Vlambeer: ID@Xbox parity clause "problematic for the indie scene"

Rami Ismail on the controversial simultaneous launch rule for Xbox One's indies

Rami Ismail of hot indie developer Vlambeer has shared his concerns over the controversial parity clause in Microsoft's new ID@Xbox scheme for indie developers, which requires participants to launch any title releasing on Xbox One simultaneously with other formats.

"It's problematic for the indie scene at large," Ismail told VG247.

"Having this tilted contract where Sony allows you to launch wherever, and Microsoft only allows you to launch at the same time is problematic for indies who say, 'well Sony has the better deal but I want to launch on both platforms. So we're going to go with the Microsoft deal.' That's problematic because it will essentially force Sony to do the same in return. Well, as indies we should be fighting to get everybody the best deal."

"As indies we should be fighting to get everybody the best deal"

The problem is that small indie outfits don't have the resources to launch on a number of platforms all at once, a process which requires time and money. He said he was otherwise impressed with the programme, and clearly had a lot of its respect for the initiatives lead, Chris Charla.

"Chris has been super-helpful, he's been proactive, he's been calling us every now and then. That's been wonderful, it's just that launch parity thing is problematic enough that we should probably speak up against it. I think technically we've broken some NDAs, but you know, things happen."

Microsoft first announced the ID@Xbox scheme in August, just as Sony announced during its Gamescom conference that it had signed up a number of indie developers, including Vlambeer, to publish on PlayStation 4.

Ismail admitted that Vlambeer avoided the parity clause thanks to a loophole open to developers if they already had an exclusivity deal in place before ID@Xbox was announced. On hearing rumours of the parity clause, Ismail emailed Sony to secure a month of exclusivity with PlayStation.

"With Nuclear Throne, we're launching on PC first, then focusing on other computer, platforms, then focusing on PS4 and Vita. Then after that, Xbox One after we dodged the parity clause by being jerks [laughs]. That was funny by the way, I had so much fun doing that. When I figured out I could play around with the contract that way, I had a good time."

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Latest comments (8)

James Coote Independent Game Developer 8 years ago
This is only really a timing / short term problem.

The vast majority of devs are going to have to wait till retail Xbox One can be used as a devkit. If indies knew it'd be in one or two months time, they could delay launching their games so as to get it on Xbox One as well. If it was going to be more like six or nine months, they could release their current game on other platforms, and aim to put the next game on Xbox One.

When ID@Xbox do announce the schedule for retail Xbox One devkits, this problem will largely evaporate. If you're aiming for multiple platforms, you're probably going to be using cross-platform tools like Unity3d, where there are unlikely to be time-consuming technical reasons for the build on one platform being ready months before another

It also makes a lot more sense to simultaneously release across multiple platforms at the same time from a marketing point of view, as there will be no lost sales (and wasted marketing cost) from people who can't play the game due to having the wrong console.

All that combined will probably mean the number of times it is actually a problem are tiny, if non-existent. In any case, if you're going to go for a single platform (say because you're a massive fan of one console), you might as well try and get some sort of exclusivity from the platform you are targeting. Which again, negates the problem, since there is that exclusivity get-out clause
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago

That may be the case, but the question of "why" still remains. Thing is, they should not be any problem like this at all!
What this guy said with ("As indies we should be fighting to get everybody the best deal") is something that Steam encourages a lot and the reason why indie games work so well there.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 8 years ago
The question of "why" is easily answered. So that Xbox doesn't get screwed with by a bunch of temperamental partisan types that decide to play games because they didn't like the way things were initially being handled. Essentially the same kinds of things that caused the original publisher requirements magnified by recent events.

As James pointed out, there is little reason they can't launch PS4 and 360 simultaneously none of these guys are pushing metal to where any differences in hardware will really matter.
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James Berg Games User Researcher 8 years ago
Simultaneously shipping is not just an issue of tools (ie, Unity making it easy), it's also a matter of handling 1st party requirements. That's no small feat, particularly on Gen4 consoles.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Jeff and James No, I don't agree. This is an issue. Delaying a game months (even 2 or 3) for an indie developer who often live game-to-game can be disastrous if you want platform parity. And marketing for most is not. In the end I suspect many will choose to release on Sony and not Microsoft because of the ability to release on their own schedule. Ironically, without policies like this indies would likely build up to parity on their own over time, but they had a year headstart on PS4 before it was even possible to "self-publish" on Xbox One (let's pretend for a minute ID@Xbox even IS true self publishing and not just signing up lists of Indie Superstars). Now many will have to make the choice to simply not release on Xbox One, and many may continue to make that choice in the future because they've established a platform base and have an easier time navigating release policies.

Policies like these are only going to hold the Xbox back, and it shows Microsoft really isn't ready to embrace independent development.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
This is an issue. Delaying a game months (even 2 or 3) for an indie developer who often live game-to-game can be disastrous if you want platform parity.
Indeed... Reading this article, I was thinking of the RPS interview with Robert Briscoe, where he details how financially difficult it was just releasing on PC. Anything which distracts from being able to get the highest quality game out the door as soon as possible is surely a bad thing; and MS forcing parity seems an unnecessary obstacle.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 8 years ago
How many months could an indie developer live off the money they otherwise spent on a devkit from one of the other console makers? And even if you applied to their developer programs on January 1st, you'd be unlikely to be coding on that devkit before February (or maybe even not before March).

You won't see indie superstars complain about that because their devkit was loaned for free and expedited in the mail. And you won't see the little guy indies complain about it, because they've just invested what for them, is a significant amount of time and money into getting on the program (and don't want to jeopardize that).

Just because this particular barrier is out in the open, don't think there aren't other, hidden barriers on every platform.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 8 years ago
The issue most people are missing is that this is something that Microsoft need to do to ensure that they don't end up with games released months later then the competition. Gamers complain about such things constantly if game A comes out on platform X but, people with platform B have to wait 6 months to see it. In these cases gamers will buy the game on platform A. This is fine for the indie but, guarantees much lower sales on Platform B and thus makes two decisions very easy.

1. Whether to bother featuring that game on the front pages of the Platform B store, marketing etc. etc.
2. Whether to bother supporting that indie to get their game on Platform B at all.

Just as, as an indie, I am looking out for my business. Microsoft need to do the same. However, as far as I was aware, the only real penalty for non parity releases is a lack of being featured or promoted by Microsoft and not a refusal to let the game come out.
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