There’s no denying the fact that indie games are becoming more and more relevant to the video game industry every day. While many big-budgeted AAA games fall short of sales expectations and cause companies to rethink their entire business model, small-time developers are creating simpler, cheaper games that sell millions and millions of copies.
Sony and Nintendo have both been taking measures to become progressively more indie-friendly lately, with the latter removing some of their previous restrictions to attract more developers. Microsoft, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be feeling the indie movement. Described as “a nightmare” by former Epic Games developer Cliff Bleszinski, Microsoft will not allow indie developers to self-publish on Xbox One. Recently, some indie developers voiced their opinions on the controversial decision.
Rami Ismail of Vlambeer believes that Microsoft is making a huge mistake in choosing not to create a more indie-friendly platform for the next generation. He believes it won’t be too long before AAA games start to lose popularity in favor of the more “safe” indie titles.
Obviously, those huge exclusives for each of the platforms are a big deal, but in the long run those are just a few franchises. Those big titles are becoming riskier and riskier for the AAA industry and thus safer and safer. The indie scene offers the supplement for that — interesting and novel games.
A number of indie games have reached massive success on XBLA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that indie developers consider it a good platform to release on.
Microsoft has a terrible reputation within the scene. A lot of people think that Braid, Fez and Super Meat Boy earning a lot of money on Xbox Live Arcade means that indies will be waiting in line for another go at the platform, but their experiences with dealing with the platform have been enough to scare a lot of developers away from it. We’re people that love making games and that are willing to do business and work hard to make games, but we don’t have the resources to risk dealing with people that are undependable.
Similar sentiments have been echoed by Team Meat, despite their success on XBLA. The creators of Super Meat Boy were critical of Xbox One’s reveal, and they have previously stated that they will never develop for Microsoft again.
Brian Provinciano, creator of Retro City Rampage, elaborated on the troubles with Microsoft’s policies, explaining that they affect more than just indie developers.
Raising awareness about how platform policies affect indies is important, but what everyone needs to take note of is that there are no indie-specific platform policies. These policies affect everyone. Indies are simply the ones who most frequently speak out.
Smaller publishers have more options. Studios built on work-for-hire projects now can take the leap and try their hand at an idea of their own. Publishers who have capital and a great marketing team, but not deep enough pockets to enter the retail market are able to be self-sustaining when they don’t need to use a bigger publisher as a proxy.
Everyone realizes that because self-publishing is not an option, developers must go through a publisher to release a game on XBLA. What most don’t realize is that many publishers must go through a bigger publisher to release games too.
Both Ismail and Provinciano had very positive things to say about the indie policies of other companies. Ismail praised Sony’s indie policies in particular, while Provinciano stated that he “couldn’t be happier” with Sony, Nintendo, and Valve, highlighting a contrast with Microsoft.
The positive changes on other platforms and lack of change on Xbox demonstrates it clearer than ever, and my experience with Microsoft helps me appreciate that much more, just how fantastic it’s been everywhere else.
Just how important will indie games become as the industry continues to evolve in the next generation? If PlayStation 4 and Wii U can establish a clear advantage over Xbox One in the indie scene, Microsoft may be forced to rethink their policies.