Microsoft affirms commitment to indies, every Xbox One is a developer console

Xbox One vs PS4 Advanced Controls

The Xbox One that you purchase at retail can double as a developer kit, potentially allowing anyone to create games for the new hardware, Microsoft’s Marc Whitten confirms in a statement. This marks the first time the company’s stance on independently funded game development has been made clear since the console was announced in May 2013.

“Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox LIVE,” Whitten’s statement reads. “This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox LIVE. We’ll have more details on the program and the timeline at gamescom in August.”

Developers have traditionally needed to use specially designed “development kit” consoles to build their games for a given platform in current and previous hardware generations, including the current PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 cycle. These “debug” consoles, as they’re called, have traditionally been prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain. Xbox One developers will likely face one or more processes or fees before being “approved,” but that makes any console you buy in the store can potentially become more than just a multimedia player. We’ll know more after Gamescom, which runs from August 21-25 in Cologne, Germany.

The idea that Microsoft can somehow remotely maintain a fleet of dev-approved Xbox One consoles carries some dizzying implications. Security checks are almost a certainly, as is some variation on the always-online requirement that was the subject of so much conflict leading into E3 2013, but make no mistake: this is a win for the indies. Anything that reduces the cost of entry for those that aren’t backed by established publishers creates an opportunity for an Xbox audience to see the sort of quirky, offbeat titles that are normally reserved for the likes of Steam and Desura. Similarly, it also gives those creators a new and potentially richer avenue of income from the bigger console crowd.

That said, we still don’t know what the rest of Microsoft’s plan looks like. There could still be an obstacle course of paperwork and sky-high licensing fees keeping an Xbox One from being developer-ready. Alternatively, the route to turning your console into a devkit could be brief and inexpensive, which opens up an opportunity to a completely different crowd of creators: modders. 

There has long been a demand in the console space for user-created mods. Xbox and PlayStation gamers look jealously at their PC gaming friends as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare transforms into a Star Wars FPS or Skyrim wanderers visit a whole, new chunk of land in Falskarr. There’s already a working example of curated mod support in Valve’s Steam Workshop. It might not be something we’ll see immediately on Xbox One, but it becomes a real opportunity worth exploring when you’re talking about a retail box potentially doubling as a devkit.

Whitten’s statement follows a report from Game Informer in which unnamed sources suggest that independent studios will face fewer obstacles when pursuing digital distribution on the Xbox One. Microsoft already moved to address one particular sore spot in eliminating the patch fee associated with Xbox Live Arcade updates, a subject that Fez creator Phil Fish has spoken out against at length. Policy changes for the Xbox One allegedly include a shorter certification process (14-day turnaround) and a free hand given to developers in setting the price and release date of their products. That same report was the first to suggest that the Xbox One will be able to double as a debug console, so there may be truth to these other points as well.

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