Activision Deflects Its Haters

Eric Hirshberg


Eric Hirshberg is Activision Publishing’s CEO, and is responsible for selling some of the biggest game series in the industry. He’s also a frighteningly smart and confident interviewee; he answers our questions without hesitation and, in particular, bristles when we suggest that Activision might be considered by some to be an uncaring corporate giant, singling out former internet antichrist Bobby Kotick for special praise.

Hirshberg’s right; it’s wrong to portray Activision as a videogame giant wholly dedicated to exploiting its franchises for financial gain – in Destiny it is investing heavily in an ambitious studio and fresh game concept and Skylanders is a new phenomenon entirely of Activision’s creation. It is a smarter company than many credit it for, and in Hirshberg, as you can see below, it has a focused, determined leader.

What’s the feeling inside Activision right now about the indie scene? Are you aware of this kind of creative renaissance that’s going on, and do you think it affects you in any way?

I think it’s great for the industry and I think it’s great for the creativity of the medium. I think if you look at every other art form there’s room for blockbusters and there’s room for an independent scene in films and in music. The same has always been true in games but because the process of developing and publishing is so much more complex, generally it has been hard, but one of the things I really appreciate about both the first parties with this next generation is that they’re handing the tools over to independent developers, making it easier for them to publish and get their ideas out there.

Is Activision thinking about investing in smaller, more offbeat games? Is that where you feel your mobile focused studios come in?

I think that we’ve been a little bit more experimental where it comes to mobile games thus far but I also think that we are who we are as a company – and we’re a very focused company. Our strategy is to do a few things and do them exceptionally well.

I think that sometimes people misperceive that as somehow being risk-averse, and yet we’re taking some of the biggest risks in new genres and new business models and new IPs than anybody. So the fact that we only do it a handful of times doesn’t lessen the fact there’s a lot of risk and complexity baked into anything new you try.

Skylanders is a brand that didn’t exist eighteen months ago – people forget that already because it’s been so successful. It was not only a new IP, but a new genre of play that was totally unproven.


Do you consider the size of the investment you’re making in Destiny as a big risk too? Can you put a figure on that?

Yeah that’s how I would describe it. We don’t talk about the specific budgets of our games but you can see the ambitiousness of the concept and in order to bring that concept to life it’s been a big investment.

I think Bungie is a pretty special group of creative people and they’ve had a very good track record of games that are both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. As Activision Blizzard, our two biggest franchises are a persistent world game with World Of Warcraft and a firstperson shooter with Call Of Duty. So we know the appeal of both of those two concepts and we thought that [Bungie] had a very clever way of bringing the best of both of them together.

What’s the relationship like between you and Bungie? Who’s the boss?

It’s a partnership – obviously they’re an independent company and independence is very important to them and were happy to support that with the way we constructed this agreement, being a ten year deal. It’s a partnership that takes both an Activision and a Bungie to bring to life.

At times Activision is talked about as if it’s this big, heartless corporation – do you feel like you need to get out there and change some of those perceptions?

Look, this is a company of passionate people who make games and love making games. I’m certainly aware of all of the reputational perceptions out there but I think they’re incorrect and this is a company that has consistently made some of the most well liked and most played gaming experiences and that hasn’t happened by accident.

Why do you think some people don’t connect those things?

I think that’s starting to change. The fact is that sometimes it’s fun to root against the biggest – both as Activision and with Call Of Duty – and a lot of companies in this industry have experienced that at one point or another.

As a company whose fortunes and success rises and fall with great quality, it’s something that takes a lot of passion and a lot of energy. I want to make the perception match the reality. The reality is that this is a group of people that lives, eats, breathes games. And it has done a pretty great job of creating franchises that a lot of people seem to love and appreciate.

For a time Bobby Kotick was at the receiving end of a lot of criticism online. Do you feel that’s fair?

Bobby’s the guy who bought Activision out of bankruptcy because he believed in the potential and the power of interactive entertainment. And he’s built it into this incredibly successful company by making great games over a long period of time – I know there’s this other narrative but it doesn’t link up with the reality of the person I work with every day. There’s no greater champion of making great experiences that people really appreciate.

