With the Wii U and PlayStation 4, Nintendo and Sony have made conscious efforts to improve outreach to independent developers. One of the numerous questions in the weeks leading up to yesterday's Xbox One unveiling was whether or not Microsoft would follow suit. But where Sony gave Jonathan Blow prime time at the PS4 event to show off The Witness, the independent developer presence during Microsoft's event was confined to an introductory video, a few words of dialog sandwiched in between images of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg.
GamesIndustry International reached out to a number of indie developers--as well as Ouya, which positions itself as an indie-friendly alternative to traditional consoles--to get their first reactions to the event. Their responses ranged from disappointed to optimistic, touching on Microsoft's market strategy, an apparent snub to the indie community, and the event's focus on TV and sports. And while Microsoft has reportedly confirmed that indie developers will not be allowed to self-publish their games on Xbox One, the developers quoted below did not necessarily know that when they made their contributions.
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"It wasn't about games, it was about a set-top box."
Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch Games (Monaco)
It's impossible for me to respond to the Xbox presentation from the perspective of a game developer: it wasn't about games, it was about a set-top box. Any speculation about the technology would probably be unwise. That said, with all the focus on the marketplace and no attention paid to the structure or openness of the marketplace, it does seem like they are trying to compete on the same axes as Apple and Google rather than Steam. Again, purely speculation drawn from their apparent priorities, and I'm sure we'll learn more at E3!
Graham Smith, DrinkBox Studios (Guacamelee)
Watching the Xbox reveal today left us with some mixed emotions. On the hardware side, everything looked great. It appears to be a fairly powerful machine, comparable to the PS4. Also, the box was super shiny! Not surprisingly though, there seemed to be a big focus on non-gaming stuff, and top-tier AAA titles. We were disappointed to see little to no mention of XBLA or smaller scoped games. We were however really stoked to see they answered our repeated requests to name their new console "Xbox Juan". Seriously though, they must be holding stuff back for reveal at E3, and hopefully the plan for the future of XBLA will be shown there.
"What I really like about the new Xbox is the emphasis on alternative input (Kinect and voice)"
American McGee, Spicy Horse Games (Akaneiro: Demon Hunters)
So I read a bit about it and from what I can see it's cool. I like the idea they're emphasizing integration of "living room uses," which makes sense when that's what a fixed-location entertainment device should do. Truth is, whether it's my PS3 or 360, both get equal (or more) use streaming music, videos, and doing "other" stuff as compared to actually playing games. What I really like about the new Xbox is the emphasis on alternative input (Kinect and voice). I'm a big believer in this sort of tech opening up new avenues for game design and player immersion. Link that sort of fine-resolution motion tracking and hardware horsepower to something like Oculus Rift... and you've got a personal holodeck! Ultimately, I'm not more "for or against" either of these devices (Sony or Microsoft) just yet - that determination doesn't usually happen until I discover how painful the thing is to integrate into my existing home media services. Looking forward to the upcoming living room battle... loser ends up in the bedroom, relegated to playing content unworthy of the main screen ;)
Ben Esposito, Little Flag (Kachina)
I think consoles in general create an artificial need, and in the eyes of people who really care about gaming, they're not going to be relevant much longer. Microsoft understands that pretty well, and did a good job diverting their efforts away from the dedicated gaming crowd. I feel like I'm betraying my inner nerd by saying this, but the coolest feature of Xbox One is the integration of fantasy sports.
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"I feel like I'm betraying my inner nerd by saying this, but the coolest feature of Xbox One is the integration of fantasy sports"
The new generation of consoles seems eerily similar to the last one. Aside from being able to switch inputs quickly (which I think is greatttt), the Xbox reveal was another rhetorical exercise in selling incremental improvements in technology. We've heard all this before: better tech will enable more meaningful experiences. Tech certainly CAN enable meaningful experiences, but I see the stated goals of more immersion, emotion, better storytelling, etc. more as design problems. Based on the showing so far, not a lot of thought has been put towards solving them.
