Xbox to indie devs: There’s a place for your game on Windows 10, no matter the size

‘We’re about providing options for developers’

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Microsoft announced last week at GDC in San Francisco that it was introducing cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 devices. That opens a world of possibility in ways for developers to deliver games to their audience. Some will likely take full advantage; others will be more reserved. But, the option’s there, nevertheless.

Following Xbox boss Phil Spencer’s talk, I sat down with ID@Xbox program director Chris Charla to discuss what this new ecosystem meant for independent developers. There was a lot of ebb and flow to the conversation, but the main takeaway was “There’s a place for [indie devs] — no matter what size or scale the game is — on Windows 10.”

Charla was the man that was brought aboard by Microsoft almost two years ago to try to keep Xbox in the never-ending arms race to court independent developers. The Xbox 360 generation saw Microsoft use up a lot of goodwill in that department, and it needed to re-establish its name. That’s what ID@Xbox was built for: to recruit developers that bring a different flair to the Xbox stable of games.

According to Charla, that’s the program’s ultimate goal. “The most important thing to us is to make sure that when someone turns on their Xbox One or their Windows 10 device, they have access to a really broad array of videogames,” he said. “The nice thing about that is that for us at ID@Xbox, it creates a really easy, kind of north-star central goal that we align ourselves to every day which is ‘Let’s make life really easy for developers.’ The easier we make life for developers, the more we reduce friction to get onto our platforms, the more we make Xbox and Windows 10 a great sustainable ecosystem.”

That’s where Windows 10 comes in, at least in the gaming space. If Microsoft wants consumers playing games on any Windows 10 device, it starts with convincing developers to put their titles on those platforms. But, Charla deals solely with indies — a demographic that’s not known for their extensive resources.

Would this mean that some independent developers might be averse to the idea of over-extending themselves to too many platforms at once? Charla doesn’t think so. He commented “We’re not about trying to put requirements on developers; we’re about providing options for developers. The thing with Windows 10 is that it has a huge, broad reach. That doesn’t mean you have to make your game work on phone on Windows 10, and on PC on Windows 10, and on HoloLens on Windows 10. You should make your games for the platforms, endpoints, or devices that you think it’ll succeed on. We think that including Xbox Live needs to be pretty straight-forward, and for the developers who have done it so far, it’s been pretty straight-forward. And, they’re not the biggest developers in the world, right? We think it enables developers to offer their players an interesting addition to the game.”

It will make for an interesting option for developers, but it’s also Microsoft’s vision of the future (at least for now). It’s reasonable to assume that Xbox and Microsoft have a vested interest in getting as many developers as possible to philosophically buy into the program. Given that ID@Xbox helps indies publish their games, maybe Xbox will offer extra incentive to developers that release across multiple platforms. It’s easy to see a scenario where these studios are offered some sort of preferential treatment, whether it be in the form of extra support or funding.

However, Charla denies that this is the case. He insisted that while ID@Xbox is dedicated to decreasing the burden on developers, it’s not sweetening the pot for some that are willing to help this new ecosystem thrive. Instead, that assistance is being distributed unilaterally in the form of services such as speeding up the certification process or holding showcases for the games in the program. And, now it’s about giving developers options.

But, one option that still won’t be available is XNA. XNA is a free toolset that’s aimed at developing games across several Microsoft platforms. Some notable examples of titles created with it are Dust: An Elysian Tail, Bastion, Fez, and Charlie Murder. There’s talk within the development community that it’ll make a return, and this new emphasis on unifying games on Windows 10 seems like the perfect time.

When asked point-blank if XNA is coming back, Charla responded with a definitive “No.” He elaborated “But, I think that when you think about what XNA was for, a lot of that spirit is still at Microsoft in the desire to make sure that anyone can create games for Microsoft devices, whether they’re a 150 team at a major publisher or a teenager who’s just learning how to code. We want to make sure that the Microsoft ecosystem is a place where you can make games and learn. In that spirit, XNA was a solution design for the technology that was available at the time. It was a program that was created to foster the creative spirit. We’ve always said that we want Xbox One – and by extension, Windows 10 – to be a place that isn’t just a place to enjoy great content; it’s a place to create great content.”

Really, that’s step one when it comes to creating a platform for games: make sure people want to create there. That’s what ID@Xbox is dedicated to doing. Charla wrapped up the interview by saying “But, it’s important to us to support developers and to make their lives easy, and to support the spirit that anyone can make a game.” By most accounts, ID@Xbox has been doing that all along. Now, Windows 10 just makes it so developers have a few more options.


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Brett Makedonski
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