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Lanning: Hey Buddy, can you spare some shelf space?

Lorne Lanning, Oddworld Inhabitants president, shares his thoughts on self-publishing and the Xbox One

The self-published indie crusade is on. It's boisterous, it's not going away, and it knows exactly what it wants.

It doesn't even have to work for alignment toward consistent messaging, because its wants are building upon the obvious movements already in motion all across the world that surrounds us. It wants independence from the public company responsibilities of disconnected investor demands, and it wants to know and converse with its audience directly.

"Today more than ever the indie developer has a far greater chance to survive"

Today more than ever the indie developer has a far greater chance to survive, and those playing in the console space have zero illusions that this is due to the self-publishing policies of the forward thinking networks that have invited them in. With the invitation comes a renaissance possibility that has been absent for decades.

The indie seeks access to digital shelf space where it can find a larger audience for its wares and offer a wider spectrum of product for its host networks. If the indie can have a wider reach, its likelihood of survival is greatly increased. The indie also knows the request for shelf space is not an unreasonable one. So does the audience.

The indie community sees clearly the iron curtains of console gaming history, commonly referred to as a single console manufacturer's "installed base", each a traditionally isolated kingdom that while full of gamers was only accessible through diminishing incentives that have been bad for small businesses and limiting to the audiences they aim to serve.

With the arrival of iTunes, iOS and Android stores (and others) it's been demonstrated exactly what a wider buffet of pricing and offerings could look and taste like. The forward thinking players in the gaming space had been paying attention and providing means to get their models and policies closer to the inevitable, before their audience had to demand it of them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when a new console announces today with a business model that aims to continue the cold war inaccessibility pattern, where 100+ million gamers can be expected to disappear (once again) behind a single brand's iron curtain and continue to be inaccessible to indie offerings unless indies agree to onerous terms and forced partnerships that offer little to no value just to attain access... should the blowback be any real surprise?

Such conditions make it much, much harder for the small studio to survive and build their small businesses to fill the niches to offer customers the wider selections we already know their looking for. If it is happening today, we can expect a resistance to rise.

Both audiences and creators are resisting the creation of new North Korean'ish or Soviet Bloc styled gaming states that aim capture, isolate, and milk enormous gaming audiences. They have had enough of the fragmented inaccessible markets that have leave room only for the enormous players and increasingly onerous terms.


Conquering and isolating audiences has nothing to do with why people started playing video games, and it's not why the vast majority of crafts people chose to make it their career to start build games in the first place, but the heart of the culture can easily be lost to the trials and tribulations of public market pressure, shareholder demands, and the inevitable opportunistic power grabs.

Freedom of choice and access to wider offerings and business models have been tasted by both gamers and developers alike, and neither have any intention of stepping back into supporting the outdated, tired ways of the console wars of the dark ages.

Developers have wanted to build more unique, diversified, and niche experiences with smaller development teams since the beginning, and gamers increasingly want a wider diversity of experience, innovation, and price point. Finally, the ability to facilitate both is here. It's the smartest policy toward longevity and if dealing with fair-minded heads of console states we know that all parties involved can prosper without the little guys finding themselves on an inevitable acquisition path just to survive.

It's time, the future is here, and resisting it is futile. Even potentially devastating.

I personally have been vocal about the Xbox One's resistance to indie self publishing policies (though not always reported accurately) as well as many others have been.

This isn't a ranting that seeks to destroy a contender's position, but a vocal opposition that seeks to inform and help to correct course of a massive ship full of talented crewmen who already knew where it needed to be headed, but for whatever reasons weren't able to get their hands on the ship's wheel.

The beauty of being an indie is that you can make decisions you believe are right for your small business. Something that becomes increasingly difficult with scale and something that is near impossible in the big corporations unless the top brass decision makers have the wisdom to listen to their best and brightest while providing an environment where those voicing passionate opinions can feel safe in keeping their necks off the chopping block. It's a rare thing, but some companies have pulled it off.