Martin Pichlmair, Broken Rules (Chasing Aurora)
The show was geared towards publishers more than developers. There were very few games and not a single indie game in the announcement. Even online features took a backseat while the presenter highlighted television functionality. The experience of using a second information channel while watching a movie is very common to me. I have an iPad for that. I can type on the iPad, therefor I can use the internet. I would not want to run a browser in a window on my TV when I'm not able to do a simple Google search (or Bing, for that matter). Also, I don't have a TV anymore.
To me, being European, it was obvious that this console is targeted at the US market. NFL, cable TV and ESPN will not convince the European, Australian or Asian (and neither the South-American or African) players to get an Xbox One.
"Professionally as well as personally, this console does not look like a compelling package to me"
I did not see any advertisement of online functionality apart from a more clever achievement system. I was hoping for a revamped XBLA, social network integration and Twitch TV-like live streaming. Instead we got video telephony and a "Game DVR." Let's hope the innovations that they bring to achievements are more substantial. I expected MS to try to wrestle the crown from Steam. They did not even attempt at that. The advanced matchmaking capabilities sound great.
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I guess they are holding back the game announcements for E3. 15 games in the first year sounds like a lot, but we have neither seen the scope of those games nor do we know if they're really going to make it in time. The console runs FIFA and Call of Duty but that was to be expected and neither of those will be an exclusive title. At least not for long.
Talking and waving at your console is a feature that looks good in presentations. I'm sure we'll see more language-based interaction with computers in the future. Siri proved that it can work. If all leading electronics companies would agree on a common standard, this feature could revolutionize the living room. If it comes down to switching TV channels and accessing a phone with 5.6% market share, it feels like a missed opportunity. This service stands and falls with interoperability.
As an indie developer, there was nothing in this presentation that would lure me into making a game for this console. The PS4 is much more tempting and so is the Wii U. From where I'm standing, it looks like iOS, Android and Steam stay the most interesting platforms for independent games for at least one more console generation. OUYA needs to prove itself before I can comment on it, but hiring Kellee Santiago gives them a lot of indie credibility.
"Design-wise, at least we're lucky today's kids don't even know what a VHS player is"
As you can see, I was not too impressed with Microsoft's reveal. Professionally as well as personally, this console does not look like a compelling package to me. As more details of the console get announced, this opinion might change.
Felix Bohatsch, Broken Rules (Chasing Aurora)
My problem with Xbox One is, I don't like to watch TV. On the positive side, I did like the extra rumble features in the controller. Tapping into one of their 300 000 servers sounds interesting too, but I need more details on that...Let's see what E3 brings!
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Massimo Guarini, Ovosonico (unannounced original IP for Sony)
Honestly, I was way more thrilled by the news about Unity making mobile dev tools free for small developers than yesterday's Xbox reveal. I feel we're totally missing the point once again.
Our industry cannot evolve if we get obsessively stuck with the living room domination mantra and the teenage hardware wars. Our medium evolution can happen only through new content, new subjects we deal with, human emotions we resonate with. As a result of the ongoing ubiquitous multi-tech, multi-tasking collective hysteria, what worries me the most is that Microsoft might genuinely believe in the way it positioned the Xbox One.
Nobody sane should want, let alone need, to play a game while watching a movie, while chatting on Skype, all while waving his hands. Where is the content? I mean, besides the dog?
Design-wise, at least we're lucky today's kids don't even know what a VHS player is.
Julie Uhrman, Founder and CEO of Ouya
"Xbox One seemed to be more of the same and what we've come to expect from traditional consoles, more attention to trying to own all the content in the living room, and less attention to delivering great games from great developers. Only traditional, well-funded developers will be able to take advantage of their new system. Gamers have told us they want something new. They want to experience new types of games and gameplay and we are providing that by giving any developer access to our tools to bring their great idea to the television. OUYA's philosophy is the TV is for gaming first."