Microsoft lifts veil on [email protected] - Xbox One's self-publishing program

Microsoft said last month that it would allow self-publishing on Xbox One. Now, the company is revealing the first details of how it will all work.
Digital self-publishing on the new video game consoles has been a major discussion among developers for several months. Now, Microsoft is offering the first details of Xbox One's indie developer program, which revolves around ability for developers to self-publish. Dubbed Independent Developers @ Xbox ([email protected]), Microsoft is promising developers a smooth experience in terms of game development, distribution and discovery of digital games on Xbox One's digital storefront. The announcement of the program reflects a refreshed view on Microsoft's relationship with independent developers, as Xbox One's launch looms large. Heading up [email protected] is Chris Charla, a Microsoft video game stalwart (and a video game stalwart in general) who's been curating Xbox Live Arcade games as XBLA portfolio director since 2010. He'll be director of [email protected], working closely with game developers. Microsoft seems to want the program to be driven by the content creators. An announcement from Microsoft stated that the [email protected] team met with over 50 game developers to find out what they wanted out of a self-publishing program. Chris Hecker, the developer behind the upcoming Spy Party (and sometimes-critic of the game industry), had good things to say about the program in a prepared statement. "I'm really excited that Microsoft has listened to feedback from developers and created this program. As an independent developer, I want Spy Party to be available to as many players as possible, and it feels like Microsoft is interested in not only removing roadblocks for indies to get their games on Xbox One, but they're also genuinely interested in finding ways to bring new and innovative indie games to their platform to help games reach their potential as an art and entertainment form." Other game companies like Splash Damage, The Behemoth, Other Ocean, Team 17, Ripstone, The Odd Gentlemen and Dlala voiced their support of the program alongside Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft's [email protected] program brings the company more in line with the digital policies of its game console competitors, Sony and Nintendo, which already allow for self-publishing. That's not to mention Steam and mobile storefronts, which have helped make self-publishing an expectation of developers.

What this means for you

[email protected] does not mean that Microsoft is breaking down all of the walls of its garden -- just hammering away some chunks. Developers need to apply at (registration opens today). If developers qualify, they become a registered Xbox One developer. Early applications are for the "initial phase" of the program, which is beginning this fall. "[Registered Xbox One developer] status will be granted with priority to independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet," according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft said there are no application fees, no certification fees and no title update fees. Charla told Gamasutra, "We'll evaluate each application on a case by case basis. Making a console game isn't trivial so we want to be sure that they'll be able to create great content. "However, our plan for the program is to eventually open up the platform to all creators. We want Xbox One to be a great place to not only consume content but to also create it." Registered developers will receive two Xbox One development kits at no cost, and access to the console's full features, including the "full power of the console," cloud, Kinect and Xbox Live toolsets and more. Revenue splits will be "industry standard" Charla told us. (Digital deals often give the platform holder 30 percent, and the developer 70 percent.) As for exclusivity deals, he said, "We do not require exclusivity agreements. However, we do ask for day one parity with other console game platforms." A team of developer-facing community managers will also provide responses to submissions and ongoing support as part of the program. Microsoft said it will hold developer events as well, with [email protected] gatherings happening in Seattle, London and San Francisco, starting this fall.

Focus on game discovery

With self-publishing also comes the problem of game discovery -- when you lower the walls, a lot of content spills in, and the chances of customers finding your games lessen. Microsoft said discovery will be a focus for the "Xbox One Store." Here, "All games are located together in the Xbox One Store and rich search scenarios using voice will get results across the entire catalog of experiences," Microsoft stated. Players can discover games through (straight from Microsoft's announcement):
  • Trending keeps your finger on the pulse of what friends and the community are playing.
  • Recommendations bring forward new games, based on what you like to play.
  • Spotlight showcases Editor Picks for great games across the entire store.
  • With Game DVR and Upload, new games will be found as gamers capture and share their videos across the service.
  • Achievements and Challenges enable developers and the community to create special events out of games.

Moving forward

Back when Microsoft initially announced that self-publishing would actually be a reality on Xbox One, chief product officer Marc Whitten said that eventually, every Xbox One would be able to be used as a development kit. That goal is still somewhere on the horizon, and won't be initially be implemented in the [email protected] program. "Longer term, our plan is to enable any Xbox One console to be used as a development kit for self-publishing purposes. This means that any hobbyist with a great game idea can make it come to life on Xbox One," Microsoft's latest statement read. Charla added, "The independent development scene has matured and changed a ton in the past couple of years, so we are acting on that to meet the needs of the development community. We're really proud to offer this new path onto Xbox One and we're excited to see what independent developers will build."

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