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'We knew we were kind of making a deal with the devil'

Skulls of the Shogun dev Boruf Pfeifer doesn't think Microsoft is 'evil' per se, just riddled with systemic problems: nightmare certification issues, lack of communication, and late paychecks.
"I personally would like to go back in time and kick myself in the balls. I’d just like to have that year and a half of my life back."
- Skulls of the Shogun's Borut Pfeifer, in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Skulls of the Shogun first hit the market on Microsoft devices in January of this year, appearing on Microsoft Surface, XBLA and Windows 8. Six months on, it is finally leaving the Microsoft-exclusive nest and will turn up on Steam in July -- and developer Borut Pfeifer doesn't regret the change in the slightest. "We knew we were kind of making a deal with the devil," Pfeifer tells Rock, Paper, Shotgun. "Probably one of our biggest mistakes was thinking in 2008 terms, where it's like 'if you want to be on console you've got to be a console first,' and that's not true anymore." Pfeifer shares a few horror stories he notes are unusual even among fellow indies partnering with Microsoft: conflicting certification issues, poor communication, and unpaid staff. "Even though they were partially funding the game to completion, we had to take a loan to cover the fact that they hadn't yet paid us when they were supposed to," says Pfeifer. "We thought 'well, it's Microsoft, they have bankroll, they can afford this stuff.' But because of their processes seeming so fucked up, they couldn't actually do that." To add salt on the wound, even though the team has finally seen their pay, sales have been less than stellar -- particularly for the much-touted Windows 8 tablets for which Skulls of the Shogun was advertised as an exclusive. "We hoped they'd sell a few million tablets, and from most reports they did, but either those people are not buying games or they're not buying games for more than a dollar or two dollars." Nevertheless, Pfeifer says, "We just tried to focus on the positive things." He notes that Microsoft "never tried to interfere with us creatively," and that plenty of people within Microsoft Studios, Microsoft's game publishing arm, worked hard alongside them to bring the game to release. "At the same time there are systemic problems with the way that division is set up and run," says Pfeifer. "They came across as though they were institutionally incompetent. I think they're not really set up to be a decent publisher." "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 traits are things I would ascribe to Microsoft Studios." Asked what he'd do differently, he said with a laugh, "I personally would like to go back in time and kick myself in the balls. I’d just like to have that year and a half of my life back."

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