You can say a lot of things about Activision but you can’t say you don’t invest heavily in the ideas we believe in, from Call Of Duty to Skylanders to Destiny – these are big ambitious visions and it takes someone who really believes in the potential of interactive entertainment to champion that.

Call Of Duty and Xbox are pretty tightly aligned now after years of co-marketing and content deals. What would change that? Would Sony have to outbid Microsoft?

Well, it’s not just a bidding process – there’s a mutually beneficial relationship that has a lot of different prongs, and as you saw we announced a very similar kind of deal with Sony on Destiny so it’s a case by case thing.

Have you ever thought about bringing Bungie in-house? How much do you think that’d cost?

Bungie is very intent on being independent. That was important to them and so that was something that we knew going in [to the Destiny agreement], and we figured out a way to structure the deal. It’s ten year deal and it’s got a long and ambitious vision to it and we felt like we needed that length of deal to justify the investment it was gonna take to make the game. But they’re independent.

What happens if they come to you and say they need another year to work on Destiny before you can publish it? Can you turn around and say ‘no, you’ve got to get it done on time’?

We’re going to do the right thing for our players – there’s no road to success that doesn’t included making a superb game so we’re going to make those decisions together as a partnership.



Sony: “We’re seeing the birth of a new wave of next-gen developers”

If you’re not an independent developer there’s a chance you might not have heard the name Shahid Ahmad until he took the stage at this year’s Sony Gamescom press conference. He admits his appearance was a bit last minute, a bit unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. As senior business development manager at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe he’s in charge of strategic content for all the Sony platforms.

Q: How does it feel to be leading the indie charge for Sony?

Shahid Ahmad: The interesting thing is that it’s the indies who are leading the indie charge. It’s certainly very exciting to be involved with so many of them, and it’s a position that can easily change for any platform holder or any publisher for that matter. You have to keep working at it.

It’s a position that we respect. It has only come about as a result of us respecting our partners, many of whom now are independent developers.

Q: And have you seen an increase in the number of people contacting you since Gamescom?

Shahid Ahmad: The interest has been incredible and not just in our approach to independent developers and our perceived greater openness, but just in the platforms, Vita, PlayStation 4, has been huge.

“Vita does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device”

Q: It seems that Vita has evolved to become natural home for indie developers…

Shahid Ahmad: About a year ago, shortly after I took on the challenge of bringing games to Vita, it seemed like a difficult challenge. But it does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device. That screen is amazing. It kind of suits that intimate experience. A lot of indies are making very intimate experiences and completely new types of game.

I think one of the interesting things for me was that if you weren’t going to necessarily get games first on Vita that when they appeared on Vita they were going to be best on Vita. And more and more people – not just me [laughs] – thankfully are coming to that conclusion, and that’s really gratifying.

It’s fulfilling the ambitions of a lot of independent developers and I’m really excited about that. I think everyone at PlayStation is excited about that.

Q: Looking at the example of Mike Bithell who put Thomas Was Alone on Vita, and is now working on Volume for PS4, does Vita act as a stepping stone for indie developers onto console?

Shahid Ahmad: There are quite a few developers who are quite happy to stay with Vita and not see it just as an entry point. But obviously people are going to be excited about PlayStation 4 – who isn’t? It’s generated a lot of excitement across the whole industry, not just with independent developers. But I think there’s a sense with a lot of independent developers that they have more access – or not so much more access but a sense of more openness – from PlayStation, and the very idea that they can develop for PlayStation 4 is very exciting for them.

Thomas Was Alone

And for us it’s not news, you know. Mark Cerny said over and over again that it was developers that helped to shape the design of the PlayStation 4, and of course a lot of the indies that we’re working with came from a AAA background as well. So they’re not all brand new developers.

Q: What areas do you find the indies you work with need support in? What’s your approach when dealing with them?

Shahid Ahmad: Traditionally we’ve been very much a B2B type company when it comes to developers and publishers. The reason for that is PlayStation 2 was huge and we needed to find systems and processes that would help us to work with as many partners as possible, while also keeping the quality levels up.

