Skulls of the Shogun dev rails against Microsoft Studios
"They came across as though they were institutionally incompetent."
Borut Pfeifer of Skulls of the Shogun studio Plush Apocalypse Productions has spoken out about his team's desultory experience with Microsoft Studios, which had an exclusivity deal on the game for Xbox 360 and Windows 8 phones and tablets.
Speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Pfeifer is uncompromising in his assessment of the experience, telling of how his team "knew we were kind of making a deal with the devil," and the continuing emptiness of his bank account.
"We felt like we knew what we were getting into even though it would take a long time to negotiate," Pfeifer tells RPS' Alec Meer. "We had something that they wanted, so we thought we'd take advantage of that. It was a case where we were like 'we know some things are going to be a problem but we think that on some level we'll get something out of them as well,' but I think it was an awful lot worse for us than others. We ran into problems that nobody else had got or talked about it.
"We were launching on three new pieces of the Microsoft ecosystem - their new Async and sort of social multiplayer services, we were launching on Windows 8 and we were launching on the ARM tablets [Surface]. Those were new, and we didn't get them until very late. So all the certification and process issues, we didn't just have them, or even maybe three times the amount, it was an exponential kind of thing. You would have issues on one platform which would actually contradict processes or requirements on another platform. We tried to get the different groups on the same page, to tell them that 'this needs to be the same', just to make things better for the next people who had to face it, but yeah, we ran into exponential difficulties on the process side."
"When people call Microsoft 'evil', it's kind of an undeserved compliment...To be evil, you have to have vision, you have to have communication, execution"
As well as the problems raised by attempting to release on a multitude of platforms, Plush Apocalypse also experienced the situation which every indie dreads: late payments.
"We thought 'well, it's Microsoft, they have bankroll, they can afford this stuff,'" Pfeifer continues. "But because of their processes seeming so fucked up, they couldn't actually do that. Even though they were partially funding the game to completion, we had to take a loan to cover the fact that they hadn't yet paid us what they were supposed to."
Pfeifer's harshest words are a brutal sentence for Microsoft's Studios arm, withering to the point of wince-inducing.
"When people call Microsoft 'evil'," he says, "while I don't want to defend them, it's kind of an undeserved compliment. To be evil, you have to have vision, you have to have communication, execution... None of those are traits are things that I would ascribe to Microsoft Studios.
"They came across as though they were institutionally incompetent. I think they're not really set up to be a decent publisher. I do feel slightly bad saying that, because there were people there who worked hard on our behalf, but at the same time there are systemic problems with the way that division is setup and run."
No publishing process is perfect, but Pfeifer's experiences seem especially harrowing. When asked what he sees as the root of the problem, the developer identifies a problem which can affect even those corporations which have seemingly limitless resources - over-stretching.
"I think maybe Microsoft as a whole were taking on a lot more than they can chew with the Windows 8 launch, and there were so many different pieces of the puzzle - Xbox Live, different operating system, interfaces, the tablet, all those different technologies. Any one of those gets late, it pushes the other ones."
Skulls of the Shogun is available now on the Windows 8 App Store and is coming to Steam in July.
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