The lights are on
In July, Game Informer reported that Microsoft was preparing to open the Xbox One platform to indie studios. The company confirmed our report, promising more information at Gamescom. Today, that commitment has been fulfilled and we know much more about how Microsoft will be inviting small studios to access gamers on the Xbox One.The program is called Independent Developers @ Xbox (ID@Xbox), and applications are being accepted from studios starting today. The first round of approved developers will be approved this fall, with priority given to those showing a "proven track record shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet."Program participants will receive two developer kits for free, and there will be no fees for applying to the program or submitting titles for certification. Also, as we learned in June, fees associated with updating titles have been eliminated.The promise of retail consoles serving as devkits won't be a reality at launch, though that is still the plan for later on in the life cycle. "There is more software that we still need to make," Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten told Game Informer. "We built the architecture for Xbox One and Xbox Live to support the scenario to drive great content on Xbox Live. Developers can work on their game, we can provision the console. We need to get it ready for scale, how we handle the portals, how we handle the ingestion, the process for moving from a small number of developers to just clicking on a link to enable a console as a developer kit. We'll be adding the software to the architecture, and it will be an update. Part of it will be things that are in the Live service backend."In order to facilitate this process, Microsoft has tapped Chris Charla to lead ID@Xbox. Charla previously served as one of IGN's earliest editors before stepping into game development. He joined Digital Eclipse in 2001, before that company became part of Backbone Entertainment after a merger with ImaginEngine. He continued on at Backbone and then parent company Foundation 9 Entertainment before joining Microsoft in September 2010.He is backed by a support team (though Whitten declined to share how many are on it) that will be working to speed submissions through the certification process. This fall, Charla and his team will be conducting a number of events across the country to bring interested studios up to speed.Discoverability is a major issue for developers, and avoiding the clutter of the App Store and Google Play Store is important. "We're going to continue to look at how we can make it easy for the system to support great discoverability," Whitten told us. Microsoft will be using a combination of "Editor's Choice" selections, trending purchases, recommendations based on an individual user's play preferences, and the Game DVR to organically surface the best games."We're looking at the organic areas and other opportunities we can grow on top of that," Whitten explained. "The opportunities to drive exposure are no different if you're an independent developer versus another partner. We hear a lot from people that they don't want to be in the 'indie graveyard.' They want the same access and same ability to get in front of customers."
Our TakeOn paper, ID@Xbox is a solid roadmap for wooing independent developers into the fold. Discoverability and certification processes are always more complicated and cumbersome in reality than they are on paper. In order for this to be a success, Microsoft must allow developers to set their own prices, schedule their own releases once titles are certified, and provide transparency about the approval process. If reality doesn't match the plan, I have no doubt we'll hear about it from the affected developers.