At the end of July, Microsoft announced some pretty significant changes to its publishing policies. With the new ID@Xbox program, indie developers will be able, in theory, to create, publish, and sell their games on the Xbox Live Marketplace with few restrictions.
The news was met with much joy and the popping of champagne corks (I'm assuming), but don't expect it to bear fruit any time soon -- the first ID@Xbox games probably won't be out until next year.
"I don't think we're going to see things at launch. I don't think it's realistic to see a developer get the programme and build a game and get it into the market on November 22," Microsoft's Phil Harrison told Games Industry when asked about a first wave of self-published Xbox One games. "It's reasonable to expect in early 2014 we'll start seeing the first games come through."
Right now, Microsoft are still in the process of examining applications, since indies have to register to receive a dev kit. Eventually, however, all Xbox One consoles will double as development kits, "and then we open up to the widest audience possible," Harrison says. No timeline for when that will happen has been announced, though.
Much of the Harrison interview is business- or marketing-related (understandably!), but here's another standout interaction:
GI.biz: Digital products should be cheaper than boxed products - they cut out the retailer, the box-shifting, the physical manufacturing. Why aren't digital console games cheaper to buy?
Harrison: You could take that point of view. But you could also take the point of view that the only way in which our industry can continue to grow is if the margin structure enriches game development. Meaning that as much as the consumer spend as possible accrues back to the creator. Striking a balance between those two extremes is going to be tricky.
One the one hand, it's becoming harder and harder for game developers to make money selling their products, and it seems petty to begrudge hard-working people a living wage. On the other, Harrison points out later in the interview that development costs are starting to plateau. Hopefully, game prices will start to come down as well.
Stocking too much physical inventory costs brick-and-mortar stores money, which is why prices at Gamestop and Wal-Mart come down so quickly. Digital publishers don't have that problem, so they don't have as many incentives to drop prices or offer sales. Nevertheless, Microsoft's pre-lapsarian policies for the Xbox One all hinged on the perceived benefits of all-digital marketplaces, like Steam's constant sales.
Given the resulting brouhaha and Microsoft's eventual walk-back of an always online console, Harrison's answer seems a little tone deaf. We'll see how Microsoft's often messy shifts in policy shake out when the Xbox One launches on November 22.
Joseph Leray is a freelance writer from Nashville. Follow him on Twitter