Microsoft’s hostility turned early independent games and developers away.
Braid was one of the breakout independent game hits last generation, and it came into the spotlight once it released on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade. Why, then, with the next game by developer Jonathan Blow, the ambitious puzzle game The Witness, did he decide to go with the PS4 instead? Did he find the PS4 more suited to his ambition for what he wanted the game to be?
No, as it turns out. Both the PS4 and the Xbox One are very great architectures that suit his game just fine. However, games are getting complicated, and it is not getting any easier to make them, especially for an independent developer such as him, Blow points out to ArsTechnica.
“Games are more complicated than they’ve been,” Blow said. “The ambition of things is taking up the room that is being seeded by the reduced complication of the development process. People are getting better games, but it’s not necessarily easier for a developer. When Braid was going to be on Xbox Live Arcade, the reason it was called Xbox Live Arcade was because the whole thing was arcade ports. Now, It’s harder to get attention. Due to availability of 3D engines, people are making stuff that’s much more ambitious than the past.”
So why, then? As it turns out, it had a lot to do with the difference in independent game developer policies that Microsoft and Sony had at the time, which facilitated respect and ease of development for him on the PS4, while creating a positively hostile environment on the Xbox One- something which, in light of the above, was a deciding factor for which platform he would go with.
“For a while, I presumed we’d do a PS3 port [of The Witness],” Blow said during the interview. “[But] as we went on and the game’s ambition became bigger, I realized it’d be harder to shoehorn onto PS3—it’d be a debilitated version of the game.”
At this point, Blow reached out to Sony via some contacts, and he was frank. “Look, we can’t do PS3, but I know there’ll be a new console at some point. Please keep us in mind for that,” he said. The result? He was invited to a pre-announcement PS4 summit at the company’s Foster City, California headquarters. The best thing about this summit was how there seemed to be no differentiation whatsoever between AAA developers and indie developers- indie developers like him were rubbing shoulders with representatives from companies like id Software.
How about Microsoft, then? What happened there? As it turns out, Blow reached out to Microsoft with a similar email too. His intent was to learn more about the then unnamed next Xbox system, so he would be able to target that system too. But the result he got is chillingly telling of Microsoft’s attitude towards independent game development at the time. “I have no political path to making something like that happen for an independent developer,” was the reply he got.
Yikes. I mean, I know that Phil Spencer and the ID@Xbox program changed the indie game policies for the Xbox One a lot, but this early attitude will continue to haunt them for a long time to come.