How Microsoft misses the mark with indie developers

, | Features


Now that Microsoft has announced the reversal of its DRM policies for the Xbox One, their next-gen console is in a more competitive position. The Xbox One still costs more than other consoles, but price objections are something that can be overcome with value propositions. Unfortunately, one of the things that the Xbox One could lack is a strong indie game catalog. Why? Because Microsoft has stated that their indie game approval process will remain similar to how it works now.

After the jump, let’s check out the complaints!

The current way Microsoft approves and shepards games onto their platforms has been criticized by indie developers as being a bureacratic nightmare at best. The first obstacle to overcome is that indie games cannot self-publish on the Xbox. They must have the backing of a major publisher or get a contract with Microsoft. If they do publish through Microsoft, they must agree to a period of exclusivity. Microsoft also charges the developer for patches on Xbox Live. For tiny developers, a charge for a patch is the difference between paying rent and closing up shop. Phil Fish told Polygon that he no longer trusts Microsoft to do what’s right after his negative experiences working with them on Fez.

“PS4 seems to be doing everything right. It’s too early to tell how everything is going to unfold but their heart definitely seems to be in the right place. Which is a weird thing to say when talking about giant monolithic corporation, but there’s a handful of people working at Sony today who are really trying to do some good. And whether or not I would develop for it comes down to how the platform holder treats me. With Microsoft they’ve made it painfully clear they don’t want my ilk on their platform. I can’t even self-publish there. Whereas on PS4, I can. It’s that simple. Microsoft won’t let me develop for their console. But Sony will.”


To some indie developers, the most damning aspect of working with Microsoft is their indifference to their needs. It’s a large corporation and the Xbox side of it is just one part of what they do. Borut Pfeifer, one of the developers of Skulls of the Shogun, told Rock Paper Shotgun that Microsoft regularly missed payments due to bureacratic issues and was too caught up in multiple product launches to give attention to them.

“When people call Microsoft ‘evil’, while I don’t want to defend them, it’s kind of an undeserved compliment. To be evil, you have to have vision, you have to have communication, execution… None of those are traits are things that I would ascribe to Microsoft Studios.”

For small studios looking to maximize profit for their labors of love, asking them to give up creative control and a cut of revenue right off the top is a bad idea in this day of Steam sales and crowd-funding. Jonathan Blow, outspoken developer of Braid and The Witness, told Gamasutra that working with Microsoft doesn’t make sense when he has other choices.

“I can live a comfortable life, and just put my game on Steam without that much of a hassle, or I can have the XBLA business people dick me around and give me asshole contracts that I need to spend three months negotiating back to somewhere reasonable, that they knew and then have all these arguments with them and go through this horrible cert process. It’s like, at some point, the question ‘Why should I do that?’ arises.”


Lorne Lanning, of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty agrees that dealing with Microsoft’s indie policies just aren’t worth the trouble. He told Eurogamer that his game will be coming to just about every platfrom but the Xbox 360 and Xbox One because of Microsoft’s outdated strategy.

“Why do we need a publisher when we self-finance our games, we build our own IP, we manage our own IP and we’ve turned nearly two million units online as indie publishers sold – not free downloads? Why? What’s wrong with us?”

Of course, it’s not all bad news for indie games and Microsoft. Despite being an outspoken opponent of Windows 8, Marcus Persson, the creator of Minecraft has enjoyed success on Xbox Live. His Xbox 360 version of Minecraft has sold over 6 million copies, and a new build for the Xbox One was previewed before E3 during Microsoft’s stage demo. Undead Labs’ zombie apocalypse survival game State of Decay recently broke sales records by becoming the fastest selling original game on Xbox Live. Tales like these seem to be the exception rather than the rule, however.

Microsoft’s Phil Spencer told Polygon that they are working on refining the certification process for indie games, but is it going to be enough? Will they be able to overcome the negative reputation of working with a company that seemingly doesn’t care about indie developers when other platforms make it easier and more profitable?