Tales from the trenches: how Microsoft is losing the battle for indie devel


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Source: Penny-Arcade

It has never been a better time to be a smaller developer. Steam allows you to reach a huge number of PC gamers, and upcoming consoles like the OUYA give you more outlets to push your titles to a hungry audience. The iOS market is thriving. Both Nintendo and Sony are making strong plays for smaller developers, and both companies have taken steps to make it simpler to get content onto their hardware, while giving the developers more control over pricing and release dates.

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems stuck in an antiquated way of thinking when it comes to the Xbox Live Arcade, developers are suffering due to patch fees and the requirement to work with large publishers, and the abundance of ads on the Xbox dashboard is hurting the discoverability of smaller games.

The stories of Microsoft's hostilities towards smaller devs are beginning to pile up. This is what people are saying.

Super Sony

?It?s astonishing what Sony is doing right now. They are doing some very aggressive movements, and I love it.? Devolver's Nigel Lowrie told the Report. Hotline Miami is coming to Sony platforms because Sony saw it before it was released, called Devolver, and made it happen. Lowrie said that he?s often in friendly competition with Sony over signing interesting indie games, a situation that seems to make him happy. More competition for smaller, more interesting games is a good thing.

On the other hand, the company doesn't have a relationship with Microsoft, mostly due to the policies of Xbox Live Arcade. ?We don?t have a formal relationship with Microsoft, because you have to publish retail games to be awarded Xbox Live slots, and we don?t do that. So anything we release on XBLA needs to be with a partner,? he explained.

Sony recently held an event at GDC just to celebrate its relationship with indie publishers, and to show off games like Sportsfriends and a wide variety of indie content. They had a slide mocking the Xbox Live Arcade ?slot? system, and went to great lengths to show how hard it used to be to get a game onto a Sony platform, before saying most of the roadblocks have been removed.

?We took the process, and I literally have a slide in my presentation that shows the 64 steps that it took to get your content out, and we're trying to take big chunks of that out and squish it down to one or two steps,? Adam Boyes, the VP of Publisher and Developer relations at Sony told the Report. ?It's just been about taking the entire process, post-morteming it on a regular basis, and making it easier and better.?

Boyes also sits down with the developers to ask what ?****es them off? about the system. ?If you can't sit down with developers and listen to what they have to say, and tie that back into the fixes, you can't succeed,? he said. Developers can self-publish their games on Sony's devices, and in many cases the deals signed include promotion at events at shows like GDC, or prime placement on the PlayStation Network.

Boyes leads a team of eight people who pay attention to the indie scene, and they're proactive about getting the games with a large amount of buzz or that they believe in, and signing the content for Sony platforms. They can offer indies an advance against royalties through the PubFund. They've offered to set developers up with dev kits, and to wave the patch fees if ?asked nicely.?

Sony's GDC was filled with smiling indie royalty, including Retro City Rampage?s Brian Provinciano, QWOP and Pole Riders creator Bennett Foddy, and Spelunky creator Derek ?Mossmouth? Yu, not to mention Johann Sebastian Joust creator Douglas Wilson and Vlambeer's Rami Ismail playing Joust, for the first time, at an official Sony event.

Sony employees walked the floor beaming, playing games, talking to the press, and introducing everyone to developers. They're not co-opting indie culture as much as they're becoming entrenched in it. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be a true believer.

Nintendo steps up

Nintendo has never been transparent about its business practices, but a recent interview with Nintendo?s Dan Adelman outlined many of the changes the company has instituted to make things more friendly for small developers. Developers now get paid from day one, they don?t need to wait until sales hit a certain threshold to get a check. There doesn?t need to be a retail publisher to release a game on the eShop. Developers are no longer required to work out of physical offices.

?Developers set their own pricing for their Wii U and Nintendo 3DS content. As one example, Little Inferno launched at $14.99,? Adelman stated. ?They did a sale for $9.99, and it went so well, they decided to make that price change permanent. It's completely in their control.?

One developer I spoke with said this change in policy may have come a little late for Nintendo, but it's still a step in the right direction. Being able to control your own pricing, pick your release date, and the affordability of dev kits (Nintendo described the cost as the same as a high-end PC) are all moves that make Nintendo consoles much more attractive to developers.

On the other hand, I spoke with one of the developers working on the upcoming Space Hulk title, and he talked about bringing the game to the PC, Linux, a version for iOS, and he said they?re looking at consoles, but it?s a prohibitive process, especially on the 360.

?For Microsoft you need to have an XBLA slot, and those are hard to find. Hard to get onto. I don?t understand it, but those are the rules. I?m really small, and I?m never going to get a retail slot before an XBLA slot,? he told me. They?d have to partner with a publisher who releases retail games, which has its own downsides.

