In the past, Microsoft’s heavy-handed policies drew criticism when it came to Xbox Live. Developers have complained that Xbox Live is like a ”slaughterhouse” for smaller indie studios.
Indie developer, Hello Games complained that XBLA is a slaughterhouse from smaller developers last year. The studio went on to release the wildly successful Joe Danger title on the PlayStation Store. Other devs, such as Amanita Design refuses to publish Machinarium on XBLA citing preference to PSN.
The main gripe here is that unless a studio is backed by a major publisher like Activision, the only option is to allow Microsoft to publish the game on XBLA. Once you let a publisher get its claws into you, they take a cut of the profits and can force the studio to follow certain guidelines.
According Eurogamer, European Xbox boss, Chris Lewis confirmed some of the controversial policies that have gotten some of the smaller studios worked up.
Apparently Microsoft’s policy dictates that downloadable games must ship on Xbox Live Arcade at least simultaneously with competing platforms (PSN) or Microsoft can and will refuse to publish them.
Microsoft also dictates that publishers must release games with same content “on-disc” across competing platforms.
This second guideline, most large publishers such as EA, UIbisoft and Warner Brothers pretty much ignore as seen with exclusive additional DLC content released for the PS3 with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Dead Space 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Battlefield 3 on disc.
Microsoft can’t really do anything if a large publisher want to ship additional content on a competing system. However, the company can push its weight quite a bit in the indie space with its guidelines as they aren’t back by large publishers.
Lewis defended this policy by stating, “We’re a little biased, so obviously we’re going to look to protect our own space as best we can and get exclusivity.”
Whilst I can’t be specific about the terms and conditions, you can be very confident we seek to maximise our own advantage to ensure the playing field is even, and certainly plays to our advantage wherever possible.
As you can also imagine, our partners have to be mindful of the relationship they have with all platform holders, and they need to be equitable. But there are contractual situations where we get agreement with different people to do different things, and through what we have available on Xbox Live, we are able to offer things other people can’t offer, that allows that exclusivity and unique elements to it that might not otherwise be available elsewhere.
Lewis attributed to the company’s aggressive business practices to keeping the quality of titles high on Xbox Live.
But, honestly, and this is going to sound a bit contrived, we just want what our consumers want from us. We want to be where they want us to be. We want the quality bar of what they experience from us to continue to go up. I think it has to happen. Everybody’s got to do that. If we want to continue to command healthy average selling prices, which we all do, that which we offer our consumers has got to keep getting better.
To some it can almost appear like Microsoft is using aggressive scare tactics to bully smaller indie developers from entering into any sort of deal with Sony as that would completely shut the door on Xbox Live.
However, it seems to be quite the opposite on PSN, as Sony allows former Xbox Live exclusives such as Limbo, Braid and Castle Crashers to come over.
Lewis states that this strategy is “great for everyone” and is very “healthy.”
Despite the fact it can be irksome to have such strong competition all the time, it actually does keep us on our toes. It’s great for everyone, and it makes for a very healthy race to higher and higher levels of quality of game experiences.
An anonymous studio working with Microsoft indicated otherwise to Eurogamer:
Microsoft is suggesting that anything but parity will result in them not carrying a title. They may think this is competitive, but it’s not. They are killing any creative exposure of titles to make up for their own platform’s shortcomings.
Sony recently announced a three-year $20 million investment plan that will help fund indie developers wanting to develop on the PSN. This fund is suppose to flow into Sony’s Pub Fund as well.
Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid had this to say about Sony’s investment in the indie scene:
If you’re thinking about the impact of indie games on the whole forum of games then probably Sony has done more because of the way they curate the games they put on there – they’re actually looking for games that are artful or experimental.