Microsoft pushing to democratize Xbox One access

Phil Harrison says console walled gardens are closer to hedges, wants to lower barriers to entry even further

Microsoft is using this year's Game Developers Conference as a platform to push ID@Xbox, with the company yesterday announcing dozens of titles headed for the console under the indie self-publishing program. Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison sat down with GamesIndustry International to discuss the reasons behind the initiative and where the company hopes to take it in the future.

"A lot of the platform decisions we made in previous generations have really been around the fact we had a predominantly retail business model," Harrison said. "You don't want to be pressing millions of discs only to find they don't work. Those are expensive investments that are difficult to retract from. But in a digital world, those constraints go away. In the previous generation, all console companies had walled gardens with pretty high walls. And now we've got gardens with small fences around them, or maybe a hedge. The barrier to entry has definitely come down, and that is a really positive trend for gamers, but also for creating an on-ramp for developers looking to get into our industry."

Harrison acknowledged that a platform holder could run into problems by taking that approach too far, but suggested that the ID@Xbox program isn't in any danger of that situation just yet.

"There's always a balance to be had, but right now our push--and we'll continue for the foreseeable future--is to democratize access to our platform," Harrison said. "As you know, we have an intention that every retail Xbox One can become a dev kit, and we want to open up the platform to as many people as possible."

The company has also set up some of the Xbox One's core feature set specifically to address some of the potential problems of being overly open, Harrison said. Social features like user recommendations and trending offerings will help, but the Twitch streaming and ability to upload screens and gameplay to video are expected to really help games attract more attention from the wider community.

"We think those platform features will help the best games connect with the biggest audience, and the biggest audience can find the best games," Harrison said. "It's a virtuous cycle. We're probably just scratching the surface of what's possible with that, but I really like where it's headed."

Early results from Microsoft's indie outreach are promising. Harrison said in the ID@Xbox program's first nine months, it has already provided dev kits to 250 developers, more indies than the Xbox 360 has drawn in its eight years on sale.

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Latest comments (8)

What will Redmond do when they see you missed the VR bandwagon?
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Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware 2 years ago
This is a reaction and not something preemptive. If you just keep reacting to what the market/devs wants, you are not innovating, you are just slightly behind the curve and already losing to companies that are pushing the envelope.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
Wasn't there a rumor going around that MS was into the VR headset development too? Maybe they expect to get a piece of the cake from the fact that Oculus Rift works under windows? (Just wondering, not sure if that is even possible anyway)
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Show all comments (8)
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd2 years ago
1. Parity clause
2. Digital purchases having to phone home to keep working
3. No interoperability with other platforms
4. The Kinect albatross

These all actively make Xbox One a less attractive proposition for developers.

While ID@Xbox are only allowed to tear down the walls that don't interfere with inflexible organisation-wide Microsoft policies, they will continue to lag behind.
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Heinz Schuller Art Director / Artist 2 years ago
Harrison said in the ID@Xbox program's first four months, it has already attracted 250 developers, more indies than the Xbox 360 has drawn in its eight years on sale.
Wondering if anybody ever showed Phil the XBox Live Indie games section on the 360?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Heinz Schuller on 20th March 2014 3:33pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
I think I've bought three games on that. Avatar Golf, arcadecraft, and....I can't remember the third.

It's not suprising he doesn't know. In fact if you added up the number if Indy games that have sold more than 50 copies I'd bet it'd be tough to break 250
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Yeah, I hear what you are saying.
For your information - the secret project at MS is called the Fortaleza project - and is a AR not VR approach to immersion.
Reading the overview however the UK team are out of the loop, and I think the lead Sony just stole at GDC will mean that Mike and the crew are in "catch up mode" for the time being (if they are in their position that long!)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 21st March 2014 1:03am

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Sony has already opened the door and set a place at the table for small devs like us. We simply can't afford to wait while Microsoft makes up its mind.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Don Whiteford on 22nd March 2014 6:06am

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