If it takes being boisterous to help encourage an entity to make the right decisions for itself, its audience, and a healthier industry at large... then it's worth sticking the neck out. The reason there's a number of voices doing it now is because they see what's at stake and they know its worth the risk.

"The indie community does not want the Xbox One to fail"

Approaching E3 it seemed that the decision makers at the top of the Xbox One team, their marketing agencies and their PR firms all were failing to listen to the two most important parties in the space today. The first was their internal minds that knew the ship was headed in the wrong direction (and there were a lot of them); the second was the audience that was already demonstrating the patterns they want to engage more of.

Since E3 the Xbox One pattern has made huge strides in adapting for the better. It should be applauded as well as viewed with scepticism until the details fully emerge and testimonies regarding the degree of friction to reach their audience can be heard by its early, hopeful indie adaptors.

So far, we have rumours, but we also have insights to know that the Xbox One team is actively seeking and consulting with developers to better understand what kinds of policies would be more conducive to the healthiest possible relationships with developers and gamers alike. This is a titanic shift from just over a month ago when it presented a very different position at E3.

It's impossible to turn an enormous ship on a dime, but Microsoft has been trying hard and so far it looks to be doing an aggressive job with a compass heading that appears to sailing toward far more mutually conducive waters.

The indie community does not want the Xbox One to fail. We want it to succeed and open up the 100+ million gamers that Microsoft is capable of capturing. We want a safer place for smaller parties with more conducive win/win terms so we can help to provide a wider variety of experiences to their audience while mutually prospering. We want an eco-system that helps the world's indies to more easily survive, continue to employ people, and live to see yet another day that improves their collective skill sets and makes the console space a healthier world for gamers, as well as creators.

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Latest comments (8)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Excellent piece and pretty much sums up my own opinion on the matter.

What I've never understood is why they won't just fully open up and damn the consequences. They've been hiding behind this "we only want quality" thing for too long. The cost of a devkit can be used to keep the utter shite out, so just open up already.

Dear MS and Sony execs. Have you not seen what the App Store and Google Play have managed? Just open the door, light the blue touch paper and count the money ffs.
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Kevin Patterson musician 8 years ago
Excellent Article Lorne.and like Paul said above, I completely agree with the message here.
It's great that MS is making strides to correct their past mistakes, and hopefully this continues.

I have said it before in recent articles, but it just so awesome to have you back in the games Industry.
I have missed Oddworld tremendously, and looking forward to new (and improved past) adventures. :)
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Jesse HR and HMI consultancy. 8 years ago
@ Paul
Dear MS and Sony execs. Have you not seen what the App Store and Google Play have managed? Just open the door, light the blue touch paper and count the money ffs.
This isn't my area of specialisation, but isn't what Sony have been doing (wrt indie devs) for a number of years now? Dev kits are still a filter, but apparently "being handed out like candy", presumably to established indie devs.

Agreed, great article my Lorne, though it would seem MS's hand was somewhat forced. At least on the surface, it seemed to be a direct reaction to the great success Sony was having with their open door policy, much like the removal of DRM post E3.
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Show all comments (8)
John Morales President/CEO, Way Cool Warez8 years ago
The Windows 8 part of XBox One needs to be an open platform like any Windows PC accessing the Windows store. Any app should run on it. The Xbox portion of XO should be lightly curated.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
@Jesse. Kinda, but it's more like lipservice - not even halfway to what Apple and Google let you do, and there's paperwork everywhere.
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Mark Friedler VP Sales, Cubeyou.com8 years ago
Excellent piece that captures the state of the business now. IMO Nintendo will be the first case study of failure for totally ignoring indie devs.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Mark, you've not paid much attention to the news this year, have you? Nintendo is easily as indie friendly as Sony is right now. The only one that was ignoring indie devs was MS.
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Stewart Gilray Managing Director, Just Add Water8 years ago
Hey Mark,
Didn't I mention to you in our call recently that NOA invited us onto the WiiU, and are allowing us to completely self-publish.

So definitely NOT ignoring indies.

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