Here's why Microsoft should abolish its ID@Xbox parity clause for Xbox One

Microsoft helped pioneer indie games on consoles with the Xbox 360. Even though Microsoft was the first of the big three to support indie games, many developers hated the company's strict guidelines. Indie games had to be published by larger companies, making it tough to get your game on Xbox Live Arcade.

With the Xbox One, that was all supposed to change. Microsoft would allow all Xbox One consoles to become dev kits in order to reduce development costs. However, Microsoft has since backtracked from that plan. On the plus side, they started the ID@Xbox program to help indie games come to the new console. But it seems as if the ID@Xbox parity clause is beginning to hurt indie dev and gamers alike.

For those who don't know, Microsoft has an equality clause for indie developers that makes it impossible for an indie dev to bring its game to Xbox One if it has already launched on Playstation 4. The only way Microsoft allows an indie game to hit both consoles is if launches within the same window on Xbox One. Back in October when the parity clause became a huge headline, head of Xbox Phil Spencer defended the parity clause, saying:

"I'll be honest; the thing I worry about is I look at all the people who buy an Xbox and invest their time and money in Xbox One," he said. "Millions of people own Xbox One and I want those people to feel like they're first class, because they are."When a third party game comes out it comes out on all platforms at the same time. When indie games come out, I want them to come out, and I want Xbox to feel like it is a first-class citizen when an indie game launches."I don't want somebody to come in and just think 'I'm going to go do a special game on one platform and then I'll get to Xbox whenever I get to it.' I don't think that's right."

As expected, this helped dwindle the flames of ire that Microsoft had created for itself. But as many Xbox One owners watched the PlayStation Experience this weekend, those flames have begun to burn once again.

Yesterday on NeoGAF, a game developer revealed the fact that since September 1 of this year, 66 indie games have been announced for current gen consoles. Now here's the heartbreaker: 47 of those games have plans for PlayStation 4 and no plans whatsoever for Xbox One! Now thanks to the parity clause, these games could never end up on the Xbox One platform without special permission from Microsoft. This decision leads me to believe that Microsoft still doesn't understand indie game developers.

No Man's Sky PS4

No Man's Sky

There is no set in stone definition for a game developer to be considered an indie game studio, but these studios do share some common characteristics. First off, indie games are usually developed by small teams. I would say that most indie studios have less than 50 people working on the game, with the majority having fewer than 20.

For example, Hello Games, the studio behind No Man's Sky has 12 people working on that game. Whereas Ubisoft Montreal has 2,100 employees that worked on Far Cry 4, Assassin's Creed: Rogue, and Assassin's Creed: Unity this year alone. You can easily imagine how hard it would be for 12 people to work on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC at the same time. It's safe to say that the game would have little polish and tons of bugs.

Secondly, most indie games run on engines that still haven't been optimized for the new consoles. That means that developers would have to tweak their engines while in full development in order to ensure optimal performance. This requirement could be extremely hard for a small team to do for three different platforms simultaneously. The need to support multiple platforms creates a longer development process and higher development costs. In other words, time is money.

That last word is the key issue: money. Many indie devs reach into their own pockets for game development costs. Some have even gone to the lengths of using Kickstarter and Indiegogo to help them fund their game. The thing about indie studios is they typically have no revenue coming in while they are developing the game. If they don't crowdsource, they will usually have money set aside for development, or else they have another full-time job to help with development costs. Until a game ships, it can easily just be considered an expensive hobby.

The Forest PS4

The Forest

Phil Spencer stated that Xbox One gamers "are first-class." They deserve to get access to indie games no matter which console it launches on first. They shouldn't be prevented from having great experiences just because a developer didn't have the time or manpower to create a game for both platforms at the same time.

We as Windows Phone users know exactly how this feels. We have fought for app parity, yet we do understand the reason behind late ports to Windows Phone. Now just imagine if Microsoft held an equality clause for app developers that want to bring their app to Windows Phone. Developers would jump ship, and we would be screwed.

If there is one thing owning a Windows Phone has taught me, it's that indie developers deserve support, especially when they create something truly amazing. I don't want to have to spend another $400+ on another console just to be able to enjoy the best narrative experiences or gorgeous art styles of the many indie games that are launching on PlayStation 4.

