Microsoft will allow self-publishing after all
UPDATE: "Strings attached to this policy change," dev claims.
UPDATE #2: After the dust has settled on Microsoft's latest policy change, Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano has offered hints that all may not be quite as good as it seems.
"This is yet another example of them changing policy, but it sounding better than it is when the whole story is revealed," Provinciano told Engadget. "Make no mistake; while this is a great thing, it's again not the equivalent to what other platforms offer."
"On PS4, for example, developers can tap right into the system; use every bit of RAM and all of its power. Indies have access to everything that the AAA studios do, from platform support to development and release. The indication on Xbox One is that it's essentially XBLIG 2.0. Instead of XNA, it's Windows 8. Windows 8, which is already struggling to gain developer interest, will gain a boost from developers wishing to target the console. However, it won't be as full-fledged as published games on the system."
Microsoft exec Marc Whitten yesterday hyped up the importance of self-published Xbox One games by boasting of their access to various system features, including Kinect (not that surprising since it's an unremovable part of Xbox One), the cloud, and achievements.
The inclusion of achievements is interesting as Microsoft has traditionally kept a fairly strict structure to their distribution - Xbox Live Indie Games lacked them entirely. Their inclusion in self-published Xbox One titles suggests that Microsoft will retain a decent amount of control over their curation and certification.
By asking developers to create Windows 8 compatible versions - for Xbox One, tablets and PCs - the company would expand its current Windows 8 self-publishing structure while bolstering its threadbare Windows Store line-up.
Despite the changes Provinciano explained he was still uninterested in developing for Xbox One, due to his experiences while getting Retro City Rampage released on Xbox 360.
"After my experience working with them to release on Xbox 360, I have no interest in even buying an Xbox One, let alone developing for it. The policy changes are great, but they don't undo the experience I had. I'm not ready to forget what I went through. Working with Microsoft was the unhappiest point of my career. Policies are one thing, but developer relations are another.
"It's important to me that consumers don't see things as black and white. There are still strings attached to this policy change."
We'll hear the full details of Microsoft's plans at Gamescom next month.
UPDATE: Microsoft has confirmed that it is going to allow self-publishing after all.
Furthermore, Xbox corporate VP Marc Whitten noted in a statement to Engadget [and later sent to us] that "every Xbox One can be used for development."
The details behind Microsoft's rapidly changing policies are murky, but Whitten said more will be announced at Gamescom. His full statement is as follows:
"Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox Live. This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox LIVE. We'll have more details on the program and the timeline at Gamescom in August."
ORIGINAL STORY: After dropping its update fees and backtracking on its draconian DRM requirements for sharing, renting, and buying used games, Microsoft is allegedly backpedaling on its other most derided stance: its policy not to allow self-publishing.
According to anonymous sources at GameInformer, Microsoft is going to allow indies to self-publish their games, just as they can on Sony and Nintendo platforms as well as Steam.
Many developers have spoken out about Microsoft's antiquated policy that would require indie devs to partner up with a publisher to bring their games to XBLA. According to GameInformer's report, independent developers will be able to set their own release dates and pricing.
The report goes on to say that Microsoft is massively streamlining its certification process to a 14-day turnaround similar to iTunes. Previously it was a long, drawn-out process of extensive code checking.
GameInformer also noted that a source claimed the Xbox One could be converted into a debug console to play pre-release code - though the report said that this had yet to be confirmed. In today's world debug units are a rare entity only used by devs and the occasional journalist, but allegedly Microsoft wants to grant access to betas by authorising a console's ID to play early code. Under this hardware provision, betas will purportedly be accessible for up to 25,000 users per test.
It's unclear if these new publishing policies are just for Xbox One or if they will cover Xbox 360 as well. I'm currently knocking on some virtual doors with indie devs and Microsoft to see if I can confirm this info.