During the heyday of the Xbox 360, Microsoft were in a very good position in regards to indie games. Even if you ignore the allegations of mismanagement, or problematic organization, they had a great thing going with both Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) and Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG). Through them, a huge audience was exposed to independently developed titles that they otherwise may have been completely blind to. Digital behemoths like Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Minecraft all graced the system to the acclaim of many.
Despite the success Microsoft has had with indie games on their system, it now seems they have turned their back on the community. They indeed spoke all about games during the E3 Xbox One conference, but they put very minimal attention on indies. Throughout a great deal of new games and IPs, we saw a very tiny sampling of indie game presence, especially when compared to Sony's own E3 conference.
Regardless, let“s look at what Microsoft has decreed so far for their upcoming system. As ShackNews reported, general manager of Redmont Game Studio, Matt Booty, stated that â€œas of right nowâ€ all games require a publisher to get onto the Marketplace. Much of the time, indie games are self-published by their developers but this is a thing of the past - at least on the Xbox One. We have seen publishers turn to indie games more lately, and even publishers created with the purpose of celebrating indies, but not every developer will have the luxury of being chosen.
Another strange decision, which very likely may see change, is that the Xbox Marketplace will no longer have separate sections for XBLA or XBLIG games. Instead, everything will come together in a big melting pot. In a way, this is positive because it means that an indie game can stand proudly right next to a digital copy of the next triple A shooter.
As Phil Harrison explained to Eurogamer:
"Just games, right. Search, recommendation, what your friends are playing, game DVR - these all go to helping you discover the games you want to play, so I think we solve fantastically some of the challenges that independent developers face, particularly around discovery and connecting their game to an audience, by some of the platform features we have in the machine itself."
This is far from the perfect solution though. It“s important to listen to everything that is said, rather than just the gist of things. As was also noted in the Xbox One reveal conference, users will be shown games the console/network thinks they want to play. Recommendations tailored to user interests are not new, but what will the specifics be? Are these pure recommendations from previously played games or are they a mix of requisite triple A games and then two you might like? Will publishers be able to pay to have their latest game on this panel for the week or month of its launch? How much attention is paid to indies versus big names? Unfortunately, none of these specifics are likely to be revealed.
Of course, the same applies to the Marketplace as a whole. Without multiple sections, the Xbox One will require excellent genre categories. It is likely that the most popular or newest games will also sit at the very front of these lists. Will precedence be given to huge names over small or is every developer going to get a fair shot? Well, just judging from their presentation, it“s obvious Microsoft wants to present an ubiquitous game/TV/etc device for the living room. The â€œcommonâ€ consumer they are aiming for is probably not interested in indie games - if they“re even into games at all.
There was one indie game showcased during their E3 conference with as much excitement as the next Call of Duty or Battlefield. This was of course Minecraft which already saw launch on 360. Why did they select this to be their main indie game shown during the event? Because Microsoft knows they have a winner with Minecraft. It is one of the most successful, if not the most, indie game of this generation and therefore has a massive inbuilt audience. Instead of seeking out upcoming and unknown indies, they have allowed Sony, Nintendo, and Valve to become the much more alluring storefronts.
In the end, Microsoft just does not appear to be trying to win indies back. Perhaps they do not want them. Until this generation, indie games had been mostly ignored by big names except in rare instances. Now that indie games have found a real foothold with players, they are a great market full of potential success for both developers and those who support them. Microsoft does not need indies to succeed, but it is losing a possible boon of great games in the coming generation.