Initial Thoughts on the MS/Unity Partnership

I posted the following in response to a post by Mary Jo Foley, but figured I’d also put it here (especially since I got “Your comment contains words or phrases associated with spam and will not appear on the site until it has been checked by a moderator.” (is XNA now spam?) when I submitted it and don’t know when it’ll appear):

 

"But when chided for not announcing details of plans for supporting indie gamers on Xbox One this week, Guggenheimer deflected that criticsm."

We’re not looking for details, just a concrete answer. The E3 presentations showed Sony giving a lot of love to indies, while MS gave virtually none. With MS abandoning XNA this was tough to swallow. Then yesterday there was – http://youtu.be/qdpAM4GV6oU

A lot of us took this to mean that there would be some announcement that gave indies some love. When the @unity3d Twitter account tweeted "Anybody following #bldwin? Something interesting coming up soon.. #unity3d" a lot of thought there might finally be a resolution to the indie issue on Xbox. Unity3D is primarily an indie (both small and large) tool for game development. Imagine our surprise then when we see this (from here – http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/xbox-one-unity-announcement):

"Developers who build games published by Microsoft Studios now have access to Unity tools for Xbox 360 and Xbox One free of charge and can create interactive 3D and 2D experiences."

It’s not as if regular indies have a shot at getting Microsoft Studios to act as their publisher. But when we think we’ve been completely abandonded at the end of that page is:

"As we look ahead, we look forward to sharing more information on our plans to help empower everyone from the independent game developer looking to make publishing to the console easy to the app developer who wants to bring new experiences to the television."

The problem with this is that between the whole "no self-publishing on Xbox One" and the previous quote limiting the Unity tools to devs that have an association with Microsoft Studios, we’re still left wondering what MS is doing? Does "independent" mean "John Smith in his basement creating games in his free and is currently using XBLIG to publish on Xbox 360" or does it mean studios like Double Fine that can do a Kickstarter and raise millions of dollars on their name and background alone? If the former, why can MS just come out and say it and give us a break? I personally am fine with waiting if I know at the end I’ll be able to continue doing Xbox development without having to take a 2nd mortgage on my house to fund it. Just give us a concrete answer; don’t keep stringing us along.

The quick mention of a contest during the Keynote led some of us to believe that MS and Unity might be planning a new version of the DreamBuildPlay contest, just using Unity3D instead of XNA. That would have been awesome. Alas, it’s Windows and WP8, no Xbox – http://unity3d.com/contest/windows

I get the feeling MS is just flailing about, trying to do good, but only half-way succeeding. They had an awesome thing going with XBLIG. While there is a lot of junk that made it’s way on the service, there are also a lot of great games, some of which have generated huge amounts of money for both MS and the devs, letting some devs move into full-time game development for a living. This is probably the dream of a lot of indies and we were hoping MS would continue to give us a chance to realize that dream. Right now, though it’s like we’re dogs sitting under the table, hoping for some crumbs to drop and MS is teasing us by holding a big chunk of prime rib out and then yanking it back.

I’ve been supporting MS and helping the community ever since the XNA beta and would love to do so for years to come, but it’s hard to plan which way to go without definitive answers. That’s all we’re looking for.

20 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    Unity will be supporting sony’s platforms also, so this news without clarifying whether garage-based indies will be allowed to self-publish or not, feels like a smoke-screen to mantain the status-quo. Fortunately, other new consoles will enter the field soon (steambox, ouya, google’s?) so who knows, maybe this pushes Msft to low entry barriers to indies once and for alll.

  2. Mach X Games says:

    The problem is, all these new consoles will not have enough gamers on them to make them worth targeting. With millions of players already on it, Xbox is a prime target. If MS would just continue to support the “indie” indies like they did with XBLIG, things would be fine. Sony hasn’t completely clarified their indie story either. The requirements are not at the XBLIG dev level, but the small studio level – https://www.companyregistration.playstation.com/SCEInternetApplications/AreaNewLicensee/MainSystem/CFModules/NewLicensee/snl_master_template.cfm?v_which_region=scea&v_which_form=GAME

  3. pete says:

    As of today, i agree, but i’m not that sure in the middle run. If newcomers play they cards well, classic console marketshare could get impacted, changing the msft.vs.sony game. Plus, mobile devices are threatening the console format as we know it, what in turn puts additional pressure to the equation. In a year from now, tops, when we see how ouya does (ditto for steambox and others), we could then clearly assess whether the xbox/ps are still the only prime targets for xblig dev levels on consoles; and i cannot agree with deeming msft’s xblig support as fine since it lacked key features like exposure/marketing, xbla services (leaderboards and so on) to mentioned a few (you know, all the things devs/we complained about over the years).

