The Xbox One’s Two Potential Problems: Price and Indie Games

Microsoft's public relations work is far from over.

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As I wrote yesterday, Microsoft’s unprecedented Xbox One DRM reversal, whether enacted earnestly or cynically, bodes well for everyone (including, in my view, Microsoft). And no, to all the cynics and doomsayers, it’s not too little, too late, nor has “the damage been done,” which is just a shortcut to thinking about a bit of melodrama that’s played out over the space of less than two weeks.

Microsoft announced plans to restrict used games and force players online every 24 hours on June 6, then rescinded those policies on June 19. That sort of reversal’s unheard of in the games industry. Consider how long it took Nintendo, by comparison, to fix the 3DS’s pricing problem (six months). And at the time, we considered that extremely unusual.

Speaking of price, some are suggesting Microsoft ought to counter Sony’s PlayStation 4 and lop $100 off the Xbox One’s $500 tag. Is $500 too much for a souped-up game console that comes with the next-gen version of a 3D camera? Microsoft still charges $100 for the standalone version of Kinect 1.0 for the Xbox 360, after all, and the Xbox One will ship with more in the box than the Xbox 360 did.

Trotting out inflation-adjusted price indexes only tells part of the story. If, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator tells us, $500 in 2013 has the same buying power as $419.20 in 2005, the Xbox One is only slightly more expensive than Microsoft’s $400 Xbox 360 when it launched in November 2005. And yet income growth has been stagnant for decades — earnings simply haven’t kept up — meaning, without turning this into an economics seminar, that comparing prices across the years isn’t as simple as plugging before and after inflation-adjusted numbers into spreadsheets and spitting out color-coded bar charts.

Income growth aside, here’s another way to look at it: Does the Xbox One offer as much value as something like Apple’s Retina iPad? The latter starts at $500, and the price skyrockets from there if you add cellular options or increase the slate’s flash storage. If, like me, you’re the sort of consumer who’ll spend far more time in front of a console like the Xbox One than tapping on a tablet, does $500 for a game system in 2013 seem so unusual or unfair? (Not saying, just asking — I won’t opine until I’ve spent time with the Xbox One.)

There’s another important wrinkle here worth thinking about when weighing your options: indie games (if they matter to you, which, if you’re a fan of stuff like Ancient TraderI MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 and Dark, they should). Nick Diamon at Quarter to Three nicely summarizes the problem: Microsoft’s indie game approval process isn’t changing with the Xbox One, and indie developers, broadly speaking, have long been torqued off about Microsoft’s approach to indie gaming on the Xbox 360.

The problems: Indie developers can’t self-publish on Xbox LIVE. Microsoft requires that indie developers first find a publisher, which, you know, undermines the notion of the label “indie.” Alternately, they can contract with Microsoft (as their publisher), but they have to sign their souls away and agree to a period of exclusivity. And if they want to patch their games, they’ll have to pay for the privilege. “For tiny developers, a charge for a patch is the difference between paying rent and closing up shop,” adds Diamon.

Developers — at least the ones complaining in public — are nonplussed. Take Lorne Lanning, co-founder and president of game developer Oddworld Inhabitants (he’s the guy that created the Oddworld series). Here’s what he said about the program, speaking to Eurogamer last week:

Why do we need a publisher when we self-finance our games, we build our own IP, we manage our own IP and we’ve turned nearly two million units online as indie publishers sold – not free downloads? Why? What’s wrong with us? … Who’s in touch with their audience? And who seems out of touch with their audience? All we know is we’ve tried to get our games on their platform and we can’t do it – and I even helped them release the box.

Or take this damning recent statement from Phil Fish (via Polygon), creator of puzzle-platformer Fez, on publishing prospects for his forthcoming indie sequel Fez 2:

PS4 seems to be doing everything right. It’s too early to tell how everything is going to unfold but their heart definitely seems to be in the right place. Which is a weird thing to say when talking about giant monolithic corporation, but there’s a handful of people working at Sony today who are really trying to do some good. And whether or not I would develop for it comes down to how the platform holder treats me. With Microsoft they’ve made it painfully clear they don’t want my ilk on their platform. I can’t even self-publish there. Whereas on PS4, I can. It’s that simple. Microsoft won’t let me develop for their console. But Sony will.

It’s oversimplifying the matter to suggest Microsoft doesn’t care about indie games — clearly Microsoft does, given its respectable existing Xbox LIVE indie scene — and there’s arguably a benefit to creating filters that in theory prevent these ecosystems from devolving into something like Apple’s ginormous and yet largely junk-laden iOS App Store. (I also don’t take it for granted that every self-described indie developer deserves to be on these stores — plenty of these games play like shameless cash grabs that cheapen the overall milieu.)

But taking some of these premiere indie developers at their word, yes, it seems Microsoft has significant work to do if it wants to woo the triple-A indie crowd and ensure that the Xbox One becomes a dependable launching ground for the next out-of-nowhere works of indie genius.

