At Gamescon 2013, Microsoft looked to clean the slate and roll back zero with the indie community by announcing the ID@Xbox Independent Developer Program, with a big focus on how players will be able to easily find indie games
because they'll be right along with the bigger titles, and will be just as searchible through Kinect with voice search. But will it really provide effective measures to help the indies get seen? Or are the indies doomed to stay in the shadows, like Morlocks? (Not these guys
, more these guys
So, its time to cross this out again?
Let me clear the air before I smoke it up again: this is a definite win for indies
looking to learn to love the bomb and dip their toes into the scalding pools that Microsoft is desperately throwing their all into trying to cool down. I just have a hard time believing that the change will be 100% positive from the get-go, and its mainly because of how Microsoft has handled themselves this generation.
One of the measures Microsoft is looking to make is "editors picks" and how they'd spotlight games that these courageous, more-then-likely faceless, souls have picked and "loved". Awesome. But thing about the editors picks is that they've done those before and it didn't really mean anything to anyone. They even did Kotaku editors picks and it didn't mean squat, despite the fact that we should have obviously
been in love with it, because: Kotaku. Picks from developer contests were put up and, again, it didn't mean much either. All simply because no one knew they were there.
Furthermore, they say they're going to have a recommendation engine that'll bring new games forward into the spotlight. Again, great stuff, but they already do recommendations based on a mysterious "personal tastes" that the system/service tries to determine on what you do with it, and usually fails to provide anything 1) worth looking at; 2) you haven't already played; 3) that hasn't been around for a handful of moons.
They try to put the newest games/music/movies on there and most of the time they tell you about Cthulhu Saves the World. Great game, Zeboyd be praised, but its been around since 2010 and can hardly be considered the bleeding edge any more. Are we really supposed to believe they've nailed down a better way to provide us with suggestions on their end, simply because they're console could amaze an Ewok?
Steve Ballmer's wine stained, long lost, brother?
As for organization, they're making like Gorbachev and tearing down that wall: the wall between indies and everything else. Good, finally, now people won't complain about the indie section being stuck in the back like the smelly-sticky porn nook at the mom and pop video store -But how does that really mean we'll find indie games, good gem-like games, any better then before?
Without being able to see the organization of the xbox UI and how it'll handle the games browser/store, its easy to get the knee jerk feeling like players who don't wish to use the Kinect are going to find indie games cluttered and lost between the bigger games, but the bigger games will also seem bogged behind the murky fog of the smaller stuff.
They seem to really be counting on the Kinect being their savior here, as usual, but think about this: Using Kinect only goes so far. Voice searching with Kinect means having to know exactly
what games your looking for so you can shout them out so your neighbors know what your looking for while you hope the the Kinect will find it. Voice searching kills the found-by-browsing star. Without those names on the tip of your tongue, without some
knowledge of the game prior to searching, the games themselves aren't going to see much traffic, and the only way to fix that is with one of the indie devs #1 complaints of this generation: Advertising.
The aforementioned (rather weak) editors picks and recommendation systems, at least how they stand now,and how I assume they'll continue to be, don't equal out to be effective advertising. Both don't strike a cord of confidence that they'll get players to look deeper into a game simply because they imply your going to like it because of faceless people and our robot overlords say we will. These games aren't really going to get many more clicks, moving deeper into their inner workings, without some serious marketing power -something Microsoft has been cited over and over (and over) for shafting devs on. Yet no where in what I've read so far about the ID program, have I read anything about helping developers market their games so they'll see some sales.
Phil Fish, Team Meat, all the big names that have spoken out against M-Money's indie tactics in the past, have said time and time again that the lack of advertising space given to them (or taken away from them post coital) by Microsoft is one of the tip top reasons their games failed to do the sales numbers they hoped for, because they continued to be buried behind the big releases.
Marketing is huge, we see its effects every day in this industry, and to ignore it, like Microsoft (and apparently the 50 indie devs tasked with helping build this program?) still imply they're going to truck along doing is a pretty grave error to me. One I don't think we should let them skirt by on.
The next movie titled "Revenge of the Indie"
The ID@Xbox Program is a name that makes me think we'd sooner see a new Xbox exclusive Doom then indie support. Flashy names don't make an effective programs, they're the type of things that get people wondering if you've really gone to the moon or not. Don't get me wrong, theres a lot of other, positive, things going on with this program, but the overall feeling I'm getting from this errs on the side of warning to all parties involved to still watch for the hidden traps. That Microsoft is just promising things they already do, or have done, but never made much of, with dashes of over thinking the effects of the Kinect (again), while under thinking some of the biggest complaints indies have had over this generation. I don't see how they're going to change all that past sloppiness simply by taking away a single wall and allowing everything to spill together. What do you think?