As we reported on Thursday, Microsoft has reversed course on another one of the differences between itself and Sony – and possibly laid the groundwork for a major policy shift in the future as well. Until this week, Microsoft had repeatedly stated that independent game developers wouldn’t be welcome on Xbox One unless they had a publisher; in other words, they couldn’t self-publish. That’s in stark contrast to Sony, which promised to support indie gaming and game developers.
Microsoft’s position drew fire from a number of critics, including the creators of popular franchises who said they wouldn’t support the upcoming platform at all – and Microsoft, again, has apparently heard the criticism. Speaking to Engadget earlier this week, Xbox Corporate VP Marc Whitten said: “Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development.”
That’s a big, full-stop “whoa” moment. Up until now, Sony and Microsoft have typically required the purchase of expensive dev kits if you wanted to debug content on the consoles. Whitten’s comment implies that Microsoft is doing away with at least part of that limitation. Dev kits typically bundle additional hardware, debug ports, and software capabilities, so it’s possible that Microsoft will still sell a Developer version of the console with those functions baked in. Still, announcing that the basic £429 console will be capable of running game-in-progress code? That’s a pretty big deal.
But it also makes a lot of sense. The Xbox 360 barely has an operating system as such things are reckoned. The Xbox One, in contrast, contains all the elements of a modern PC and runs a variant of Windows 8 on top of that. The barriers to compiling and running code directly on the console are much smaller – with 8GB of RAM and an eight-core CPU there’s no intrinsic reason you couldn’t develop for the Xbox One directly on the Xbox One (assuming Microsoft allowed it).
Indie developers point of view
According to Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano, however, the news, while welcome, still doesn’t put Sony and Microsoft on an even footing. Provinciano states that Microsoft is still treating Xbox One indie developers like second class citizens, requiring them to use the Windows 8 Store – something a lot of people aren’t willing to bet on at the moment (for some good reasons). He also made comments about Sony allowing developers to harness the full power of the PS4 as compared to Microsoft, implying that Xbox Live indie developers may not have full access to hardware resources – but that’s unclear.
From our perspective, this is a unilaterally good move. Microsoft’s comments make it clear that the company is aware just how tarnished its reputation is in the indie community; multiple developers have described working with Microsoft as nightmarish and the company had, until recently, required $10,000 (£6,500) payments if a developer wished to patch a game. The company apparently wants to address this going forward, saying that while it’ll test for major game-breaking bugs, it won’t require programmers to submit to such detailed code analysis or lengthy approval processes (the stated goal is a 14-day turnaround).
It’s fair to ask whether these changes are set to go far enough to repair Microsoft’s tattered reputation with developers, but unlike the first reversal, where the company threw out the popular Family Sharing concept along with a need for 24-hour check-ins, I don’t think there’s a downside here. Kudos to Microsoft for making another difficult choice in the name of building a better end product. The program may or may not need further tweaking, but the important thing is, Redmond really is listening.
Keep it up.
While you’re here, you might want to have a read of our article entitled 5 killer Xbox One and PlayStation 4 features which haven’t been fully appreciated.