GDC 2023: Looking Back at 10 Years of ID@Xbox
- 2023 marks the 10-year anniversary of the [email protected] indie publishing program.
- The program has helped bring over 3,000 games to Xbox, and paid out more than $4 billion to developers.
- Director of [email protected] Chris Charla looks back at the last decade – and looks forward to what’s still to come.
GDC 2013 was tough for independent developers and Xbox. It was clear that the way we were working with indie devs – which had seemed so progressive and groundbreaking just five years earlier when 2008’s “Summer of Arcade” launched indie games into the gaming mainstream with titles like Castle Crashers, Braid, and Geometry War: Retro Evolved 2 – was just not working. The indie dev scene was growing faster than anything we’d ever seen, and our business processes and back-end just couldn’t keep up. And devs knew it, and they were not happy.
As we looked ahead to the future, it was clear that indie games and independent developers were crucial to our strategy of providing Xbox players with the broadest variety of content to play. So at GDC 2013, we took it on the chin when devs took swipes at XBLA and Xbox, and we got down to the hard work of listening, suggesting ideas, taking feedback and listening some more. Things had to change.
Over the summer of ’13 we worked hard to develop a new program at Xbox, one that would address the needs of devs in 2013, as well as be able to grow to address the continually changing and growing needs of the indie dev community. The program (after three name changes in the week before we announced it at Gamescom 2013!) was [email protected], and we’re celebrating our ten-year anniversary this year.
I don’t ever like to declare success, especially when I see how much more we have to do, but ten years on, I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far with [email protected]
We’ve enabled more than 3,000 games to ship on Xbox from independent developers (more than the total number of games that released on the original Xbox and Xbox 360 combined), onboarded more than 5,000 developers into the program, and paid developers more than four billion dollars. Let’s talk more about Game Pass in a sec, but first – wow! Four billion dollars is really a lot of money! It’s such a testament not only to the power of videogames as an entertainment medium, but the power of independent development, our fans and players, and proof that when you listen and work to empower developers, good things happen.
Our first goal in the program has always been to make shipping games on Xbox as straightforward and easy as possible, whether that’s technically getting a build working on Xbox, working through the backend store provisioning work, or signing a contract. We still work on this goal every day. But we are also keen to listen to other needs our devs have, and to respond – that’s how we introduced self-publishing in the first place!
Over the years, several programs have started at Xbox in direct response to independent developers’ feedback, from our early access program, Xbox Game Preview, to cross-platform play with friends on PC and other manufacturers’ consoles, as well as cross-progression, so players’ progress in a game elsewhere can carry over to Xbox. That last one took a minute to happen, and we thank all the devs who worked closely with us to make it happen in a way that was robust and safe for our player community. Ironically, we’ve even enabled retail disc publishing for developers in [email protected], Xbox’s digital self-publishing program. This retail program is still in the pilot phase with a limited number of partners, but developers can make physical versions of their games with only a low “minimum order quantity” of physical units from Xbox. We look forward to rolling this out to more broad participation in the near future (devs, please watch for our April newsletter for more info here).
We’ve also been excited to help developers participate in programs such as Game Pass, which help them find audiences as much as they help players find their new favorite games. One thing that’s become clear as the [email protected] program has grown, especially over the last few years as the pandemic curtailed travel, is that it’s become hard for us to know every developer in the program, and that can make it a challenge for devs to share their concepts with us. When we hear a dev say, “I don’t know who to talk to at Xbox,” we wince, because while we want to be as accessible as possible, clearly this is a place where we can be doing better. This GDC, we’ve booked more than 200 meetings, but there are still dozens and dozens of partners we’d love to meet with that we haven’t been able to find time to schedule, to say nothing of the amazing, serendipitous encounters that make events like GDC so magical.
Meeting partners new and old and looking at games is one of the most amazing parts of getting to work on a program like [email protected], and we’re never going to slow that down. But to ensure all developers get equal access to decision makers at Xbox, and to provide faster feedback to developers on concepts submitted – especially for Game Pass deal evaluations – we’re going to be launching a new process that provides a template that has all the info developers need to submit a concept for deal consideration, and that will be looked at by the key decision makers from our Game Pass, business development, [email protected] and Portfolio teams.
This will help ensure that whether a developer knows someone at Xbox personally or not, they can get their game into deal consideration quickly. And that will help us ensure we continue to bring the widest variety of games to our players on Xbox and in Game Pass – as well as meeting lots of new developers! Of course, this process will require a mutual NDA to ensure folks’ IP rights are protected. We’ll have more details to share in the April [email protected] newsletter. If you’re not a member, now is a great time to join at xbox.com/id!
Ten years on from the dawn of [email protected], one thing is crystal clear – games from independent developers are foundational to the Xbox offering, and this GDC we’re excited to talk about our efforts to ensure that players get to experience games and stories from the broadest number of Creators too, with the [email protected] Developer Acceleration Program. We’re also excited to meet with developers in person, keep listening and keep planning how we can improve our offerings for independent developers on Xbox, whether that’s through discovery improvements, promotional amplification, sharing more data to help developers maximize their success on our store, or ways we haven’t even considered yet. We hope everyone has a great show – there’s so much more for us to do and we can’t wait to get started!