With indies it’s much more a case of the onus of quality, and the onus of creating a really good experience is on them. They take that responsibility very, very seriously. So there are two things: first of all we have to make the process easier for them – we’ve done that and we’re continuing to do that.

A lot of these people absolutely love PlayStation. For them it’s a dream to be on PlayStation and that kind of takes us by surprise as well, because that’s not a typical B2B-type behaviour. It’s very much an individual and a fan-type behaviour, so the interesting thing that you’ve got going on here is a fan of PlayStation on one side of the table, another fan of PlayStation on the other side of the table.

That’s new and it’s very exciting, but the thing is some of those legacy processes still remain so our job is to try and make navigating those processes as easy as possible for the developers we’re working with. They’re not used to that level of process.

Q: And is that just a case of being on call when you’re needed?

Shahid Ahmad: Very much a case of being on call but also of giving them as much help as we can. We’ve got excellent facilities that not a lot of people know about. We’ve got a developer relations team that are constantly available to help with basic account management issues, and then we have R&D who help with engineering issues and technical issues. All of that stuff is free once you’re with PlayStation. Not a lot of people are aware of that.

But us too, in the biz dev side, being available on Skype, being available on email, being available on the phone or in person, that’s really really important. It’s all about the relationships now.

Q: So what does your typical working day look like?

Shahid Ahmad: There is no typical working day. I wish there was. Because we’re working with so many partners they keep things very, very interesting for us. Lots of discussion with developers on all kinds of social media. I think we’re most visible on Twitter, but there’s also a lot that goes on behind the scenes on Skype and email and on the phone.

“Our job is to try and make navigating those legacy processes as easy as possible for the developers”

Then the team is obviously working on production issues for games that are actually being developed, helping developers with new things… The great thing about working with so many new partners is that they’ve all got different things that they want to bring to the table, so every situation is unique.

So it’s navigating through the complexities of creating a full-blown console title and helping the developer do that, the team is heavily involved in that kind of thing as well. Meetings, going to events, talking about new projects, scouring the world for new developers and for existing developers working on new things. There’s never a typical day.

Q: And with finding new developers is it a case of hunting down promising games online, or do people come to you?

Shahid Ahmad: There was a lot more direct prospecting, if you like, over a year ago. I think it’s a bit more indirect now, because you get so much through social media, referrals, people vouching for other people or other ideas. If you want to call it a community, the indie community is very, very well connected. The great thing is about a year, a year and a half ago, we weren’t working with so many of them, and now we’re working with most of them.

There’s definitely a case of if Mike [Bithell] comes to us and says, ‘listen, I think this is fantastic,’ and we already have it on our list – or even if we haven’t, and there are other people saying, ‘this is fantastic, these guys really know how to make great games and this is one to watch out for’. That is going to accelerate our interest.

It’s really important to realise that the indies we’re working with don’t act as gatekeepers, but if we’re looking at a title and someone we’re working with and we trust says it’s definitely worth looking at, of course that’s going to make it a bit more interesting to us.

Q: How has social media changed the way you work? You’re a vocal presence on Twitter

Shahid Ahmad: I think showing a lot of respect is very important. I think not reading too much into 140 characters is also important. It’s very easy to jump on something and to have a take in 140 characters of text that might get you into trouble. It’s much easier just to ask a follow-up question. Just to be really, really careful not to knee-jerk react to stuff and to follow-up and be considerate and respectful of other people.

2Frobisher Says

I wasn’t always like that, but as things got more engaging at PlayStation you have to be more careful. I think we’ve just about managed to get that balance right.

It’s all on the public timeline, and that’s one of the ways we’ve been quite different, I think. Just how much more open we’ve been in the public eye. It’s easier to do that when the direction the company is taking is in alignment with how you’re interacting with people publicly.

So internally as well there’s a drive towards the stuff that’s being talked about externally. There’s a congruence about PlayStation at the moment. It’s not just me. Look at Yoshida-San, for example – he’s amazing. What a figurehead, and this was inconceivable a few years back.

