In a recently published feature, XBLA Fans explored multiplayer sports/platformer game #IDARB‘s path to release — for free. As part of our reporting for that piece we spoke with ID@Xbox Director Chris Charla about Microsoft’s newfound willingness to give independent Xbox developers as many game codes as they want.
According to some Xbox Live Arcade developers XBLA Fans has interviewed over the years, the console holder wasn’t always so forthcoming with game codes. It wasn’t the only complaint developers had, either. While there was nothing quite like Xbox Live Arcade when the Xbox 360 first launched in November of 2005, the competition quickly caught on and, in some cases, surpassed the OG of indie game stores with arguably more developer-friendly offerings. Droves of high-profile XBLA developers spoke out against the platform and turned their affection toward Steam, mobile and/or the PlayStation Network in XBLA’s twilight years.
Despite a growing public perception that Microsoft was sitting back and letting this happen while the PlayStation Network became the new place for indies to be on consoles, Charla told us that wasn’t case. Redmond was listening for suggestions as to how it might iterate on XBLA and create a new indie environment with more modern solutions.
“When we started ID@Xbox, well, actually way before we started it, we went [on] a huge listening tour and talked (and listened) to more than fifty studios about what we were doing right and wrong in terms of how we were working with independent developers,” recalled Charla. “ID@Xbox really grew directly out of those conversations. I think XBLA was rad, it was revolutionary, but I also think there was a period where the market changed and we needed to change with it. That’s really where ID@Xbox came from.”
The ID@Xbox boss said that these days he’s focused on continually experimenting and iterating. It’s an approach he may not be able to get away with were he in charge of Xbox’s AAA landscape. But when working with indies, he can try crazy ideas. In the case of #IDARB, that meant allowing an indie to hand out loads of free game codes to the public prior to release. Microsoft’s method to this seeming madness was to build excitement for the game’s launch. Doing so meant cannibalizing sales, but that didn’t make Microsoft waver any.
“It’s one of the cool things about working with an independent developer is we can sit down and brainstorm ideas and come up with things like this pretty quickly,” he said.
Charla insists that he’ll get behind any initiative that has the potential to benefit indies, no matter how unproven it may be. “Our basic thing is working hard every day to make things as easy as possible for developers to get their games on Xbox One and other Microsoft platforms,” he added. “There’s always a ton to do, and we can always do better, but the really nice thing is even though a given day can go in a lot of directions, everyone on the team is just focused on that goal: make things easy for developers and we’ll get great results.