Indie Dev Locked Out Of ID@Xbox For Opting Out Of Exclusivity In The Past

Witch Beam didn’t want to limit platform availability, and in turn, limited platform availability

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If you’ve heard about Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, you know it’s one of the best ways for indie developers to gain exposure for their hard work. The program represents a paramount shift in momentum for console gaming. That’s not to say the program isn’t without its red tape.

One dev I spoke to was actually penalized by the ID@Xbox submission requirements. See there’s a clause within the program that is designed to ensure indie launch parity between Xbox One and its competitors. Indie developer Vlambeer saw this requirement and saw fit to sign a month exclusivity with the PS4 platform. By doing so he was able to circumvent the launch parity clause. There’s a loophole in the program that allows devs who’d signed exclusivity deals prior to joining ID@Xbox to publish to Xbox One without having to adhere to the equality piece.

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But what happens when you have every intention of releasing your title on as many platforms as possible? Independent developer Witch Beam didn’t want to alienate any part of their prospective audience by signing an exclusivity deal, and now their beautiful and seamlessly performing twin-stick shooter, Assault Android Cactus won’t be coming to the Xbox One as a result. See they’d already begun work on the PC, PS4 and Wii U versions of the game prior to the ID@Xbox program being greenlit. Sanatana Mishra of Witch Beam thought being exclusive elsewhere would likely hurt their chances of releasing on Xbox One.

We haven’t signed up to the ID@XBox program, unfortunately we started work on our PS4, Vita, and Wii U versions of Assault Android Cactus before the program was announced and have no intentions of delaying those versions to meet their launch parity clause. In a somewhat ironic twist it seems having a temporary exclusive agreement with another platform from before the ID announcement actually helps your chances of getting a waiver for the clause, but we opted out of exclusivity to keep our options open and are now locked out of the program.

So in trying ensure that all audiences would have the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor, Witch Beam sealed their own fate. It’s unfortunate that the studio won’t be able to self-publish their work to Xbox One because of unforeseen red tape. The indie craving audience on Xbox One would very much enjoy Witch Beam’s insanity ridden shooter. Through it all, Sanatana was quick to praise Chris Charla, director of ID@Xbox, saying,

Chris (the head of ID program) has actually been quite approachable and responded to me on twitter, followed me back, and offered his personal contact details if we want to discuss our plans down the line, almost seemed like I was dealing with a different company.

So maybe, just maybe there’s still hope for Assault Android Cactus on the Xbox One. Finally, I was given a  tentative release time frame for Assault Android Cactus on PC, PS4, PS Vita and Wii U. Mishra reckons we’ll be seeing the cross-platform release sometime in the Spring of 2014.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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  • booboo

    Shame lol

  • Anders

    “if we want to discuss our plans down the line, almost seemed like I was dealing with a different company.”
    That’s funny.

  • spideynut71

    Sounds like MS is wary of possibly getting sued for tampering, much like in the NBA where teams can’t contact or even talk about players or their agents while they’re under contract but about to become free agents. This had a lot to do with the lawsuit between Activision and EA, when the guys from Infinity Ward were fired. It seems like a weird policy, but I can understand why it exists. Witch Beam just got caught in an atypical scenario.

  • figgycal

    I hope their game does well.

  • Krakn3dfx

    This sounds like Microsoft alright.

  • vlambeer

    We did actually want to launch on all platforms as well, and that’s exactly why we opted for a single month of exclusivity. The exception allows us to launch of everything.

    We’re also actively talking to Microsoft to try and get them to drop the rule – and Rami at Vlambeer is a big fan of Cactus, so we’ll push even harder now.

    • http://igameresponsibly.com/ Dzelly

      Thanks for popping in. We’re trying to garner some help with getting Microsoft to open their eyes about this. All devs, not just Witch Beam should be able to launch whenever and wherever they want to. Their content make Xbox One and PS4 all the better.

    • Edd Welch

      microsoft sucks. always trying to fuck everyone anyway they can. Its pathetic that M$ treats indies the way they do. I love Indie games and I believe there should not be a ton of rules for Indies & Indie devs should be able to release on all platforms unless they choose a single platform.

