Xbox One-Eighty

Vision is a word that Microsoft likes to use a lot. "Our vision is that every person can be a creator," said corporate vice president Marc Whitten earlier today, following the platform holder’s second massive Xbox One-Eighty in as many months. After a unanimous panning from pretty much the entirety of the development community, the Redmond-based manufacturer has now confirmed that it will allow self-publishing on the Xbox One. Well, at some point within the system’s first year on the market – it’s a vision, remember.

Today's news is potentially huge for indie developers, but it once again evidences just how far behind Microsoft actually is

The problem is that contrary to comments from the firm’s top executives, the company clearly doesn’t have a vision. Today’s announcement is potentially huge for the indie development scene – and ultimately positive news – but it once again evidences just how far behind the manufacturer is. “We'll have more details on the program and the timeline at GamesCom in August,” added Whitten. Why not now? We understand that the organisation may be looking for an impact, but shouldn’t it have scrapped plans to make a splash when it was getting verbally battered by development legend Lorne Lanning last week?

The self-publishing policies finally put the Xbox One in line with the PlayStation 4, but Microsoft’s trump card is that it will allow retail systems to be converted into development kits. The dream is that if you own the machine, you’ll be able to write code on your computer and test it in real-time. The elimination of development kits means that anyone could potentially make the next Minecraft, and that’s pretty huge news. Of course, despite being part of the vision, the functionality will not be available at launch.

And the hazy commitments echo Microsoft’s reversal on DRM: it’s panicking and playing a game of follow-the-leader. There may be positive implications for developers and the consumer in the long-run, and that’s great – Sony’s refreshed attitude can be attributed to the spanking that it received in the early days of the current generation, after all – but the policies seem ill-defined and hastily tossed together. It’s almost as if a flustered gaggle of suits sat around a boardroom desk and said, “Forget everything – let’s do what the other guys are doing.” And everyone in attendance scrunched up years of plans and eagerly nodded their heads.

But if the Redmond-based firm thinks that it can simply mimic Sony’s policies and everything will be hunky-dory, then it’s gravely mistaken. There’s a loathing among indie developers for Microsoft’s corporate persona, and that’s going to prove more challenging to turnaround. “The policy changes are great, but they don't undo the experience that I had [with the Redmond firm],” said Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano. “I'm not ready to forget what I went through. Working with Microsoft was the unhappiest point of my career. Policies are one thing, but developer relations are another.”

Sony shouldn't be too worried – today’s news has proved once again that the Japanese giant is one step ahead

And that is the area where the PlayStation maker has excelled. Sony has assembled a likeable team – spanning media ex-pats such as Nick Suttner and Shane Bettenhausen, as well as development legends like Shahid Ahmad – to put a face to its relations. It’s not just about positive polices – which will be practiced on the PS4 from launch, we hasten to add – but it’s about people, too. And that’s been part of the company’s philosophy since it first revealed the next generation system. On the flipside, we can't help but wonder whether we’d be even writing this article if, much like with the DRM, the backlash to the Xbox One hadn’t been so bad.

But credit where credit is due, if this is an honest reaction to feedback, then Microsoft deserves a pat on the back. It will still need to disclose all of the details before we can accurately compare the scenario to the PS4, but the development kit situation could potentially be huge. Sony shouldn’t be too worried, though – today’s news has proved once again that the Japanese giant is one step ahead. As long as it keeps plotting its own path, then it’s largely irrelevant what the Xbox maker does to catch up. Speaking of which, we suppose that the Kinect is next...

What do you make of Microsoft’s sudden policy changes? How do you think that this second u-turn will affect the PS4? Let us know in the comments section below.