Independent spirit

Xbox has never been just about big budget games.

Since the launch of the first Xbox Live Arcade on the first Xbox, the platform has championed innovations from small teams with striking ideas.

On Xbox One, Microsoft is continuing its tradition of supporting independent developers with a mix of new strategies.

At Gamescom, it announced Independent Developers @ Xbox. This new scheme offers qualifying studios two free development kits and self-publishing without fees. ID@Xbox is open for applications now, and eventually Microsoft says it wants to make any Xbox One capable of being a dev kit for self-publishing, so anyone can be an Xbox One developer.

Plus, the overall way Xbox Live is organised on Xbox One promises to better support the growing community of game creators who want to self-publish their content.

Independent games won’t be off in a separate section of the Xbox Game Store, so they’ll be easier to discover, and take their rightful place among the rest of Xbox One’s content offerings. Of course, they’ll also be able to use all of Xbox One’s features, such as Kinect, SmartGlass, Achievements and Gamerscore, and Xbox Cloud Services.

But there’s a very good strategic reason why indies matter so much to Xbox: variety.

“Independent developers are hugely important for the entire games industry ecosystem,” explains Chris Charla, who heads up ID@Xbox.

“When I look at everything that is happening in game development as a player, I am massively excited by games such as Titanfall, Call of Duty and Halo, I love those games. But I am equally excited when I see games like Papers, Please, or Gone Home or Limbo, or Castle Crashers.  Video games can be a hugely diverse thing.”

Gamers are on the look out for a wider array of experiences on their consoles, he says – and they have already proven this with previous Xbox successes.

“I think independent games can be system sellers,” Charla says, pointing to a wide variety of top-selling games for Xbox 360, from Castle Crashers to State of Decay to Minecraft. A new Xbox One version of Minecraft is on the way, as are a number of other key signings from high profile independents, such as Capy Games’ Below and Swery 65’s highly anticipated Kinect title D4.

Microsoft wants to encourage more studios to take the leap from idea to execution, though. One of the big innovations that Xbox One will bring to the table is the fact that every retail machine can also serve as a dev kit.

“In addition to being the world’s best platform for enjoying entertainment content, whether it is the huge array of games, movies or TV, we really want Xbox One to be a great machine for creating content at every level,” explains Charla.

“From the triple-A studios like the guys behind Titanfall, to mid-size studios working with Microsoft studios or have come through the ID@Xbox programme, down to new developers, hobbyists, tinkerers, people who just want to goof around with the retail kit dev kit stuff.”

Indies matter most because of the flavour they bring to Xbox One.

Says Charla: “Independent developers have the freedom to do more quirky titles, and to try different things. And at the end of the day, it’s about turning on your Xbox One, and just seeing the broadest, most diverse spectrum of entertainment around.”