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What we know and don't know about Xbox One self-publishing
What we know and don't know about Xbox One self-publishing
July 25, 2013 | By Mike Rose

July 25, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing

It's easy to be taken in by Microsoft's latest "U-turn" with its upcoming Xbox One console.

The company said last night that the Xbox One will allow developers to self-publish their games on the console, a big shift away from the current Xbox 360 policy (and what was going to be the Xbox One policy) that required developers to work through publishers to bring their games to the platform.

It's a correct step towards modernizing the Xbox developer ecosystem for a digital marketplace. The problem is that as-of-yet, details are incredibly vague. That's hardly surprising, given that the company only just revealed this new set of rules 12 hours ago, but it does mean that it's far too early for developers to be sounding the victory trumpets.

For example, Xbox's Marc Whitten was careful to say that this self-publishing strategy is "our vision," positioning each new policy as something that is coming at some point, rather than options that will be available from the get-go.

And Whitten's brief statement supplied far more questions than answers. If "every Xbox One can be used for development," does that mean consoles straight off the shelf will provide purchasers with every possible dev kit feature? What other tools will they need? Will games created via this method be shoved into another Xbox Live Indie Games section?

It's well worth taking note of what we do know, and what we still need answers for.

What we know about Xbox One self-publishing

Retail kits are full development kits

Speaking to Giant Bomb, Whitten confirmed that, once the details have been ironed out, Xbox One consoles that you pick up off the shelf or buy online will be capable of developing games, with all the possible features that are currently available to AAA Xbox One devs.

"There's no 'this is a second class sort of experience' type of thing," he said. "Right now, obviously, in the build-up to a platform launch, there's lots of special builds and lots of special kits and all that kind of stuff, but thatís more time and place."

Revenue share

Although we don't know the exact figures, we'll file this one under "what we know." Whitten explained what self-publishing developers can expect: "You should think about it the way you think about [Xbox] Marketplace is today on Xbox Live." What this implies is a 70/30 revenue split, which has become pretty standard in the digital business.

There's no Xbox Live Indie Games this time around

We already knew that Xbox Live Arcade was being dropped for the Xbox One, such that both retail and download games will be displayed together in the same area of the Dashboard.

However, with this new self-publishing system, what we didn't know was whether there will be a section similar to Xbox Live Indie Games on Xbox 360, that will separate the self-published games from the rest.

Whitten has now said that there will not be such a section, and that these self-published games will be bunched together with every other game.

"Our intention is that there will not be an indie ghetto," he told Polygon. "I do believe in some curation and I want the best to flow to the top. But I also want to be able to see what's trending on the surface. At the end of the day, discoverability will be driven by spotlight human curation and by usage."

What we don't know about Xbox One self-publishing

What OS and tools do you need, and how do you sign up to the program?

Although Microsoft has said that every Xbox One console will (eventually) act as a dev kit, there aren't really any details regarding how this will work.

For example, what OS will you be utilizing? Is there a new set of tools like XNA that you'll be coding with? Will you be able to self-publish with Unity? How low will the barrier actually be? These are important factors that are going to affect all developers.

And what exactly does signing up for Xbox One development entail? Whitten said that there's a program you have to sign up for, but he didn't give details on how much that will cost, whether there'll be a yearly subscription fee, and whether you'll need to go through a review process first.

How curation and discoverability will work

It's good that Microsoft said it would not relegate indie games to a dark corner of the digital storefront, but of course, throwing games all into one big pile would be no good if there's no real curation in place.

"I think the curation and the experience is still really important," Whitten said. So we know this issue, so common with digital storefronts, is on Microsoft's radar.

How Microsoft will handle certification

We've heard horror stories about Xbox 360 game certification, so these processes, along with QA, are obviously on a lot of developers' minds.

We sort of know how long it takes on PlayStation 4 -- Sony recently said that once you've submitted your game, you're looking at around a week before it's ready to go live on the PSN Store.

Whitten wasn't ready to deal in specific time frames, or criteria for approval, but he did say that automating the approval system is what Microsoft is currently looking into. Hopefully Wargaming's recent thoughts on the process are helping to shift this move along more quickly.

Cross-platform support

With regards to building a game for Xbox One, it's not yet clear whether you'll then be able to easy deploy your game to other Microsoft platforms.

