Indies react to Xbox One self-publishing policy change

The Xbox One will now allow indies to self-publish their games. Developers behind Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine, TowerFall, and Tengami are among those that offer their reactions to Shacknews.

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Microsoft will now allow indie game developers to self-publish their titles on Xbox One, a reversal of their previous policy. To find out how the indie world is reacting, we reached out to several developers. Andy Schatz, creator of Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine, has had a number of difficulties with Microsoft's platform, one that caused a lengthy delay for the Xbox 360 version. According to Schatz, an open console can only lead to good things for Microsoft, developers, and consumers. "Closed platforms require that a gatekeeper vet every project long before the project is done, which means that it's much harder to come by surprise hits, and everyone is subject to the tastes of the platform's gatekeeper," Schatz explained. "It also requires that developers focus on the 'pitch' in order to get a slot, which can be a time-sink with no discernible benefit for the completed game. While I enjoyed working with [publisher Majesco], had self-publishing been an option on the Xbox 360 it would have saved me a lot of trouble in the long run, since my destination platform was in limbo until a year before launch." However, Schatz has also been burned by disappointing sales for the Xbox Live Arcade version of Monaco, leading him to issue this warning to developers enthused by today's news. "If Microsoft doesn't promote your game, it will still be a gigantic uphill battle to see any sort of meaningful sales." A number of developers have experiences similar to Schatz's, but the idea of an open platform has some of his contemporaries applauding. Dant Rambo of Gaijin Games (the BIT.TRIP series) and Corey Rollins of Klei Entertainment (Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve) have previously worked with Microsoft and both indicate that a lower barrier of entry will make future working relationships easier. Microsoft's move may also draw eyes from newer indie devs, like TowerFall creator Matt Thorson. "If this is true it makes a huge difference," he said. "For me, lack of self-publishing makes it very difficult to consider launching on a platform. I've never worked with Microsoft, but I've heard horror stories from other indies. Fingers crossed they're aware of the problems and are ready to put in the work to catch up to Sony. They seem to be on the right track with this and the recent removal of the XBLA patch fee."

TowerFall

Not all indies are completely enthralled by Microsoft's efforts. Jennifer Schneidereit of Nyamyam Games (Tengami), a former Microsoft employee herself, isn't entirely ready to forget the publisher's previous antipathy towards the indie community. "Up until now Microsoft have displayed a mentality that excludes independent developers," she said. "This makes it difficult for me to trust their motives for reversing their stance now. From my time at Microsoft, I know that company goals and direction change frequently. These new plans might just be a last minute band-aid and we'll end up with a similar situation to Xbox Live Indie Games, where Microsoft provides a system, but doesn't give it the support it needs to be successful." While Schneidereit is supportive of Microsoft's latest move, she points out that they have some catching up to do. "Nintendo and Sony are already doing a fantastic job at building relationships with independent developers and showing us how we fit into their strategies long-term," she added. "Microsoft will have to do a lot more to gain my trust than just changing their self-publishing policy." Other indie devs are currently weighing in on Twitter, and the reaction is mixed. Some are optimistic, like Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, who is "looking forward" to finding out more. However, some bridges may have been permanently burned. Fez's Phil Fish, who previously stated that Fez 2 would not be coming to Xbox One, simply tweeted, "good for them!"
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Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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  • reply
    July 24, 2013 3:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Indies react to Xbox One self-publishing policy change.

    The Xbox One will now allow indies to self-publish their games. Developers behind Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine, TowerFall, and Tengami are among those that offer their reactions to Shacknews.

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      July 24, 2013 3:12 PM

      I would agree with the point that even though you can self publish, that doesn't entirely mean you're going to have enough exposure to sell anything.

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        July 24, 2013 3:16 PM

        indie devs frequently don't understand the importance of marketing, and relying on the app store itself (whatever platform) to do it for you is a pretty big mistake. The Monaco's guy complaint about marketing is equally relevant on iOS and basically anywhere else. Unless the platform is tiny you better do some work yourself to rise above the chaff.

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        July 24, 2013 3:17 PM

        Definitely. Promotion means a lot and there's nothing to indicate that Microsoft's going to help on that front.

        At least not yet.

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          July 24, 2013 3:21 PM

          how exactly do these devs expect the platform owner to help them with promotion? There's only so much room to advertise on a hub/storefront/etc. Once a platform has a sufficiently large number of apps and sufficiently high rate of incoming new apps it's completely impossible for everyone to get the same amount of promotion from the platform owner. So even if some amount of help is offered it will only ever apply to a select few folks and the rest will be left out and have to market for themselves like every other business does.

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            July 24, 2013 3:21 PM

            Even a week of having a trailer featured on the front page would help. Worked for Guacamelee.

