not heavily restrict access to its publishing tools. Conversely, a completely open market, where everyone can publish nearly anything, can also lead to a weakened content ecosystem, suffering from the same quality bloat seen in the Xbox 360’s Indie marketplace.
Ultimately, no matter which direction the big players take, the market will decide which publishing model will reign supreme, and big and small players, alike, would do well to keep that in mind.
Developers have been weighing in on the debate either way, and one developer, in particular, has been especially incensed by Gary Carr’s comments in the OXM interview. Brian Provinciano, the man behind Retro City Rampage, lit up Twitter with his response. Brian takes issue with the vague use of “they” in Gary’s assessment of Microsoft’s approach toward Indie development, and does not feel his experience lined up with that portrayal. He says that his interactions did not leave him with “warm and fuzzy” feelings, only a sense of dread around getting a contract to an acceptable level.
Brian concludes, “Long story short: I hope that if Microsoft does plan to open up to indies, that doesn’t just mean “more reasonable contract terms.”