The Xbox One And Indie Developers: Microsoft's Mistake

We are living in the age of the independent developer. With the creative stagnation that seems to be spreading like a cancer through the core games industry, it's no great surprise that indie developers have managed to gain so much popularity in recent days, nor is it any surprise that they've managed to flourish with the help of platforms such as Kickstarter. Crowd funding is, I would argue, one of the best things to happen to gaming in years.

But we're getting off track. 


By now, most organizations have seen the writing on the wall-  indie games are big business. Valve has implemented Steam Greenlight, allowing users to exert control over the greenlighting process for new titles. Sony and Nintendo have added an "Indie Games" category. Virtually every games journalism outlet in the world offers at least a nod to the influence of independent developers.

The only publisher that seems blissfully unaware is Microsoft. 

By now, most of you have probably heard the news: Microsoft will not allow independent developers to publish their own games on the Xbox One. Instead, any developer wishing to get their content onto Xbox Live will need to sign a publishing deal, either with a third party, or with Microsoft itself. In other words, an independent developer will have to throw away their independence to get onto the Xbox One. 

This probably shouldn't come as any great surprise to anyone familiar with the organization's policies. Xbox Live currently functions in much the same fashion: any developer who wishes to get their game on the Xbox Live Arcade needs a publisher. However, on the 360, Microsoft has also added an Indie Games store.  Of course, this store, being separate from the arcade, wasn't terribly viable.

The Xbox One will be doing away with the indie game section, and instead will feature a single marketplace with games and "just games," said Microsoft's Corporate VP Phil Harris.

"In the past, we had retail games which came on disc, we had Xbox Live Arcade, and we had Indie Games, and they had their own discrete channels or discrete silos," he explained. "With Xbox One and the new marketplace, they're games. We don't make a distinction between whether a game is a 50-plus hour RPG epic or whether it is a puzzle game or whether it is something that fits halfway between the two."

Given that Microsoft has confirmed that it will be continuing along with its current publishing strategy, logic thus dictates that indie games on Xbox One...won't be indie games. It's a bold move when one considers that both Sony and Nintendo are openly embracing independent development.

No, you know what? It's not bold. It's bloody arrogant. But then, that doesn't surprise me: acting like a cadre of self-absorbed baboons seems to be about on-par with their current marketing strategy. From the yawn-inducing unveiling to Xbox One boss Don Mattrick's statement that backwards compatibility is "really backwards," Microsoft's behavior both during and after the reveal stinks of an out-of-touch, brazenly conceited outlook on both their customers and their strategy. It's as though they believe the next generation is already theirs.

This might be a low blow, but it feels like the Windows 8 launch all over again. 

To be fair, Microsoft's Matt Booty has acknowledged that, for this generation, Microsoft will "continue to explore new business models and new ways of surfacing content." Unfortunately, Microsoft's apparent decision to ignore independent developers with the Xbox One is only the tip of the iceberg.  They'd best have some mind-blowing surprises prepared for E3.

Otherwise, Nintendo and Sony already have them beat.