I bought the Xbox One with the hopes of being able to play the best games made, whether exclusive to Xbox One or ported from another console. This gaming experience is why I want the Xbox One parity clause abolished. All Xbox One gamers deserve the first-class experience and innovation that indie games so often produce.

I know many of you would love to play No Man's Sky, The Forest and the newly remastered Grim Fandango. Tall will be great experiences that no gamer should have to miss out on... Especially not due to an undercooked parity clause. All indie games should be able to make the Xbox One their home, no matter where they first launched. Let's tell Microsoft that we want the parity clause to go away so the Xbox One can get the great indie games that it deserves.

174 Comments
  • Amen brother.
  • At least the launch date parity. The other clauses (quality, content, etc) are fair enough, especially considering Microsoft is giving the developers free hardware.
  • So another mismanaged product brought about by misguided Microsoft decisions. Should be used to this by now....
  • Wish I could disagree with this.
  • I can completely disagree.  First of all, you didn't need a publisher on the Xbox 360 if you wanted to publish to XBLIG (Xbox Live Indie Games).  In fact, XBLIG was THE most indie of any console system as it's almost completely unregulated.  Second, part of the success of the 360 was the fact of launch parity.  If you owned consoles for a very long time (for the young people, going back to the PS2 days will suffice), you know how the dominant platform maker will overly exert its market power to deny smaller competitors.  The OG Xbox suffered as a result.  Game makers of the day talked much about how Sony would pay them, give incentives, or give disincentives to delay release or not release at all on the OG Xbox.  Where would the 360 be if Xbox continued to let this happen? It is not an egregious idea to give fair share to both platforms.  If the cry is that the dev team is too small, then why not release for Xbox/PC first and then release Playstation?  Back when these games are first started (game development takes a long time), the developer could not know market conditions so there was no reason to favor a platform over another.  Xbox is not asking for release parity with PCs.  Just with consoles.  A lot of these indie games are PC already.  Plus, PC games are already designed for Windows so porting should be easy.  The Xbox is basically an AMD PC. Would Playstation fans stand for first release on Xbox?  Of course not.  So why should Xbox owners stand for first release on Playstation? The analogy to Windows Phone is wrong.  The Xbox does not have 5% marketshare to Sony's 95% marketshare.  If that was the case, the Xbox could make no claim for equality.
  • I don't think TOO many Playstation fans care if a game is released on Xbox first? I mean, I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that the PS4 release of Rise of the Tomb Raider has gotten a good number of preorders. But even if what you are saying is true, that Playstation users wouldn't stand for it...then it seems more logical to give it to them first, since there are more PS4 owners than XBONE owners(Or like me, just have both consoles) Honestly, while I do enjoy some Xbox games(Mainly Halo), if I was developing a console game, I wouldn't release it on Xbox, simply because I don't like being told what to do with my product, and since making it for the PS4 means I have a bigger potential customer base, it makes sense to give it to them first. That way I can use the extra money to work on my next project, since I don't have to worry about porting it to xbox.
  • Agreed.
  • I agree with Phil Spencer on this, for this very reason: "66 indie games have been announced for current gen consoles. Now here's the heartbreaker: 47 of those games have plans for PlayStation 4 and no plans whatsoever for Xbox One!" If the parity clause were not in place, that number wouldn't be 47...it'd be 57. The only reason Xbox One is getting any of those games is because of the parity clause. Interestingly, the parity clause is attacked as irrational, but really it's the developers who are acting irrationally. If one platform has a parity clause and the other platforms do not, for those developers who want their games on the most platforms but who lack the resources to develop simultaneously, the logical move is to release first on the platform with the parity clause (here, Xbox), and then, port the games to the other platforms (which have no restrictions). By bringing the games to PS4 first, and thereby violating the Xbox One's parity clause, precluding the ability to release the game on Xbox One, the illogical developers have restricted the market for the game. Of course, humans rarely are rational creatures, and irascible developers let emotion get the best of them: "Oh, you think you can tell me what to do, Microsoft? Screw you, I'll just release my game for your competitor, then." But, again, that's irrational. It hurts the developer, not Microsoft (very few indie games, especially those that would later on be ported to the Xbox after already being on the PS4, make enough money for Microsoft, who brings in approximately $90 billion in revenue every year, to even notice, and those exceptions will likely be granted exception by Microsoft). In sum, the developers are acting foolishly. The wise thing to do, given the situation, is to develop your games first for Xbox One, and then port elsewhere later. Stick to your guns, Mr. Spencer; don't reward irrationality.