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              July 24, 2013 3:25 PM

              Yes, that works when there's 1 game coming out a week. What if there're 20 new games every week? 40? And of obviously highly variable quality. This is the same issue that came up with mobile app stores 5 years ago. Those guys realized that part of making a mobile app means doing real marketing somehow. These guys seem to want to just make games and have someone else handle all the rest for them for free which isn't very reasonable. Showing your game at PAX does not constitute a marketing strategy.

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                July 24, 2013 3:38 PM

                Remember Self publish doesn't mean anyone can upload a game whenever they like for a nominal fee. Self publish usually means you can publish your game online without being vouched for by a much larger game publishing company.

                So for indie developers to get on the xbox one (before the policy change) they would have to strike a deal with someone like Ubi soft, or activision or EA, who would have the power to negotiate a position on xbox live. Of course in return for their efforts they're going to take a nice chunk of your profits.

                But self publishing means you can directly speak to Sony (and now MS) without the big boys help. If they like what you're doing they'll broker a deal with you directly, making it waaay more manageable for small upstarts.

                Again, this doesn't mean we'll see hundreds of games being published each week, its still a walled garden that Sony or MS can curate as they see fit.

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                  July 24, 2013 3:40 PM

                  yes, that's the exact same situation as iOS and Windows Phone where you have to market your app yourself if you want to succeed. Relying on maybe getting put into a Featured Apps section is a death sentence and mobile app developers figured that out years ago.

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                    July 24, 2013 3:44 PM

                    No its not the same. Apple approves every game that comes their way as long as it meets all the qualifications they have for apps. Apple isn't curating their games category other than making sure titles meet the same standards apps of any kind have to meet.

                    This is not what Sony & MS are doing, they will still be hand picking which titles are allowed to be published on their platforms, and therefor controlling how many titles appear each week. We don't know yet how strict or open they will both be. The point is, self publish doesn't mean "if you meet certain standards your game will be published on the platform" it just means you can enter the negotiation process with Sony or MS without EA / Activision / Ubi sitting at the table.

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                      July 24, 2013 3:46 PM

                      so... each group curates what goes up according to a set of standards they've set but which don't require a publisher.

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                        July 24, 2013 3:54 PM

                        One is a set of fixed standards which apply to everyone. You pass those standards you get published, whenever you pass those standards.

                        The other is curation where you're published if you meet a set of standards you aren't privy to, that constantly change due to the nature of the marketplace and what else is available.

                        So yeah, a completely different system.

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                        July 24, 2013 3:55 PM

                        It's the difference between "we may put your game in our store if you meet our standards" and "we will put your game in our store if you meet our standards"

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                          July 24, 2013 3:59 PM

                          Exactly. Its a totally different process. And its in place to prevent the situation you outlined at the beginning of this subthread, i.e 40 games being released within one week.

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                            July 24, 2013 4:03 PM

                            I am surprised that the people outraged at a lack of self publishing options would then be satisfied with a level of curation that stops your game from being released because there so happens to be too many others out at the moment

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                              July 24, 2013 4:08 PM

                              also it's not even clear to me where this distinction is coming from with this news. From Ars:

                              http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/07/report-microsoft-to-finally-let-indie-developers-self-publish-on-xbox-live/

                              Game Informer reports that "sources" are saying Microsoft will soon announce that independent studios can release downloadable games directly on their systems without a publishing partner behind them. Indie self-publishers will reportedly be able to set their own release dates and pricing,
                              ...
                              Microsoft is reportedly set to "drastically overhaul" the process to certify games that go up on Xbox Live, streamlining the approval process to target an iTunes-style 14-day turnaround from submission to release. Rather than going over code with a fine-toothed comb, Microsoft will reportedly look for high-level terms of service violations and massive bugs instead.

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                                July 24, 2013 4:11 PM

                                Well that certainly is different from "self publishing" as its been described up until now. But yeah, seems to be speculation at this point.

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                              July 24, 2013 4:10 PM

                              I think its because most people dont confuse consoles with open platforms.

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                          July 24, 2013 4:01 PM

                          I'm pretty sure Apple's store firmly falls in the first camp given the way they apply their standards

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                            July 24, 2013 5:26 PM

                            We're talking about policy here, not ability to execute said policy.

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              July 24, 2013 3:26 PM

              [deleted]

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              July 24, 2013 3:41 PM

              You can easily buy the games on a online storefront anyways so they should focus marketing on the internet, social media, and word of mouth. YouTube trailers with links to the store page on xbox.com and so on. Then the buyer can get it from a browser and have the console download it. There's plenty of avenues to getting their games sold especially if they're making it for PC anyways they're going to be promoting it online in the same manner. Now they can entice the people who would rather buy it on a console rather than the PC.

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              July 25, 2013 5:37 AM

              Do you want M$ to hold their dicks while they pee as well?

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            July 24, 2013 3:35 PM

            No one is saying it will be 100% equal for everyone. But if a company at least shows interest and an eagerness to engage with developers, then maybe we can hope they'll give attention to at least some of the groups that really deserve it, be they established indies or new upstarts.

