Microsoft's oft-criticised parity clause is still coming under fire from independent developers. Gang Beasts creator Boneloaf is the latest to bemoan the restrictions to releasing on Xbox One.
The parity stipulates that indies are only able to release games on Xbox One if it's simultaneous with versions for other platforms, is exclusive (even temporarily) for Xbox One, or comes with exclusive content to ensure the Xbox One SKU stands out from others released before it.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz at EGX Rezzed, the studio's co-founder James Brown says he and his two brothers hope to bring cartoony physics-based brawler Gang Beasts to as many platforms as possible. The game is currently in Early Access on Steam and Oculus Rift, with a PS4 build in the works. But efforts to take Gang Beasts out of the alpha program by the end of Q2 2017 - combined with Microsoft's parity clause - is preventing the team from working on a Xbox version.
"We have Xbox One dev kits, and we'd love to do Xbox One but because of the parity exemption stuff, it doesn't feel like we can prioritise it," Brown told us. "It's absolutely the opposite of what [Microsoft] want, but how can we commit resource until we have approval to release on that platform? It's backwards, it doesn't make sense."
The parity clause was instantly met with disappointment from many studios, with Vlambeer's Rami Ismail observing that it would prove to be "problematic for the indie scene" as smaller studios would not have the resources to dedicate to either exclusive content or launching simultaneously on multiple platforms. Sure enough, four years on, Boneloaf is the latest developer to face this problem.
Back in 2014, Phil Spencer explained that the parity clause was to ensure Xbox consumers don't feel like second-class citizens by being offered older games with little to no improvement over past releases. A year later, Chris Charla told GamesIndustry.biz that Xbox can be flexible if developers reach out, but still said the platform holder wants studios to "do something with the game so that it feels fresh for Xbox players". Evidently, Boneloaf is attempting to have a similar discussion.
"We're talking to [Xbox], and if it's low-friction, we'd definitely love to get it out this year," said Brown. "But if we're forced to do the open Windows version [as well] just to be able to release, then that's more work. And there are restrictions on that platform that are currently concerning, in terms of development.
"It might be that we can give exclusive content, but we don't like the idea of exclusive content unless it's locked to that platform - so if we were to add Sackboy, Nathan Drake or something [into the PS4 version]. Making something exclusive for the sake of it just feels an unnecessary step, even though it would be for a limited time."
Brown stresses that the team is aiming for "every platform that makes sense", so while a PS4 build has been submitted to Sony, consumers shouldn't expect to see an Xbox 360 or PS3 version. However, he is keen to bring Gang Beasts to Nintendo Switch.
While he believes it would be more practical to develop and optimise for Xbox One before Nintendo's new console, the studio is having the initial conversations with Nintendo to see if they can gain access to hardware and dev kits. In fact, Brown even bought a Switch himself to see if the controllers might support Gang Beasts' frantic gameplay.
"We get asked for the Switch and we are talking about it but there are certain things behind the scenes that we need to do - like optimising the characters - in order to hit that platform," he said.