  • But how do we know it's because of the parity clause. How do we not know that number could potentially be 37 without the clause?
  • This. It just seems kinda arrogant from Microsoft, and I feel I actually discourages developers from building games for Xbox One.
  • Because there are plenty of case studies suggesting otherwise, with Windows Phone being the best one. Developers will develop first for those platforms with the largest user base. PS4 has the largest user base. Thus, unless Xbox gamers want to start feeling like Windows Phone owners--who see apps and games come first to iOS and Android and then, much later (if at all), to Windows Phone (a dangerous slope to start downward because such a situation stagnates growth on the trailing platform, as the 'app gap' convinces fence sitters to go with the lead development platforms)--then we need the parity clause. If irascible indie developers want to act irrationally and "stick it to the man" Microsoft by developing for PS4 first (and therefore, only), let them act irrationally. Those few who gamble and win (i.e. the rare indie hit) will be pardoned by  Microsoft anyway and allowed to port to Xbox. But the grand majority of stubborn and irrational indie developers will simply be shooting themselves in the feet by limiting revenue opportunities due to their own pride.
  • Thank you for saying this. This is what people don't realize when they attack the parity clause.
  • I agree..
  • I think its good.
    Xbox is NOT Windows Phone and if a dev cant deliver to Xbox first or soon after PS4... then the window closes. No soup for you.
  • So essentially what you are saying is that indie developers need to suck it up and accept some ridiculous policy on MS part and make sure to develop their game for the Xbox One first? Also (and this might have been just a case of poor word choice on your part), but I would hardly call a developer choosing to develop for a console over another initially "violating" any policy. And the fact you see a developer not swallowing this BS as irrational and not the actual policy itself is a bit surprising.
  • Yes, if the developer wants the support and tools provided under the ID@Xbox program, they should commit to developing for Xbox One first. Microsoft isn't a charity. If not, they can find a traditional publisher and get their games on Xbox One whenever they want that way.
  • "And the fact you see a developer not swallowing this BS as irrational and not the actual policy itself is a bit surprising." It's not "BS". It's rational. Any developer who set aside his emotions and examined the situation objectively would realize that. "So essentially what you are saying is that indie developers need to suck it up and accept some ridiculous policy on MS part and make sure to develop their game for the Xbox One first?" It is a privilege to release one's work on another's platform. You can't just record a music album and walk into Best Buy and put it on the shelf and demand that they sell it. You have to play by their rules. Same with Xbox One. So, yes, if a developer wants the privilege of putting his game on Xbox so that he can profit from it, then he needs to abide by the rules set by the platform holder. I already explained why it's rational for Microsoft to have the parity clause and why it's rational for developers to abide by it. All you've done is let emotio cloud your judgment, just like many indie developers, unfortunately.
  • How do you assume that the indie developers are just being misled by their emotions? They are, in the end, running a business, and they will naturally be interested in furthering it. If, as you say, it hurts them enough to not have their games on XBox, they will be doing as you said - release first on XBox and then on other platforms that do not have this policy. The reason that indie devs are daring to give XBox a miss is because they percieve that if they target just PS4, they can recoup their investment, and make a tidy profit. The larger picture is that XBox is not the preferred development platform for these indie devs, and MS should do more than what they've done to make the platform more attractive. To that end, the author is right.
  • Because humans act irrationally, all the time. Any developer who cannot simultaneously develop for PS4 and Xbox One, but who wants to release on both, who then chooses to develop for PS4 instead of Xbox One first, is acting irrationally. Maybe they can recuperate their costs and make a tiny profit if they publish just on PS4, but all that means is that they then missed out on a much larger profit if they had published on both platforms, for the sunk costs they poured into the PS4 development can then never be re-used. Porting code is cheap. It takes way less time and man hours than writing code from scratch. They're missing out on easy money. That's foolish.
  • And what would you say if both platforms had that clause?