      I will never support M$ with there Xbone or there pathetic rules/regulations. PC/Playstation all the way for me. I hope everything works out for you in the end honestly I have been in the gaming industry since I was around 5 & I am now 31.

      M$ is not about the gamer they are about pocket profits

      • HalfBlackCanadian

        “M$ is not about the gamer they are about pocket profits”
        Hey, remember that time when Ken Kutaragi wanted to make a CD add-on for Nintendo and everyone else at Sony thought he was wasting time on dumb games and then they let him anyway and the deal fell through and then Sony created a stand-alone machine purely in revenge/spite to Nintendo with the sole intention of stealing away market share and making money? But all for the gamers, right?
        They aren’t treating Indies anything. They set up parameters to ensure console parity (which makes sense) but has implemented in in a short-sighted way (people could self publish on PS4 before ID@Xbox was announced so games would have already been in development) They should allow a grace period for in development games, that would solve this initial bottle-neck

      • Tyler Davis

        1 month of exclusivity is fucking devs? I think that’s an inconvenience yes – but a fucking? I think not.

      • Joe_HTH

        Sony shills like you were never going to support Microsoft anyway. Anyone who still uses the M$ meme shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

        “M$ is not about the gamer they are about pocket profits”
        LOL! Yeah, Sony doesn’t care about profits at all. I guess that’s why they haven’t made any in years. Try to understand this, corporations exist to make money. Without it, you have no corporations or the products they make.

    • HalfBlackCanadian

      Might seem obvious but have you pointed out that since ID@Xbox was only just recently mapped out, devs (like yourself) have already begun developing in other environments and that, perhaps, a grace should be given to those who had projects underway for other platforms prior to ID@Xbox announcement and roll-out? I think this would save a lot of headaches…

      • vlambeer

        Fact remains that Sony does not have this requirement in return. The unevenness of that situation is problematic, and in our case could potentially mean not releasing for Xbox One after the title that we discussed anymore. We politely refuse to punish Sony for having the more open policy.

        That being said, like pointed out in the article, ID@Xbox is definitely a great step forward. Just some final tweaks to make it a great program.

        • http://igameresponsibly.com/ Dzelly

          Exactly. I’m very encouraged by the genesis of a program like ID@Xbox. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Hopefully ID@Xbox is more akin to a clay statue that can still be shaped, and less like a marble statue.

        • Edd Welch

          If I was in your shoes and i know your trying to maximize some profit & get your game on all platforms I personally would tell M$ to piss off. This is just me release on everything but Xbox.

          M$ IMO does not deserve great devs, They have treated devs like crap in the past and will continue to treat devs like crap in the future. The only reason there kissing your ass is because right now there reputation is in the toilet and they dont need people like yourselves bashing there reputation even further.

          • Joe_HTH

            Another Sony shill. Microsoft gave developers a platform to peddle their wares before Sony even knew what the hell an indie dev was. You have no clue what the hell you’re talking about.
            Microsoft is simply protecting the Xbox platform and it’s gamers.

    • http://twitter.com/v00d00m4n Voodooman

      Its good that you made this issue public, The only reason MS contacted you back is because they realised that your “scream” on internets is YET ANOTHER HIT to their almost ruined reputation. Thasts why they decided to chill you down and assist you, but be aware that this is still same crappy Microsoft its became under rule of Balmer, those idiots loves to blacklist all kinds of people who say something critical about MS, Xbox, Windows 8, or refuse the offer they “cant refuse” (exclusivity like in your case) blackmails, or not giving their mediocre games a 10 of 10, and refusing review embargo and so on! I bet they blacklisted every guy on twitter, including me, who screamed a lot about how shitty MS bacame in recent years, and their stupid blacklisting is not only about releasing games on xbox, their blacklist checked whenever you want to apply at any job at MS or if you are journalist and want to have press release, interview or join some MS event.
      I mean, the fact their decided to help you for now, does not mean they would not stub you in a back a minute later. The only way to fight those ass whores is screaming all around the internet about their stupid behavior, and only this can make them afraid and temporary start acting like a sane company – but once screaming will stop, they will get back to their insanity.