15 comments
ninja_nyc
ninja_nyc

Many security experts and media reports claim Windows contains a National Security Agency key. You can find these reports by searching for "NSA key Windows". I'm not a terrorist, pirate or any other kind of criminal. I just don't want Microsoft or the government to have an internet connected camera and microphone in my bedroom. Software settings are not a reliable way to disable the camera and microphone because all software has bugs and can be hacked. I'm very happy Don Mattrick decided to get rid of the requirement for an internet check-in every 24 hours. What still concerns me is that Microsoft is apparently clueless enough to have ever thought this was a good idea.

ecsdesignsvfx
ecsdesignsvfx

@ninja_nyc It was a good idea, developers were ALMOST able to rely on being able to offload  processing power to a network of 300,000 servers, making much more robust environments and ai, constantly add/modify/update game experience seamlessly, etc.  Now they can't.   For gaming, it was a good idea, but something that theyd have to count on everyone being connected for,  And its not so outlandish to think that the vast majority of hardcore gamers have constant access to internet, if not now than definitely in the foreseeable future.  But right, MS is the clueless one, 

JohnHoffmann
JohnHoffmann

@ninja_nyc you should get rid of your smartphone, laptop and tablet. because they have cameras and microphones too!

ChrisBasurto
ChrisBasurto

The system is not attractive to me as a consumer as much as the Ps4 is but that doesnt mean the Indie developers are so important. Sure its another small gaming resource however Xbox can live without it. 

ecsdesignsvfx
ecsdesignsvfx like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

So much hype about the indie scene this time around, i guess im weird in the way that i dont spend $$$ on a console to hook up to my tv, to play games i could otherwise play on my phone or tablet. 

pulseMOD441
pulseMOD441

What about Xbox Live Indie Games? The concept is that Microsoft has a very anti indie developer stance because they are requiring (as they did on the 360) for devs to have a publisher if they want to submit their game to the Xbox Marketplace. Now as far as I know, if it goes by the way things run now, this only applies to games that are going for XBLA status, not XBLIG. If Microsoft were to bump up the file size and price caps on XBLIG titles it would create a suitable environment for indie developers who want to self publish their games. If they took into account the next gen hardware and bumped the file size cap up to say 1-10 GB, and bumped the price cap up to say... $20, I think it would work out quite well. If a big budget title like Oddworld or Fez 2 were to pioneer the next gen indie market place on the Xbox One it would definitly raise the bar on the quality of what could come out of the indie marketplace and make it a thriving community.

pulseMOD441
pulseMOD441

On top of that Microsoft said they were going to combine all three markets (On-Demand, XBLA and XBLIG) into one centralized gaming HUB which will increase traffic and visiblity of all games, big and small. Now to me that doesn't mean that they're getting rid of the XBLIG platform as some have speculated. I think this centralized gaming HUB will work much like the marketplaces on WP8 and Windows 8 work now. You go into Games and it shows a mixed list of official Xbox licensed games and unlicensed games. From there you can filter out by genre, release date, rating, on-demand, arcade, indie... The difference will be the little green Xbox bar that goes across the coverart.

JasonAndrewHahn
JasonAndrewHahn like.author.displayName 1 Like

Seriously who gives a crap about Indie Gamers........ Go away the only concern is price, no regular player is like "OMGWTFZORS what about the Indie games!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  get this crap out of here it's only the 100$ additional price  which I ended up using to buy a WII to play WII fit so it's a good deal

siminto
siminto like.author.displayName 1 Like

Microsoft made the right move in correcting the DRM policy. I won't worry about Xbox One because it is selling well. http://t.co/mMz5yvCN6j

edfromred
edfromred like.author.displayName 1 Like

 Some of the most exciting and enjoyable gaming experience's out there are indie titles. Microsoft's ignorance and hubris concerning how innovative and popular indie titles are is unbelievable.  I think that Sony is making all the right moves this gen--so far. They are supporting indie game creators and via the PS4  are bringing  massive MMO experiences like Planetside 2 to the console environment.

  Frankly I just trust Sony more to cater to gamer's needs and  to bring both small, but delightful, indie games to their platform and triple A monster titles as well. 

arad
arad like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Remember when they lost all their users information to hackers? And you trust them? True...makes sense. besides Titanfall, Dead Rising and Ryse seem a bit better than a few indie games imo.

thedataxia
thedataxia like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@arad Although, MS users lose their info individually...but no one likes to point that out, right? Oh! And their credit card info actually gets used... hmm...

JohnHoffmann
JohnHoffmann

@thedataxia @arad stop lying! that was PHISHING SCAMS! has nothing to do with hacking! SONY was HACKED! microsoft NOT! it took sony over a month to realise what happend and MICROSOFT sent a lot of security Tech-guys to JAPAN to HELP sony!

itzLobster
itzLobster

that was from phishing scams not actual hacking, and xboxlive was never down for a month.