Uber Entertainment recently discussed its history with Microsoft, and the story is a laundry list of how backwards the company has become when dealing with developers. ?Uber fixed some bugs and packed up new content to send out to its fans for free, but Microsoft's certification process destroyed the timeliness of the release,? Polygon reported.

?It took 35 days from the time we submitted to the time it showed up on people's Xboxes,? [uber's] Ekanayake stated. It wasn't a one-off situation either. Uber worked on another update during this time, which actually made it through the certification process quicker. ?It only took 34 days this time?

A public feud over patch fees also erupted around the bugs found in Fez. A number of sources have since come forward to discuss the difficulties of dealing with Microsoft if you?re a smaller developer, although few were willing to go on the record with their particular stories.

Developers can bring their games to Steam, or to Sony's platforms, or iOS, or the OUYA, or Nintendo, or some combination of those platforms and others. Each company is making big plays to look more attractive and open to developers, and it's never been easier to get your content onto many different services and be supported by the platform holdes.

It's possible Microsoft will soon make similar moves, but for now the feeling seems to be that Microsoft is acting like a dinosaur, watching all these small animals with fur wandering around the countryside, hoping that they won't go extinct.

I guess overall a good article except it ignores the Windows 8/RT and WP Stores.

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It looks like Sony has learned some hard lessons from their past mistakes. Good for them. If Microsoft doesn't watch it they find themselves way behind.

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It looks like Sony has learned some hard lessons from their past mistakes. Good for them. If Microsoft doesn't watch it they find themselves way behind.

I am not sure why people expected anything less TBH. Yes, it is well documented Sony took a big chance on the cell architecture, and it did not quite pan out the way they had hoped it would. It has also been well documented 1000's of times now that developing for it was not friendly. Even still, they hung in there this current generation, especially when taking global sales into consideration. Also the truth of the matter is, Sony has been in the console business for quite some time. And they have been pretty damn successful at it as well. So all I think one needs to do is step back and look at Sony's history in the console market to realize they were not going to make the same mistake twice.

I stand by my sentiment that with everything we currently know about the next generation of consoles, and I obviously admit everything about the Next Box is all speculation at this point, but with that said, I believe it is clear Sony ultimately has the gamer in mind more than anything else. This could wind up being the wrong move when all is said and done, a whole lot of people believe in the convergence of the console being the all-in-one stop for all things entertainment related, however I personally still believe a gaming console is meant for just that first and foremost, gaming, so it is going to be real interesting to see how it plays out when all is said and done. All I know that is as someone who personally does not feel a console needs to be the all-in-one solution, that I love the route Sony appears to be taking.

And in regards to the topic at hand, I personally really dig the more independent type of games. So anything both parties can do to bring them to their platforms is a huge bonus in my eyes.

I have been saying for awhile now, and it has not been a popular sentiment but I do believe it to be true, that I felt even with this generation Sony clearly was the company who supported independent developers more on the PS3 then MS did with the 360. All signs point to the fact they are really doing so even more with the PS4, so I really do totally believe it when I say I believe Sony has the gamer in mind more then MS does ultimately. Perhaps things will change, and I do believe part of the reason MS is not as supportive is they probably look at the big picture and say it is their OS that is home to such outlets as Steam, so how much more support can they provide, but ultimately it is the consoles that are really going to be a make or break platform for an independent developer. It is one thing to have a successful PC independent game. It is a whole other beast to have a successful cross platform indy game.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, I believe this next generation of consoles is going to be the hands down best from a variety stand point.

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hmmm I have seen no proof of anything indie on my WiiU and the promises of indie on the PS4 is still just that promises.

If anything, I suspect we'll see indies spread out evenly between PS4 and xbox next gen. and as I said, I see no indication of Nintendo joining this ballgame yet.

as for MS, MS is primarily a software developer, something they showed throughout the whole of last gen where they started out ahead of where the other guys are ending in most ways. So it's a bit early to count them out for next gen already. Especially if all the rumors that are almost sure to be true about the nextbox come to pass. with apps and multitasking, especially if modern apps will run on it.

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It seems like one of the things the indie scene is disappointed about (the death of XNA) is only relevant because MS hasn't really outlined any of their plans yet. Hopefully they'll have plenty to say at E3.

Hell, even for Windows development they've been surprisingly quiet about their roadmap. It's a bit odd.

They have handled indie devs completely differently with the Windows Store so I don't expect a repeat of the 360s environment, but we'll have to see.

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Xbox will be a part of BUILD so devs will get all the info they need in June. I think Indies will find it much the same way it's been on Windows and WP as far as the store goes. MS is aiming to unify all the platforms for developers to target with greater ease. They could make it easier for devs to get their game on XBLA and not just be a indie but at the same time they probably don't want just anything making it in. Lots of indie games aren't that great IMO and if they were all branded as xbla games that could look poorly for the brand.

I expect with the idea of autoupdates in the background the next Xbox sounds like it'll bring that at least the game update part of things will change.

