Well, that’s a bummer. When the Xbox 360 launched nearly eight years ago, games came in two flavors: a retail title that usually sold for $59.99 or was an Xbox Live Arcade title capped at 50MB in size. While it was originally just a download harbor for retro titles like Pac-Man or Galaga that didn’t require a full retail release, Microsoft eventually used the platform to woo indie developers who maybe didn’t have the resources to build a game, market it and ship it to retail. Eight years later, Microsoft’s old-fashioned, limited approach to downloadable games is getting a change with their new Xbox One console, but probably not for the better.
The biggest label fix that Microsoft will be pulling off next-gen will actually be the removal of labels. Xbox Live Arcade eventually shirked that 50MB size limit to allow for a much larger selection of downloadable games and became a heavily curated showcase of small-time games. Microsoft later introduced an Indie Games channel for even smaller developers to get their games out in the open, but was often ridiculed for poor placement and little exposure. Next time around, Microsoft will simply withdraw the partitions and allow all games to be available from the same selection. There will be distinction between games made available at retail and those designed specifically for download. Steam works this very same way, but it’s a bit less traumatic now that most PC gamers are hip on the downloadable game lingo.
The drawback is that Microsoft says they’ll continue to require some extensive backing to get on the system in the first place, requiring a publisher or some kind of hook-up to get a relationship going at all. At a time when the PlayStation 4 is trying to become the App Store of console gaming, in which anyone is free to self-publish any content they want, Microsoft’s ultra-curated approach isn’t just old-fashioned, but clunky and ineffective. If you’ve noticed the past few “Summer of Arcade” lineups, you get a feeling as to why. Then there’s the issue of promotions like “Summer of Arcade” existing at all, which forces indie games into a narrow release window in hopes that they’ll get picked to be graced by Microsoft’s mighty spotlight.
We’ll know more at E3, but if that’s how Microsoft is chasing content this time around, indie developers will need to seek their fame and fortune elsewhere.