Microsoft clarifies self-publishing on the Xbox One, and it’s (mostly) great news
Microsoft has quite the negative reputation when it comes to working with smaller developers, and some of the company’s past policies when it comes to publisher requirements are borderline abusive.
The company has announced a new program called “Independent Developers @ Xbox,” or ID@Xbox, that will allow developers to publish their own games on the Xbox One, and it looks like many of the problems associated with releasing games on the Xbox 360 may have been fixed with the new console.
We spoke with Chris Charla, the director of the program, to learn how all this will work. Spoiler warning: We’ll have to wait and see how things operate in practice, but right now the terms for developers sound relatively welcoming.
How to publish your own games
The program will begin accepting applications on August 20, and those accepted into the program will become a registered Xbox One developer. Are you a developer with a track record of releasing games on a variety of platforms? You’re going to have a leg up on getting accepted.
“Once you’re a registered developer, we will send you a couple dev kits, give you access to all the development forums and that sort of thing,” Charla told the Report. Once you have a game done, and you’re not interested in partnering with a publisher, you’ll have to fill out some paperwork.
“We’re calling it a game information form, it’s really just some brief information about the game and send it to us, we get back to you really, really quickly and say sounds great, unless what you suggested is some game we wouldn’t have allowed on Xbox 360, we’re not really changing our content standards,” Charla said.
Once they’re given all the information they need, you get your title ID, which is the “technical thing” you need to ship a game on the Xbox One, and then you’re “off to the races.”
Microsoft will provide details not only on what you need to do to release a game on the Xbox One, but also general details on all the odds and ends that are normally handled by a publisher. “We’re looking to do things like explain to people how to get ratings. They may have previously shipped on someplace where they don’t need ratings, and they’re curious about how to get their PEGI ratings, we’re looking to provide that level of information,” Charla said.
There will also be a “release management team” to help the developer get everything into the system, and ready to be released to the fans.
When it comes to release dates, it sounds like you’ll be able to have some influence on the timing, but it may be something of a negotiation. “We obviously want to work with developers so they can ship their games when they want to ship their games, but there could always be some situation where it has to be a different day,” Charla said. “But directionally we want to work with developers to make sure the games get out when they want them to go out.”
There are other improvements to the service given to smaller developers as well. There are no application fees, and there will be no charge for updates or patches.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from developers that being able to update their games quickly is something that is very important to them, it’s something that we’re working really hard on,” Charla explained. I asked for an estimate on what the turnaround is going to be for patches, but they refused to comment on specifics. It will be faster than it has been in the past, however.
What’s interesting is that the Xbox Live Arcade model is gone. There are no “retail games” and “Arcade games” anymore, there are just games.
“We’re always looking to do what’s best for the games and what’s best for the developer. The best way to put this, the old-fashioned model that we had where there are a certain number of slots is basically gone now,” Charla said. “Because of the power of the Xbox One, and some of the things that we’re able to do with discoverability and the marketplace, we’re really enabling a different model.”
Microsoft still retains control on a number of fronts
It all sounds good, but there are a few gotchas here. You have to be approved to be a registered developer, they still have to approve your game, they may nudge your release date in one direction or another, and Microsoft will get to set the final price for your game, although you’ll get to set the wholesale price to Microsoft. According to Charla, this is the same system used for the Xbox 360, so we’ll likely see the same model for tiered pricing.
Some aspects of Xbox Live Arcade remain, such as Microsoft's final say on pricing, but the good news is that smaller developers with a great game will no longer have to give a publisher they may not need a cut of their sales just to get their game on the Xbox One. Some developers will still go through, and benefit from, external publishing, but it's no longer a requirement.
This is definitely a step in the right direction, and the press materials contained a variety of quotes from smaller developers praising the initiative. The ability to see what games are trending on the service, and a recommendations system based on what you like to play, combined with players themselves uploading video clips using the system’s DVR-like functionality should help players discover the interesting, smaller games as well.
This is a good move, and we’ll be keeping our eyes on the system and the ID@Xbox program as developers sign up to see how it all works in practice.