    • Mach X Games says:

      I admit it’s going to be a “wait and see” kind of thing, but devs need to plan in advance what they’re going to do. Many of us can’t afford to play the wait and see game. :(

      • pete says:

        Me neither. But unfortunately wit Msft these days/years (remember how many times as mvps we asked for roadmaps regarding xna, i mean, before it was too late?), they kinda react to marketpressure to change policies. Sony allows game sharing, Msft rolls back New DRM policies for Xone (contrary to what many believe, I think what gamers said had nothing to with the change). Sony does not charge for updates, Msft is changing that (to some extent).

        As a dev I won’t consider the xone as a target on my business plan until i see some love from msft (ditto with ps4); idevices, android, steam, psvita, wp8 and w8 markets are the ones i can currently afford to consider as real choices. Ouya and steambox are following next. And time will tell about others like google’s, apple tv, nvidia’s and so on so forth.

        As much as it hurts, being a former xna/dx mvp, i won’t dedicate time and effort this time to try to convince msft to open the xbone store to garage indies properly (as with the 360 and xna), and let the market do its magic …

        • Mach X Games says:

          If I can use Unity and get onto X1 it’s a no-brainer. The multiplatform options for it are pretty excellent. It’s the “more info later” nonsense that MS keeps throwing out there that kills me. They have to know if they’re going to allow XBLIG level indies on the console at this point. Just tell us.

          It’s probably worth moving to Unity at this point anyway and if it turns out that the X1 option becomes available I’ll be ready.

          • pete says:

            Jim, as an mvp, you know better than anyone that msft won’t be willing to disclouse anything until a couple of days before saying it publicly or like the drm policies when it could hurt figures.

            Regarding moving to Unity, i agree, if it eventually happens you will be ready to submit it with none or a few modifications. But if they allow games created with Unity from xblig-like devs, then it would become unfair to other solutions like monogame, deltaengine, waveengine, paradox, etc.

          • Mach X Games says:

            I know, and it’s a stupid policy. It’s constantly biting them. If it’s something that hasn’t been announced yet, that’s fine, but they’re hinting and revealing pieces. That’s the stupid thing. Just as with the X1 reveal. They didn’t fully explain things that it blew up in their face.

            I agree it might be unfair, but it’s a business after all and I can’t blame them for going with a big name like Unity over some other techs.

  4. xoofx says:

    Well, I agree that the – lack of – news is disappointing. Microsoft seems not to care much about – indie – developers. And this Unity3D partnership could sound like that open source projects won’t be able to provide any alternative to develop games on XB1.

    Speaking of SharpDX for example, I have not been contacted by Microsoft about porting SharpDX for XB1, I’m expecting that It will not be possible to use it on this platform. We don’t even know if .NET will be accessible on XB1, but if it is not available, it means that MonoGame won’t be able to run on it as well. Only alternative to use C# would be to buy some expensive third party libraries like Unity3D that are sub-licencing Mono.

    Overall, this Build event was quite a disappointment, nothing exiting, opaque strategy for developers… and despite lots of love to some Microsoft techs, I’m highly pessimistic and not confident with all of this and starting to seriously reconsider my investment in some of their techs…

  5. pete says:

    Good to know. I’ll be watching the recording of the session later this afternoon :-)

  6. nrXic says:

    “As we look ahead, we look forward to sharing more information on our plans to help empower everyone from the independent game developer looking to make publishing to the console easy to the app developer who wants to bring new experiences to the television.”

    This quote alleviates my fears. Looks like it is a matter of time until you can publish a game as easily a you can to the Windows Store.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Mach X Games says:

      Again, it depends on their definition of “independent game developer”. Do they mean companies like Double Fine that can launch a multi-million dollar Kickstarter or do they mean someone like me – a single person trying to do games part-time? If the latter, fine. If the former, that’s cause for concern. It seems Sony and MS are using the former definition currently. Will that change? Who knows.

    • Pete says:

      Guys, read carefully; imvho, Jim is right on his concerns about clarifying the definition. Time will tell …

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