We’ve been holding off writing about Microsoft’s overdue Xbox One indie policies for a few days now, because this is something that really shouldn’t be particularly relevant on a PlayStation-centric site. There’s always wider competitive overlap that we look to explore, of course, but the details of another platform holder’s self-publishing protocol really shouldn’t matter to fans of the PlayStation 4 and Vita. However, it does when some clauses may adversely affect Sony’s systems.
Last week, the Redmond-based manufacturer announced the first set of developers that had signed up to its [email protected] program. The terribly titled initiative essentially allows smaller studios – such as Guacamelee developer Drinkbox and Divekick outfit Iron Galaxy – to self-publish their games on the Xbox maker’s machine. It also provides them with access to two development kits and a Unity game engine license for free. Not a bad deal at all, huh?
Judging by developer comments, it’s actually all very reasonable, apart from one clause: the company demands launch day parity with other platforms. That means that a studio can sign up to self-publish their titles on the Xbox One, as long as they don't release on the PS4, Vita, or even Wii U first. There’s good news for teams that have already signed timed exclusive deals with Sony, as the manufacturer is willing to waive the restriction for those games – but moving forwards, it’s day-and-date releases or nothing.
Why is this bad for PlayStation, then? It’s quite simple really: the studios that are going to benefit from the self-publishing program are unlikely to always have the resources to deploy on multiple platforms at once. This clause could strong-arm studios into delaying their wares on PlayStation while they prepare an Xbox One version, or it may force them to focus on Microsoft’s machine first – even if they don’t really want to.
Australian developer Witch Beam – which is working on the upcoming twin-stick shooter Assault Android Cactus – is one such outfit that’s being negatively affected by the policy. “The simple answer is that our plans wouldn't meet the launch day parity requirement of the [email protected] program,” co-creator Sanatana Mishra told Eurogamer.net when asked why his studio hadn't signed up to the new initiative. “We started development on our other console versions long before self-publishing was an option for the Xbox One, and the only way we could meet that requirement would be to delay the other versions of [the game].”
Some may argue that this all just smart business on the North American firm’s behalf, but the outcome of this policy seems set to achieve little more than hurting gamers and developers alike. Sony could counteract the clause by forcing launch day parity, too, but that would contrast the positive message that it’s sent out to developers thus far. The only hope, then, is that the online backlash forces Microsoft to reconsider – again.