"We would love for you to be able to roll something out and it would touch phones, consoles and Windows," Whitten said. "But there is work we still need to do to make that easier for people."

This is everything we know, and are still in the dark about, to date then. Of course, as with PS4 and Wii U self-publishing, there's no doubt more questions that need to be asked too (here's everything we know about PS4 self-publishing, and here's what we know about Wii U self-publishing).

So we put it to you, the developer: What other clarifications and issues regarding self-publishing do you want both Microsoft and Sony to talk about?

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Phil Maxey
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Is it just me or does all of this sound a lot like doing things the same way that Apple does.

Matthew Mouras
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Good thoughts. I'm cautiously optimistic for further details about the program. I'm hoping the 'App Hub' equivalent for the X1 will be free, but I could deal with a yearly subscription if it was as low as it was for the 360.

Just a quick potential correction to the article - I think you want a 'not' here:

"It's good that Microsoft said it would NOT relegate indie games to a dark corner of the digital storefront, but of course, throwing games all into one big pile would be no good if there's no real curation in place."

Kris Graft
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Thanks Matthew, I fixed the "not." :)

Henry Shilling
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I am holding out that it will be like the app stores, Th W8 app store, the WP8 store all like the apple model. So far I can build for the phone and W8 devices including RT with Unity. I'd imagine we have the same thing, get some sort of interface/plugins and tada... XBONE. If they do a standard approval process once again like their app stores, this will rock.

We would have had many many more interesting games on XBLIG if we had access to Achievements and Leaderboards etc. I know of more than a few devs who stepped away from XBLIG when it became apparent it was a treated like a low rent ghetto by MS.

Joe E
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Say what you will, but even assuming worst case scenario for "what we don't know", this is a pretty big change of heart since the "my way of the highway" attitude they had after the reveal. Apparently someone is, in fact, listening, and able to correct accordingly (ie. transition Mattrick).
In any case, now they have my attention again.

Kyle Redd
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It's likely they didn't have much of a choice. At least going by the current Amazon U.S. video game best-seller chart, there are multiple PS4 systems and bundles mixed in the top 10, while the lone Xbox One system is stuck down at 38 (though it's been steadily rising the last couple of days). Microsoft is looking at a situation where they may end up surrendering their long-held lead in the console space due to their own stubbornness and ignorance.

E Zachary Knight
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So we have this article about publishing on the PS4:

Do we have something similar for the Wii U?

Edit: Found this interview detailing much of the new Wii U requirements.

I will now have to look into the comparisons of the three platforms.

Amir Sharar
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I've written in comments to related topics on here about the clues MS has dropped in regards to self-publishing on the One over the past year. Some of those include possible answers to questions in this article. Since I'm inn my smartphone it's a bit hard to find and paste links to my references but I'll make sure to do it tonight.

Paul Isaac
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The vague references to "self-publishing" make me think they could be talking about Project Spark... or something that is not really developing an game in C++ and publishing to the normal Xbox marketplace.

Scott Lavigne
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This was my immediate thought as well. I feel like they need to do a lot better than that (and will long-term), but this might be their early solution.

Jason Alexander
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GB: Post-Xbox One launch and when this system is available, is there a reason for people to have proper Xbox One development kits? Is there a significant difference between what the developers get access to in terms of building their games?

Whitten: Our goal is for you to be able to have full access of the system and the services on Xbox Live. Also, this is a dev kit. This is the way that we will think about dev kits for people on my team that are working on Xbox One. Thereís no ďthis is a second class sort of experienceĒ type of thing. Right now, obviously, in the build-up to a platform launch, thereís lots of special builds and lots of special kits and all that kind of stuff, but thatís more time and place.

GB: But this isnít a situation where, if you just pick up an Xbox One at Target, youíre only going to be able to access certain parts of the memory, certain parts of the graphics processor? This is going to allow you, at least eventually, once itís all put into place, to be able to do everything that someone like Respawn is doing?

Whitten: Thatís right.

Nick Harris
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Unsure if this has been reported here:

"Goals is to allow devs access to full pool of resources available, no indie RAM limit."

- Phil Spencer

Also, free Unity middleware for games not self-published.