I think there’s just been this really great congruence, where the whole company has been becoming a bit more open. I say a bit more open because we weren’t actually as closed as people think we were before. But the important thing is we’re talking more about it and we’re backing up our talk with action. It is a double-edged sword. There will be times when things are picked up negatively by people, and that’s a cause of heart attacks for the PR manager at times, but it hasn’t happened too often, thankfully. The best thing to do in that situation is if people have got questions they’ll ask you and you can give them a clarification, but if not you’ve just got to leave it, because people are going to make what they will of what you say.

So there is that double-edged sword, but on the upside it does mean that PlayStation gets a lot more attention, a lot more affection than before, because of the openness. I think it’s a price worth paying.

Q: And is that something, that public-facing part of development, you also offer indies support with?

Shahid Ahmad: Most of the best guys are better than I’ll ever be. They grew up in this space, so to them it’s as natural as breathing. I’m an old guy, I had to kind of get used to it. Take the likes of Rami [Ismail] from Vlambeer. The guy is an absolute professional. You wouldn’t think for a minute that he’s half my age – it makes me sick. [laughs] But he was literally born to do marketing for Vlambeer, and he’s incredibly measured, incredibly controlled.

Sometimes you see what someone is saying and and you think, ‘oh god, I wish you hadn’t said that’, but you’re not going to stop them because it’s part and parcel of learning how to become better at something. We don’t control them. I guess the motto you’ve heard us use over and over again is support, steer, don’t interfere. And certainly you’re not going to interfere in the way they run their marketing. We’ll support them, so for example with a lot of the games that are coming out through the store we’ve got them banner support and we’ve got blog posts up and that sort of thing.

Interfering would be trying to get them to say something they don’t want to say, and we’d never do that.

Q: Has your history as a developer helped when you’re working with indies?

Shahid Ahmad: It was such a long time ago I guess I was indie before there was such a thing as an indie. We were called bedroom programmers, which is obviously not as cool as being called an indie. I wish that tag had been around then.

I think it does help, on balance. And I think it helps because you’ve got more of an all-round perspective on their challenges, and occasionally there comes a time when you can answer a question or support them in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to do without that knowledge.

I’ve called it a Cambrian explosion. That’s exactly what it is because it’s way bigger, in my opinion. I don’t think everyone agrees with that, but I think it’s way bigger than it was in the beginning. Yes it was brand new in the early 80s, late 70s, but now it’s just enormous – it has come to mainstream attention.

“Right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers”

Q: Will the number of indies keep growing? Will we stop seeing a divide between AAA and indie?

Shahid Ahmad: I don’t see a divide. I see a continuum of one person creating a game and an enormous corporation creating a game. They’re just games. The tag is useful because I think it kind of bundles up a revolution that’s happened over the last few years, and the revolution has, I guess, three main legs. You’ve got digital distribution, you’ve got games everywhere and you’ve got better tools, and all of that has facilitated this explosion in the number of developers. I think it’s allowed more people to make games than ever before, and some of them are going to move on and do bigger things. They’re going to work with larger teams to do bigger things, and of course some of those teams will get bigger and bigger.

So right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers. Some of them will stay small, and I’m really pleased that we’re helping evolve PlayStation to a point where we’re as accommodating to the smallest developers as we are the largest. And the thing is we’ve done this in the past, so for example Minis was really, really good for smaller developers. PlayStation Mobile has also helped in some respects as well. And going back into the distant mists of time you’ve got Parappa The Rapper, Ico, Super Stardust HD. We’ve always dealt with this level of developer, it just wasn’t always as easy as we’ve made it [now], and we’re going to make it easier and easier.

So yes, hopefully in a few years time no one will be talking about indie in relation to games. They’ll just be talking about games, and it will be just as valid to have made something coming from a small developer as from a large.

Q: You’ve been involved with mobile, Move, Minis, Vita and the consoles. Is your role now one you had to create?

Shahid Ahmad: It’s a role I could only have dreamed of. It’s probably the greatest job in video games today. I don’t think anyone could have a more exciting position. I think the first 30 years of my career were preparation for this last year and a half.

