This week, Microsoft said that the Xbox One will enable individuals to self publish games on the new console, out this fall.
To do that, each Xbox One will essentially operate as a debug unit for developers. Currently, developers must pay more for a debug version of a console.
There are also rules that get in the way of effectively turning the Xbox 360 into a key platform for indie gamemakers: While self-publishing is possible, the Xbox 360 only enables individuals to make their titles available through Xbox Live’s little seen “indies” section and requires a Microsoft-certified publisher to distribute the titles elsewhere.
According to Xbox VP Marc Whitten, “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.”
The move to support indies is the latest effort for Xbox to rally people around its new videogame console set to replace the Xbox 360 this fall.
Ever since Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One from its headquarters outside Seattle, gamers have complained that the company was too focused on streaming apps and delivering other forms of entertainment other than games. In other words, the hardcore gaming community felt ignored.
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Sony quickly stepped up and embraced that same audience during the E3 videogame confab this summer in Los Angeles, where it generated praise for not requiring a constant Internet connection to operate the system and the ability to play any games on the system, including used or borrowed titles — all things the Xbox One wouldn’t allow.
But two weeks after E3, in June, Microsoft changed its mind and announced that the Xbox One would allow any disc on any Xbox One system and not require an Internet connection to play games, after the initial setup of the system.
“We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity,” said Don Mattrick, president of interactive entertainment at the time. “While we believe that the majority of people will play games online we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.” He has since moved over to Zynga.
Now the move to court indie gamemakers could help Microsoft make the Xbox One into even more of an attractive system for gamers. It needs to, given the $500 pricetag it’s asking for the Xbox One. Sony’s PlayStation 4 will be $100 cheaper. But new systems like Ouya, are also giving people another option — and a cheaper one — to play casual games, which are seen as a threat to the more expensive consoles about to hit the market. Ouya only offers up downloadable titles from indie gamemakers and costs $99.
Sony’s PlayStation group has already been supporting indie developers for years, helping launch hits like thatgamecompany’s “Flower” and “Journey,” and Giant Sparrow’s “The Unfinished Swan,” among others.
But is reaching out more to gamers a clever marketing move or a rare sign that Microsoft is able to change course faster than it ever has before? It could be both, but for now, the Xbox One finds itself the topic of conversation more than the PlayStation 4. And in the coming battle between the next-generation of consoles, perception — good or bad — will be a key factor in determining which company sells more consoles.
Microsoft plans to release more details on its indie strategy at the Gamescon conference in August.