            There is no perfect solution, but i'd rather that approach than one of total disinterest.

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              July 24, 2013 3:45 PM

              The theme I've seen from the Monaco devs is they just expected someone else to do it for them.

              However, Schatz has also been burned by disappointing sales for the Xbox Live Arcade version of Monaco, leading him to issue this warning to developers enthused by today's news. "If Microsoft doesn't promote your game, it will still be a gigantic uphill battle to see any sort of meaningful sales."

              There's plenty of ad space on the 360 now, more than most people here seem to want. XBLA titles get put up there all the time. Monaco may or may not have gotten one of those slots. With policy changes Monaco still may or may not get an advertising slot. It's not Microsoft's or anyone else's job to advertise the game for them. It's the developers job. That's why a lot of developers sign with publishers, because publishers know how to do marketing and marketing is critical to success. Mobile developers long ago realized the importance of getting publicity on various sites and blogs and getting the game in peoples' hands.

              Like I said, they took their game to PAX a few times and what else? I played the game at PAX in consecutive years and had no real idea what the game was doing. Does the game even do a good job advertising for itself once you're in the trial? I don't think so. I think it's a really poor singleplayer game and that was a big part of their problem.

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                July 24, 2013 4:06 PM

                Great so thats one example, that proves what? No one is saying that its a smart move to completley depend on a platform to do all the work for you.

                What I am saying is that you can't blame developers for being attracted to the platform that his making an effort to engage with them and listen to them from a very early stage (before the console launches).

                The fact sony had the foresight to go with the self publishing model and hasn't simply responded to criticism like microsoft has, speaks volumes for the attitudes at both companies. Hell sony put several indie developers on stage along side people like Bungie and square at their conferences. This is more evidence that Sony is making an effort. I'm not saying they have the perfect solution that will solve every problem for every developer out there, but its just a good explanation as to why indie developers have been singing their praises in the last 6 months.

                I guess i'm kind of confused as to what point you're tying to make here? Platform holders shouldnt support indie developers because they should just make deals with publishers?

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                  July 24, 2013 4:10 PM

                  I'm saying whining about no free marketing as the reason your game didn't sell sounds like whining. And expecting to get much promotion from the platform owner is a pipe dream if the platform has any reasonable amount of content available.

                  Anyway, I don't know why I got myself into more console threads. Yes Sony gets credit for changes they've made with the PS4. The 360 already had a self publishing model that was tried and didn't work (and appears to be learned from) but in most of these criticisms seems to be ignored.

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                    July 24, 2013 4:17 PM

                    Well, my point from the beginning in the other sub threads was that it wasn't so much the policy differences that mattered to indie developers. Yes its a big part of the equation, but the point is that Sony have shown a direct interest in small developers where MS didnt. And thats the main reason we see so much anti MS chatter coming from that direction. And to further that point, thats why a late game policy change wont do much to turn that tide for MS.

                    I'm not talking about whether developers whine too much, or they need to learn to stand on their own two feet. Obviously thats true in some cases and not others. In fact have you seen that indie game movie that was released a year or so ago? That was a pretty awesome illustration of how helpless some developers felt when working directly with MS. If Sony and now MS is making an effort to improve on that great.

                    In fact if what you posted about above about MS taking an open publishing direction is true, then i guess that will be really interesting distinction between the platforms. One will be what you spoke about before (dozens and dozens of games released each week) and the other other a more curated experience. I guess we'll find out which developers & gamers prefer soon enough.

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          July 24, 2013 3:33 PM

          Yeah this is positive news, but you can't help but feel MS is in panic mode right now, responding and reacting to all the bad feedback they've been assaulted with over the last month or two.

          Its going to take more than a policy change to make this stuff prove it's worth. For the last seven months we've heard story after story of Sony personally reaching out to indie developers and asking how they can help. Its going to take a gargantuan effort from MS to claw back that kind of favour before launch.

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      July 24, 2013 3:24 PM

      Like Schneidereit mentioned, the key now is for MS to support it more than XBLIG.

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      July 24, 2013 4:12 PM

      I love the retro graphic styles that only Indie devs seem to appreciate and build new concepts out of.

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        July 25, 2013 4:42 AM

        Wrong way around. Since most indies don't have the resources and man-years to make AAA-grade art assets, they are often forced to use retro or cartoony graphics, in order to make more content faster with the same amount of resources.

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          July 25, 2013 9:16 PM

          So? Doesn't mean we can't appreciate it. As an indie myself, I know I spend more time trying to get the pixel-art aesthetic just right when it'd probably be quicker to rig and animate a 3D model.

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      July 24, 2013 5:10 PM

      the problem right now is, how can anyone trust microsoft? They already said damaging things, what will keep them from reverting or doing something else?

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        July 25, 2013 5:53 AM

        It's funny to watch them scramble just to get the tip in. After all the hardware failures the past 2 generations now this I don't see how anyone can support Xbone barring ignorance.

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