Yes, the company has recognised the shift in landscape, but we’ve always done that, we’ve always responded. The way we dealt with publishers in the PS2 era was a response to the environment we had at the time, a response to our dominant position and with digital distribution. We were dealing with small developers back in 2007 as well, publishing games on the PS3 on the PlayStation Network by two-person teams.

It’s just become so prevalent now. It’s not just a few professionals with extremely high levels of technological skill that can do this. You don’t have such a high barrier to entry from the technology side. Just about anyone can make games now.

Q: And finally, Beyond The Final Boss, tell me about that?

Shahid Ahmad: That’s outside of my work at Sony, but I guess the goal is to show youngsters that, no matter how bad bullying gets for them that there are a bunch of people out there that overcame bullying and are enjoying a quality of life they never expected to enjoy.

One of the things that’s very difficult for someone being bullied as a youngster to accept is that life can get better. There’s this unbearable blackness and a sense that it’s never going to end, it’s never going to get better. So the goal of Beyond The Final Boss was to gather a bunch of individuals from every part of the games industry who’d experienced bullying when they were younger, and for them to describe how much better life is for them [now]. That they’re enjoying a life experience that their younger self could never have imagined was possible, and in doing so give them hope.

And it was set up because I noticed a discussion on Twitter between my friends Byron Atkinson Jones [director of Xiotex Studios Ltd] and Mike Bithell, who were talking about bullying and how they’d wished that they had been able to address their younger selves in some way, and I thought this needs to be done now.

So I immediately got the ball rolling and set the whole thing up. There’s no money involved, it’s just a website where we feature a load of profiles from people who were bullied, who are involved in games in some way and whose lives are just way better now. Our only goal is to get these profiles out to as many youngsters as possible and that’s it. We don’t ask for donations, there’s no official charity set up, it’s just a website and the only goal is to get some hope out there to some of these youngsters who otherwise don’t have that.


Inafune says Japanese industry has “gotten worse”

Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune says it’s a “shame” that game industry in island nation has fallen further, believes Kickstarter is one “fantastic” option to revive the market.


The Japanese game industry has “gotten worse,” according to Mega Man creator and former Capcom director Keiji Inafune. Speaking with GameSpot today at PAX Prime, the outspoken critic of the Japanese game scene lamented the state of the industry, but said developers have options to turn things around.

“Ultimately, it’s probably gotten worse than when I was talking about it before. And that’s a shame,” Inafune said through a translator. “But there are options out there. And there are many options that Japanese independent developers can pursue to gain more control, to own their own IP, et cetera.”

“And Kickstarter is one of those fantastic options,” he added. “And so, one of the reasons why I was interested in doing this Kickstarter wasn’t just because potentially being able to connect with the fans, but also potentially being able to show other Japanese independent developers that there is a way, that there are options.”

Yesterday, Inafune announced a Kickstarter campaign for Mighty No. 9, an all-new classic-inspired side-scrolling game. The project has drawn strong initial interest, with more than $650,000 pledged of its $900,000 goal. Funding closes on October 1.

Though the Japanese industry has fallen in Inafune’s eyes, he remains of the belief that there are “still lots of great solutions” to bounce back. If developers have “great content” they will be able to get consumers to “stand up and listen and support it” to help improve the Japanese industry, he said.



Xbox One won’t require Kinect after all

Microsoft’s console will still work when depth camera is unplugged; user settings can also disable functionality

Xbox One won't require Kinect

The Xbox One as it will launch is a very different machine than the Xbox One as Microsoft originally envisioned it. In an IGN interview with Xbox corporate VP Marc Whitten posted today, the company revealed that yet another complaint levied against the system–that it would require the use of a Kinect motion-sensing camera to function–is being addressed.

Whitten acknowledged, “like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn’t plugged in, although you won’t be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor.” That means no powering the system with voice control, or using gestures to navigate menus. Additionally, users will have the ability to turn the sensor off through the system settings, which Whitten said would prevent it from collecting any information (although its IR functionality will still work).