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It seems like one of the things the indie scene is disappointed about (the death of XNA) is only relevant because MS hasn't really outlined any of their plans yet. Hopefully they'll have plenty to say at E3.

Hell, even for Windows development they've been surprisingly quiet about their roadmap. It's a bit odd.

They have handled indie devs completely differently with the Windows Store so I don't expect a repeat of the 360s environment, but we'll have to see.

Game development is no easy task. It takes years to build a great game and create an engine. A lot of people are ticked off at MS for abandoning XNA for the years they spent with it. MS seems to be doing a lot of crappy decisions lately. You say there will be no more versions of the only framework to develop for the Xbox and not expect indies to jump ship?

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I have to add that I actually picked up My Little Inferno for the WII U when they had on sale for $5.99 recently.

Game is a blast to play.

I've also seen a steady stream of patches released by Temco for Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper.

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Game development is no easy task. It takes years to build a great game and create an engine. A lot of people are ticked off at MS for abandoning XNA for the years they spent with it. MS seems to be doing a lot of crappy decisions lately. You say there will be no more versions of the only framework to develop for the Xbox and not expect indies to jump ship?

When it gets replaced by something more powerful then there is no problem. XNA was limiting from what I remember, specially on the phone. Moving over to winrt and DirectX opens it up for devs to pick and choose what to use. You can go at it on your own and make a engine or now you can save time and use a engine from someone else. When the same applies to the next Xbox then Indies and developers in general should be happy.

It's not like XNA can't still be used, it's not going to be updated but it's replacement is better for everyone.

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When it gets replaced by something more powerful then there is no problem. XNA was limiting from what I remember, specially on the phone. Moving over to winrt and DirectX opens it up for devs to pick and choose what to use. You can go at it on your own and make a engine or now you can save time and use a engine from someone else. When the same applies to the next Xbox then Indies and developers in general should be happy.

It's not like XNA can't still be used, it's not going to be updated but it's replacement is better for everyone.

XNA 1.0 or maybe 2.0 created a 60fps 3D racing game that looked very very nice. Most indie developers will not need more power than that.

I agree XNA can still be used. But have you seen the developer sites articles about it? That is the problem. Everybody considers XNA to be dead - because the articles on some developer sites say "XNA is DEAD" in the title. I have many emails and messages from people saying "Well I heard XNA is dead, what do I do now?". It is rather irritating because until MS pulls the download links for the framework, it cannot just "die' just like that.

it's not going to be updated but it's replacement is better for everyone.

I disagree. What about the people that struggle with Direct X and C++? I have made many Direct X games (mini games just so I know how Direct X works) so I have the skills to do it. However, I do not have the time for Direct X and C++ (to create a full fledge game). XNA saved so much time, you can have a game up and running in less than 10 minutes. I built my pong clone in 8 minutes with XNA, even when I was a newbie at it :p

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I disagree. What about the people that struggle with Direct X and C++? I have made many Direct X games (mini games just so I know how Direct X works) so I have the skills to do it. However, I do not have the time for Direct X and C++ (to create a full fledge game). XNA saved so much time, you can have a game up and running in less than 10 minutes. I built my pong clone in 8 minutes with XNA, even when I was a newbie at it :p

Sure it's easier to start off with but now devs could just use a number of tools and engines to make what they like, I see it as giving them greater flexibility in the end. They can now use something like Unity which is used on other platforms.

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There are third party libraries that are replacing XNA. My favorite has been SharpDX (it is also 10 times faster than XNA). It offers direct calls to DirectX in .NET and also offers a similar API to XNA, Overall, it is 100% better.

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I disagree. What about the people that struggle with Direct X and C++? I have made many Direct X games (mini games just so I know how Direct X works) so I have the skills to do it. However, I do not have the time for Direct X and C++ (to create a full fledge game). XNA saved so much time, you can have a game up and running in less than 10 minutes. I built my pong clone in 8 minutes with XNA, even when I was a newbie at it :p

We won't really know until BUILD and E3 are over what's going down it seems. WinRT does seem to be a much more simplified development platform than win32, though I have no direct experience with it yet.

I'll have more to say when MS actually says something :huh:

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I think indie development is going to be the catalyst for the next big gaming boom in terms of innovation and a "return to roots" of sorts. Sony and Nintendo probably have similar notions. So it makes sense that they are putting an increased focus on the indie scene. If Microsoft doesn't change their restrictive ways with XBLA to match suit, they are going to regret it.

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WTF kinda name for a console is ouya??? that sounds like some diaper genie type thing... I think I remember a name like that being on some diaper thing back a decade ago that had a leaf on it....

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WTF kinda name for a console is ouya??? that sounds like some diaper genie type thing... I think I remember a name like that being on some diaper thing back a decade ago that had a leaf on it....

Lol, it sure is an awful name.

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