      If i would be you, i would not release game on xbox one and will say them to go suck Balmer’s bald head after they blacklisted you the 1st time. This would give good example to other devs how to behave with MS, and once every indie dev with balls will say GTFO to MS that will ruin MS reputation, only this will force MS to actually do something good about and stop acting like a bitchy twats.

  • Dennis Crosby

    All Microsoft wants is for everyone who didn’t have a exclusive deal on other platforms before there program to release there game on all platforms at the same time. Honestly exclusive deals suck you always leave a part of the community out and waiting

    • vlambeer

      Sometimes, exclusivity is not because of choice – a lot of indies simply can’t afford to launch on multiple platforms at once. We signed the Sony deal (1 month exclusivity) because we like Sony, and this way we can focus on that build first and then work on the Xbox One platform.

      • JayD

        Well then it really depends on whether overall this helps or hurts the Xbox platform overall. I would think that overall it helps though. It encourages devs to reach launch parity.

        I think this would really only hurt the smallest indie devs. It would help encourage devs to reach launch parity for the sake of the Xbox platform though. Not too mention I thought this program lets devs get Unity free? That should make developing for multiple platforms a lot easier.

        • vlambeer

          It’s not encouraging, though, it’s forcing. Encouraging is offering a deal that rewards developers for parity. This is forcing a large part of developers to simply never launch on Xbox One, or hope for a contractual exception.

          • JayD

            Depends how you look at it. You are not forced to release on the Xbox. With free Unity and dev kits it really seems like the least devs can do is launch parity. That really isn’t the norm for other devs. I don’t get a free surface/mac book to develop for OSX/Windows.

            I think encouraging or forcing launch parity is a good thing. Just sounds like some people want their cake and to eat it too.

          • vlambeer

            Indeed. In the future, we might have to forego Xbox One, just like a lot of other developers will have to because they want to deal with Sony’s excellent terms. Encouraging launch parity is great, forcing it is awful & more so when its one-directional.

            Telling developers they have to use certain toolsets because they are available is shortsighted and monopolistic. Diversity of tools and technological democratisation are more important to the current state of gaming than you’d think.

          • JayD

            If Sony’s excellent terms are preventing you from achieving launch parity on a rival platform they don’t sound so excellent to me…

            “Telling developers they have to use certain toolsets because they are available is shortsighted and monopolistic”

            No one is saying you have to use a certain toolset. There are other tools available to developers for multi-platform development. The point though is that MS is encouraging and providing free of charge tools for multi-platform development through Unity. That is awfully generous when they could easily provide a toolset designed to lock you into their ecosystem as is the norm in development tools provided by MS/Apple/etc.

          • vlambeer

            Sony’s terms are not preventing us, they’d be OK with us launching on Xbox before Sony. Those are excellent terms, because they allow us to develop for any platform in any order we wish.

            Microsoft is limiting that freedom, and as you say, that doesn’t sound like excellent terms at all. Again, ID@Xbox is a pretty good system except for that single clause.

            The ability to achieve launch parity doesn’t mean every indie wants to. We want the freedom to choose whether we want to launch on PS4 first, or to launch on Xbox One first, or on everything at the same time. Parity is not a grail for us, it’s a choice we make based on our investments, our resources and our ability to support and market multiple SKU’s. As Brian Provinciano said, launching on that many SKU’s at once is not really a good idea.

            Giving away multi-platform development software is nothing new, because most software is multi-platform anyway nowadays. Microsoft has done that for PC development for a long time, Sony has given access to different toolkits away as well. They just didn’t make a big deal out of it, because that’s simply how things have been for a while.

          • JayD

            No it doesn’t sound like MS is preventing you from reaching launch parity either. If one platform is assisting you to the detriment of another platform those are bad terms.

            MS is simply asking for launch parity not asking for Xbox to be the lead just an equal platform to other launch platforms. Sounds like a very fair deal in exchange for all that ID@Xbox offers.

            Yes well it may not be a priority for you but I doubt anyone at MS would be thrilled if they find that their wasted resources(they are paying for dev kits/software licenses) only results in ports of games.

            Like you said software is multi-platform these days.
            Asking for launch parity does not seem like an outrageous request to me at all for all the free stuff given in return. Maybe Sony is more generous in your eyes. That still doesn’t change the fact that MS is being very generous as well.

