Over the past couple of months, the folks over in the Xbox division of Microsoft has dropped some rather large bombshells on both the gaming as well as the developer communities as they announced Xbox One dev kits, cross network play, and the development of Universal Windows Apps.
Some of the announcements are a bit of a rehash from what the console was originally introduced as over three years ago, but now with Microsoft finalizing the API underpinnings for cross-platform development and shared experiences across devices, Xbox executives are finally free to promote their efforts.
Speaking with Tom Philips from Eurogamer, [email protected]’s European boss Agostino Simonetta talked to the Xbox development efforts post announcements as well as Microsoft's overall plan to re-court indie developers. While relatively new to his position within the Xbox division, Simonetta seems well versed about Microsoft’s cross-network efforts.
Well, now I should get back to programming as a hobby! Cross-network play was extremely well received; Rocket League will be the first to do it. And then there's Game Preview, which when we announced we said was a pilot. Ark: Survival Evolved is unbelievable - after two, three weeks they came out and said how many concurrent users they had - they've been very vocal about how good it has been. Then there's the Solus Project, Starbound, they're both here [at Rezzed], and we're working with them on their launch via Game Preview. Subnautica, too.”
Off to a modest start, the question of whether or not the full suite of tools for indie developers were available also came up during the interview.
But all the technology is there?
Absolutely - we're ready. Rocket League is the first game - and it is a heavily network-orientated game. Last weekend I had a problem with my wife, I was playing too much Rocket League.
But yes, any title that wants to update their game to include cross-network play, any title that wants to launch soon and take advantage of that, we are ready.”
Moving onto a more recent announcement unveiled at Build 2016, Simonetta discusses the new Xbox One dev kit enabling the feature for developers. Back during the Xbox One’s unveiling event in 2013, Xbox executives highlighted the console’s differing development environment from previous generations by allowing consumer versions of the hardware to be turned into dev kits with a few software tweaks.
Rather devs having to purchase a console for a few thousand dollars to develop and test indie or less than AAA fidelity games, Microsoft would enact a software switch that could turn a four-hundred-dollar console into a test rig. As the company sought to right a colossal mismanagement in communication early on in the consoles life, it seemed the Xbox team had all but forgotten its promise to developers.
Fortunately, with a bit of stability underneath them, the Xbox team is ready to revisit the conversation in a much more substantial way.
We went into preview mode for it on 30th March, and right now we're seeing more professional developers use it. But it's still in preview - when it's not, we expect to see plenty more use it. We expect developers to take advantage of that path. 1400 developers now have Xbox One dev kits in their living rooms, basements. We build the technology, and the development community will get on board at their own pace. We were very keen to get this out there.
We have been dealing with a university in the UK which was interested because it's an easy way to get their students programming.”
Beyond being able to create indie games on current consoles or enabling cross-network play in games, Simonetta cautions developers to consider timing when attempting to capitalize on the new tools allowed by Microsoft.
There is an element of timing - the way the industry behaves as a whole regarding releases is always changing. We're always in discussion with the game creators. They are the publishers, but we can give them help or advice on when launching their project might maximize their profitability.
September until December, in general, is a difficult period for the retail business. We advise indie developers to be smart about their release dates. There was one game in particular recently who launched at the right time and got a lot of visibility in the console store's list. There are busy periods in the year, but it's not just games - it is the amount of content coming out. It's not just an indie-related problem.”
There seems to be a lot of moving parts for developers to consider these days, but at least the landscape appears to be opening up. Hopefully, with a more integrated storefront, relatively inexpensive developer kits and a more open cross-network field, gamers and app developers alike will begin to offer consumers experiences never before seen in console history.