The backtracking on the Kinect requirement is the latest in a series of about-faces for Microsoft since it first took the wraps off the Xbox One several months ago. First the company changed the system’s online check-in requirements, as well as restrictions on playing used games. Then it changed its stance on allowing independent developers to self-publish their games through Xbox Live Arcade, and most recently, the company revealed it would include a headset with the basic hardware after previously confirming that it wouldn’t.



Xbox One: Microsoft must prove its indie commitment

Developers and analysts give their take on the significance of everything Microsoft has–and hasn’t–said about its new next-gen policies


Microsoft yesterday dropped two big pieces of news about its upcoming Xbox One console. First, it changed its position on allowing independent developers to self-publish their games. Second, it revealed that every Xbox One unit sold could be used to make games. Specific details on those initiatives are being held back until Gamescom next month, but the news is already causing a stir. While it’s clear Microsoft won’t be winning everyone over anytime soon, GamesIndustry International sought out industry watchers and indies alike for more nuanced thoughts on just how significant this is in the bigger picture, and how effective it will be in countering Sony’s previously anticipated advantage on the indie game front. First, the indies, then the analysts:

Guillaume Provost, Compulsion Games (Contrast)

This is a topic we’ve lobbied hard and repeatedly with Microsoft over the last two years, as I know a lot of fellow indie developers have. It was a big announcement in the studio and our team was excited to hear the news. As to whether it puts them ahead, or on an even footing with Sony, well, my guarded response is that it’s an announcement, first and foremost.

From a policy standpoint, it appears Microsoft is solving two of the most important problems facing independent developers: one, it’s currently not possible to get access to Xbox One kits without a top-tier publisher, and two, it was impossible to get our games out on the console without – again – a top-tier publisher. Some of us have grown up; we finance our own games and we do our own marketing and PR. Having to give a chunk of your earnings to a third party just to get a ‘slot’ on Microsoft’s platforms was a bitter pill, and it felt like an arbitrary policy that didn’t take a game’s quality or critical acclaim into account.

“It all starts with people within the organization who are actively seeking to help develop a mutual partnership, and right now I don’t know that there is an official channel or person for us to interact with on these matters at Microsoft.”

Guillaume Provost

Unfortunately, I don’t think policy is the only thing Microsoft needs to fix. Outside the business unit responsible for signing first-party deals, there is currently (to my knowledge at least) no contact person at Microsoft for independent developers. In fact, the only person in the organization that handled those needs of independents resigned last month, and indicated we would not, henceforth, have developer account managers unless we had a publisher. So ensuring there are actually people in place to reach out, evangelize, and educate the independent community about how to get onto their platform is something I would like to see.

This is something Sony does extremely well, from helping us during conferences by supplying hardware, stations and booth space, getting us early access to kits, walking us through the submission process, helping and integrating us with promotional plans. It all starts with people within the (third-party publishing) organization who are actively seeking to help develop a mutual partnership, and right now I don’t know that there is an official channel or person for us to interact with on these matters at Microsoft. Sony has built a lot of extremely positive goodwill with the community, and – beyond policy – I think Microsoft still has to show the community that they are committed to working with developers directly.

Finally, my biggest question has to do with how the store will be curated and organized, and whether titles that are independently published will get attention. One of the reasons Steam is largely perceived as a friendly platform to independent developers is that there is – usually – always one or two premium slots reserved for top independent or innovative games. I would hope that Microsoft is able to organize their online store in a way that makes the discovery of such games easier than it has in the past.

Dave Voyles, Xbox Live Indie Game Uprising coordinator

At this point we (as developers or consumers) are running on scarce number of details from all of these platforms. Which language will we use to write these games? Which tools? How much does a dev kit cost? Is console exclusivity required? As both a consumer and developer I think we win when the big three compete, and surprisingly it’s Nintendo who has revealed the largest number of details. Their indie platform welcomes developers who are using HTML5/JavaScript, and development kits will cost “the same as a high end PC”, as stated by Nintendo at GDC.

“Microsoft has had problems and blunders with XBLIG, but they are still the only console manufacturer who even HAD something like XBLIG to have problems with.”

