Microsoft allowing self-publishing on Xbox One but details still to come

Date Posted Author
26th July 2013 Matt Bailey

Microsoft's changes around the Xbox One. After the significant 180-degree shift that saw the company abandon the almost-always-online requirement and region-locking policies came the departure of division boss Don Mattrick, and now there's another significant shift. It's not quite on the same scale as that first one, but it's another element of that disastrous E3 that they are looking to address.

After an initial leak, Microsoft confirmed on Wednesday that developers will be able to self-publish games on the Xbox One, a significant change in approach compared to the Xbox 360 where developers are required to have a publisher in order to get their game on the console's Xbox Live Arcade digital marketplace, or sign up directly with Microsoft but in doing so sacrifice the ability (for a limited time) to distribute the game anywhere else. This prevents indie developers from having true freedom about how they advertise and sell their game, and possibly even regarding the content of what they're making.

At and after E3 Microsoft confirmed that these policies would continue, although in their recently rather confusingly vague way. And in confirming a change on Wednesday they're still doing it in a rather confusingly vague way. Maybe it was the leak which forced them to reveal sooner than they were ready, but the company wasn't able to confirm much, instead promising more at Gamescom.

"Our vision is that every person can be a creator." said Marc Whitten, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft's Xbox division. "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. We'll have more details on the program and the timeline at Gamescom in August."

Of course, we'll be at Gamescom in August to bring you more, but in the meantime we can take from Marc's statement that there will be a bit of a shift from the nearly-self-publishing model that did exist on the Xbox 360; the under-loved (and significantly under-promoted) Xbox Live Indie Games channel. Microsoft are definitely leaving that behind, but the new approach looks like you'll get access to achievements which you couldn't use before, although we don't know if these will carry any Gamerscore value. It's also unclear whether the new self-publishing model carries an upfront cost to access the store (as Microsoft do with the Windows Store on Windows 8 and Windows RT and the Windows Phone Store), and whether this will allow developers to make true native games that can take full advantage of the Xbox One, or whether they will be Windows 8/RT-compatible apps that will have a restricted feature set. If it's latter, then there will still be a lot of unhappy indie developers.

Microsoft's policy change seems to be coming in response to Sony's big push around indie games developers at the moment, in particular for the PS Vita and PS4. They put 8 indie developers up on stage at their E3 conference, and they seem to be constantly signing up new games from tiny studios to their platforms. The PS4's self-publishing model was set up from the outset, and we don't know all the details of this yet, some indie developers are already working with PS4 developer kits loaned to them by Sony. Self-publishing and a range of indie games will be available on the PS4 when it launches later this year, but Microsoft's policy shift has come so late in the day that it will only be possible at some unspecified point after launch, almost certainly within the first year.

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