            If launch parity is not possible because you are in the middle of development skip XB1, keep your free devkit and software and have launch parity on your next game.

            Most of MS’s sdks revolve around Windows/VS. The only ones that are cross platform are ones that deal with the web/html for obvious reasons.

          • vlambeer

            “If one platform is assisting you to the detriment of another platform those are bad terms”, exactly, and that’s why Microsoft’s terms are bad terms, while Sony’s – who also offer devkits, software and marketing support, just like Microsoft – do not limit us in the order we want to release our games.

            You’re literally saying that we should skip a project for XB1 because of the launch parity clause, and that’s exactly why launch parity has a bad effect on Microsoft’s Indie Program. If we launch Nuclear Throne on PS4/Vita only, that’s just going to increase our knowledge of Sony’s platforms, strengthen our relationship with Sony and thus lead to even smaller chances of us being able to achieve launch parity.

            I’m not sure about you, but that actually does sound like a waste of devkits.

    • JayD

      Yea agreed. MS is also giving away Unity for free it sounds like. Unity makes multi-platform development a lot easier.

      • Joe_HTH

        Not only do they give devs free Unity, they give them free dev kits as a part of their policy, which is more than can be said for the competition.

        • vlambeer

          No it’s not. Sony does exactly the same for developers, both software and hardware, and has been doing that for several years now. Nintendo doesn’t, but Nintendo has the longest standing self-publishing program.

          • JayD

            Well if Sony is also promoting Unity it sounds like a no-brainer and an easy way to achieve launch parity. I though Unity was designed specifically to make multi-platform development easier.

          • vlambeer

            We don’t use Unity.

          • JayD

            Well, if your toolset is preventing you from reaching launch parity it sounds like you are making bad investments with your time.

          • vlambeer

            No we’re not, launch parity simply is not a goal we have. We’re two people, we’ll focus on making the best game possible with the tools we use, while learning along the way. Have you ever made a game?

          • JayD

            “We’re two people, we’ll focus on making the best game possible with the tools we use, while learning along the way”

            Surely that is still possible along with achieving launch parity. The goals are not mutually exclusive. No, I have never made a game but have written plenty of software.

  • True gamer

    Oh we’ll ms has rules like everybody else and have supported indies more than Sony/ Nintendo combined it sucks your having problems but those are the rules.

    • vlambeer

      No, Nintendo has always allowed self-publishing, although it had a weird ‘office quality’ rule, Sony has allowed self-publishing for a while & does not have a launch parity rule – Microsoft is late to the party. In this case, a lot of indies that like working with Sony simply won’t be able to release on Xbox One.

      • Joe_HTH

        Microsoft gave supported indie devs before Sony and Nintendo even knew what an indie developer was.

        • vlambeer

          No, they didn’t. Nintendo was the first platform to support indies. Sony has had self-publishing for several years now. Microsoft only started allowing for it with ID@Xbox. All three platforms have a history of supporting indie in different ways, but at this point Sony has spent two years heavily investing in indie. For now, they’re ahead – and that launch parity clause is keeping Sony ahead.

    • http://www.therealgamers.net/ Matt Clarmont

      Yeah I’m not sure where this “Microsoft have supported indies more than (insert other platform here)” but it is a widely believed myth. Most indies start with PC, not Microsoft. They actually release on PC largely IN SPITE OF Microsoft. Both Sony and Nintendo have had more streamlined and developer friendly processes for publishing and still do with Microsoft’s XBox Live carrying up the rear as for as ease of access, price, and general support. MS is better than they’ve ever been but there is still a ton of room for growth there.

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  • http://www.therealgamers.net/ Matt Clarmont

    Hopefully Microsoft just gets rid of that ridiculous clause and allow indies the ACTUAL opportunity to reach as wide an audience as they want to contribute their time to reach. I understand how Microsoft has always been the company that likes to see “see it here first!” and this is a business practice that has worked well for them but that sort of thing isn’t what is best for indie companies.

    And while we’re at it, here’s hoping Nintendo continues to improve their own relationship with independent developers. Wii U may not be able to run the triple-A software that everyone else will be releasing in a couple years but it should be able to handle pretty much anything an indie dev can throw at it.

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