Daniel Steger

Daniel Steger, Xbox Live Indie Game developer (Baby Maker Extreme 2, Mount Your Friends)

From my point of view, it’s great. Being able to have any indie able to create games for a AAA console and have an easy way to sell them is a good thing. I honestly didn’t expect Microsoft to be rushing to do this so soon. Even just having Kinect support for indies is an exciting thing. We’ll see all these exciting uses of the Kinect hardware that I don’t think we would see if access was only given to bigger studios who are afraid to experiment, or make “smaller” apps/games with the Kinect. Microsoft has had problems and blunders with XBLIG, but they are still the only console manufacturer who even HAD something like XBLIG to have problems with. I’d rather have a slightly broken platform like XBLIG than to not have any at all. I hope Microsoft has learned from the pros and cons of how XBLIG was run when they move forward with Xbox One’s indie publishing system.

Billy Pidgeon, independent analyst

Marc Whitten’s comments regarding Microsoft’s policy changes for independent developers and games sound promising and could lead to more good will between indies and Microsoft. It appears the company is responding to industry and consumer concerns, and Whitten’s remarks address big issues for independents: lower barriers to entry including self-publishing, and freedom on pricing and curation to overcome the discoverability problem.

Marketing independent downloadable games is a process that will take time and will require experiments, some of which will surely fail. Creating and marketing appropriately priced quality independent games will require ongoing attention and sufficient resources as well as transparency and communication between industry business partners and consumers.

“The dedicated game platform vendors have an elevated opportunity to get it right, and more to lose in the short term if they don’t.”

Billy Pidgeon

Microsoft’s previous attempt to run a community-based independent game marketplace and Apple’s App Store give small developers somewhat open access but result in a glut of undifferentiated software of questionable quality and value. Apple’s model in particular leads to low quality copycat software where significant spend is necessary to attain the top chart positions that enable developers’ success. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo all need to bring more quality and value to their respective downloadable software markets. The dedicated game platform vendors have an elevated opportunity to get it right, and more to lose in the short term if they don’t.

Downloadable game marketplaces accessible via phones, tablets and PC/web will improve and the successful players will benefit by forging better relationships with developers and consumers. The platforms with unbalanced downloadable retail outlets attempting to maximize profit through volume-based plays that exploit rather than benefit consumers and developers will lose.

Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities

Anything that gets tools in the hands of creative people with less friction is good for the business. Essentially, they are making dev kits available for $500, and the approval process is similar to the iOS approval process. I think this is really user friendly and will encourage a lot of people (including a ton of people who have never developed a game) to give it a try. That will increase the number of games developed, and it is likely that a few of the efforts will be really cool.

“Just look at the incredible success of Minecraft on the Xbox 360. Imagine what Microsoft could do for indies if it stopped shooting itself in the foot with onerous terms and conditions!”

Lewis Ward

David Cole, DFC Intelligence

It definitely makes it more developer friendly. Developers will definitely flock to it. One thing is will they ease their publishing regulations? We don’t know. There is always an issue of concern when you open up publishing you get a lot of junk and it can overwhelm consumers. The overall impact on the Xbox business is probably negligible. It mainly means consumers will have access to a bunch of products that are already available for PC and mobile platforms, so it is not really a big selling point to get someone to buy an Xbox One.

Lewis Ward, IDC research manager

I think this is a big deal for smaller developers. Xbox Live, despite its historically high patch costs and requirement that indie developers basically give a share of their revenue to a publisher that may add very limited value, has emerged as the best overall connected console environment in North America. Just look at the incredible success of Minecraft on the Xbox 360. Imagine what Microsoft could do for indies if it stopped shooting itself in the foot with onerous terms and conditions! Well, this is a big step in that direction. This was the last big “philosophical” difference between where Xbox One appeared to be going and where PS4 and Wii U were going in terms of indies. It’s too bad that Microsoft had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right – and smart – thing, but, hey, however you get there, you get there. I think this will now allow the Xbox One to have it’s share of innovative indie hits in the coming years. Unless this barrier were removed I think Xbox One digital sales would have suffered a significant blow over time.