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Microsoft on cross-network play, Xbox One dev kits and more

When will we see the announcements put into practice?

It's been a month since Microsoft dropped the bombshell it would support cross-network play between Xbox One and other consoles - including, in theory, PlayStation 4. The past few weeks have also seen the console giant finally make good on its suggestion that all retail Xbox One consoles will be able to be used as developer kits

Yesterday, I sat down with ID@Xbox's European boss Agostino Simonetta at EGX Rezzed to ask when we'd see the fruits of these announcements and for a general discussion on how Microsoft's indie programme was going.

I remember we spoke here at EGX Rezzed last year and there were several pressing issues high up on the agenda. 12 months on, it seems like things at ID@Xbox are going much more smoothly. How has the last year gone for you?

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Agostino Simonetta.

Agostino Simonetta: You were actually my first interview when I joined Microsoft, just before Rezzed last year, which I was thinking about today. A lot has happened since then! And we have just had a really good GDC, there were 40 games on show there - Kingdom, Turing Test, Adventure on Clover Island. We had the announcements of cross-network play and retail test kits.

Now the discussion is - well now I should get back to programming as a hobby! Cross-network play was extremely well received, Rocket League will be the first to do it. And then there's Game Preview, which when we announced we said was a pilot. Ark: Survival Evolved is unbelievable - after two, three weeks they came out and said how many concurrent users they had - they've been very vocal about how good it has been. Then there's the Solus Project, Starbound, they're both here [at Rezzed] and we're working with them on their launch via Game Preview. Subnautica, too.

Things are looking promising - you can take sole credit! - there's lots of positivity around your announcements. Now, gamers want to see the fruits of those announcements. How long is it going to be before we see cross-platform games?

So, Rocket League is coming out. As for timing - well, as a platform we don't force developers to release at any point - it'll be when the developers are ready -"

But all the technology is there?

Agostino Simonetta: Absolutely - we're ready. Rocket League is the first game - and it is a heavily network-orientated game. Last weekend I had a problem with my wife, I was playing too much Rocket League.

But yes, any title that wants to update their game to include cross-network play, any title that wants to launch soon and take advantage of that, we are ready.

So when will I be able to play Rocket League on Xbox One against people on PlayStation 4?

Agostino Simonetta: Well as I said, it's always up to the developer to decide. We issued an open invitation.

It sounds like the ball is very much in other people's courts?

Agostino Simonetta: As far as we're concerned - we've made the announcement and we're ready - whoever wants to get on board. It remains an open invitation to any network that wants to do the same.

Have you heard any encouraging noises on that front? You must be friends with people at Sony - you used to work there! - your counterparts.

Agostino Simonetta: We can only say: we're ready. We've done our bit and we welcome anyone who wants to take part.

How difficult is it technically? Assume I'm a complete layman, because I am.

Agostino Simonetta: I'm a layman in these matters too - I'm not a technical person. It might not as easy as flipping a switch, but it can be done.

Next up, with retail Xbox One units being used for dev kits now - how long will it be before we see the fruits of that?

Agostino Simonetta: We went into preview mode for it on 30th March and right now we're seeing more professional developers use it. But it's still in preview - when it's not, we expect to see plenty more use it. We expect developers to take advantage of that path. 1400 developers now have Xbox One dev kits in their living rooms, basements. We build the technology and the development community will get on board at their own pace. We were very keen to get this out there.

We have been dealing with a university in the UK which was interested because it's an easy way to get their students programming.

I remember when we last spoke, you mentioned your young daughter was now programming a game about a cat. When is that coming out?

Agostino Simonetta: [Laughs] Still in development. Hopefully she's not in negotiations with another platform.

I use my Xbox One a lot and I still want to bring up the matter of placement. Something I've noticed recently is how a game can come out in a number of versions and pre-order editions and if it is about to launch, each of these individually takes up a spot on the list of releases. If you're an indie game that's hard to match.

Agostino Simonetta: There is an element of timing - the way the industry behaves as a whole in terms of releases is always changing. We're always in discussion with the game creators. They are the publishers, but we can give them help or advice on when launching their project might maximise their profitability.

September until December in general is a difficult period for the retail business. We advise indie developers to be smart about their release dates. There was one game in particular recently who launched at the right time and got a lot of visibility in the console store's list. There are busy periods in the year, but it's not just games - it is the amount of content coming out. It's not just an indie-related problem.

Another thing - if we focus as an industry on dashboard or store placement there are huge opportunities we are missing. It is not the be-all-and-end-all. Some people browse the full catalogue and buy games. It's even better if people know about your product before they go on the store at all. Some people go on and search directly for a game. It's important to support games for a long time - if you worry just about day one... One year after our first chat, I can say with a straight face that if you look at what we've done, at E3, at Gamescom, at EGX, at GDC, here at Rezzed, we have consistently supported indie games. We have a very large section in our E3 and Gamescom shows for them, and on the showfloor.

And it means today you can go and play Subnautica, or Starbound, or Turing Test, or Aaero - that's a jewel, it keeps evolving. So many games which show how this industry is changing, and which is now full of games from people - young people, often straight of college. These are kinds of people we're trying to help.

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