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Plugged In

Microsoft to let game makers self-publish on Xbox One

Plugged In

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(Credit: Microsoft)

Forget what you think you know about the Xbox One, because Microsoft seems intent on changing how the system works every other week.

After reversing its controversial policies for ‘always online’ internet connections and used games, the company is doing away with its unpopular publishing restrictions, opening the door for independent developers to create and release their own games on Xbox One without enlisting the aid of a publishing partner. That essentially turns every Xbox One owner -- from well known developers to your average Joe -- into a potential Xbox One game maker.

“Our vision is that every person can be a creator," Marc Whitten, corporate vice president at Xbox said in a statement. "That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox LIVE. This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox LIVE. We’ll have more details on the program and the timeline at Gamescom in August.”

That’s a huge change from the Xbox 360, which required independent developers to go through a licensed publishing partner like EA or Warner Bros. -- or Microsoft Game Studios itself -- in order to have their game released on the system’s popular Xbox Live Arcade. That resulted in expensive delays and marginalized profits for developers, who watched as publishers ate into their revenues, and has been viewed as a less friendly policy than what Sony has been doing with the PS3 and plans to do with the PS4.

While the change in direction is great news for Xbox One gamers, it won’t be immediate. Whitten told Polygon that the ability to use the retail Xbox One as a development kit won’t be available at launch.

Whitten also tried to allay concerns that self-published Xbox One games will wind up in a big, ugly holding pen, which is essentially what happened with the Xbox Live Indie Channel. Instead, imagine one big area that holds all kinds of games content.

“My goal is for it to just show up in the marketplace," he told Kotaku. “There will be everything from what are we curating, kind of like spotlight content, to the normal discoverability stuff like recommendations, what's trending, what's got a lot of engagement on the platform. And you'd be able to find that content in any of those. There wouldn't be any difference based on what type of game it was.”

Regardless of how it functions, the move brings the Xbox One even closer to feature parity with the PS4, though Sony has gone out of its way to promote indie developers. The company has secured the allegiance of big indie developers like SuperGiant Games (Transistor), Jonathan Blow (The Witness) and Lorne Lanning (Oddworld), who recently took Microsoft to task for its hostile approach to indie game makers.

Other indie developers are cautiously optimistic about Microsoft’s policy change, though many have been burned by the company in the past.

"If Microsoft doesn't promote your game, it will still be a gigantic uphill battle to see any sort of meaningful sales," Andy Schaz, creator of the award-winning indie game Monaco, told Shacknews.

Clearly Microsoft has a lot more explaining to do -- the devil is in the details -- but it’s hard to see this as anything but a good move. Now if they can just lower that price a bit…

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