  • I'd say that's wonderful: it would mean that Xbox One gamers and PS4 gamers got all their games at the same time. No more inequality.
  • i thought you only needed to aby by the parity clause if you were using any of microsofts tools of assistance to publish your game other wise you could just post your game up when you wanted... isnt that the point of the ID@xbox program  
  • I think the big issue with parity not happening is that Xbox becomes the also-ran. If, say, Don't Starve hit Xbox tomorrow it would be news for Xbox One owners only. General websites would have one notification article and that's it. Meanwhile, when it hit PS4, there was news all over about it coming to consoles. Parity does matter, just not if it stops us from playing anything at all. That said, if they want to keep it they need to send out MS employees to work with these small teams to port code. Just port code. Nothing else. Optimize it for Xbox One. There should be a team size maximum and maybe some other concession to ensure developers don't just rely on it always, but I think it could work. That or get rid of parity and trust that all the martyr developers that have been making a big deal out of it magically start putting games out on Xbox because they "want to but the parity clause stops them" (sorry to generalize, I know there are hard-working indies out there who really do want their game in all revenue channels, I just doubt the most vocal had any intention to support both anyway.)
  • Ok so PS4 has no such clause right?? So why don't the devs ever say like we will do it for Xbox first then think about PS...Jonathan said it right...Microsoft still hasn't totally figured out the indie dev market...Instead of funding them for porting over games at a later stage...they should start funding right at the development stage...
  • Well like I stated above some engines and code aren't compatible with Xbox One yet and there are many more that are already compatible with PS4. That's why development starts with them first. Also I think Sony is actively looking for Indies while Microsoft is waiting for the indies to come to them.
  • That's because Sony is betting everything on the PS...Their company more or less depends on the PS...and the risk of losing money on indie devs is far lesser than big exclusives and 3rd party games...MS can just be humble enough and get that clause out...i can only see positives coming out of it..
  • The amount of spin you put on that outlook made me dizzy bro
  • Loosing out on a good game I might have loved wasting my time on, doesn't make me feel like a first class xBox citizen at all. The kind of mentality shared by Mr. Spencer is so Apple (dated) and insulting to the customers!
  • Amen. We are with you Jonathan. Do we have a hashtag for share our opinion?
  • You guys are more than welcome to start one!
  • here you go #removexb1parity4indie
  • #MakePartyNotParity
  • That's a bit too long mate. Here's a better one. #nopartyclause
  • #nopantiesclause
  • What background is that??
  • The Forest, No Man's Sky, and Grim Fandango all look crazy awesome. Grave, Ghost of a Tale, and Aztez too.
  • Don't think we'd get Grim Fandango anyway, Sony is helping with development/funding it
  • Aztez is coming to Xbox One, along with a lot of other indies that are exclusive (at least, for awhile) to Xbox One: Fru, Below, Cuphead, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, etc.
  • I was sad that Grim Fandango was PS4 only, but Sony is sponsoring that remake so... there's not much we can hope for. But No Man's Sky is a BIG one... but at least there's PC for that one.
  • This is definitely one of the last idiotic decisions the Xbox Team made that has yet to be reversed. Anti-consumer DRM, forcing Kinect, Gold for IE and NetFlix, etc were all stupid and reversed. 
  • Xbox One never had anti-consumer DRM. It had anti-reseller DRM if anything. They offered us a way to load a game from disc and not have to use the disc again. The DRM was there so that you couldn't just hand off the game to a friend or sell it after putting it on your harddrive. But you could still do it. Re-used games were always a possibility. I would have much rather they fixed HOW that would work as opposed to haphazardly aboloshing it. The Xbox's original intention is no different from Steam/Origin/GOG etc. It would have likely also opened up the opportunity for steep discounts at the developers discression.
  • Preach !
  • Finally someone else who saw this besides me. The crazy part about it is they didn't even have to really fix how it was done other than make an "offline mode" that would disable games being played sans-disc if the console hadn't checked in in X period of time. Microsoft was trying to push the games industry forward, and I would have loved to see how the console would have looked had they not backtracked. Instead, the industry has been pushed back a good decade if not longer. All the problems that existed at launch for the One are a direct result of them having to retcon like 60% of the system software.
  • Here! Here! Ignorant people ruined the steam type service that the X1 could have been.
  • It's nice to finally meet someone with an understanding of what the original idea was. I'm also Canadian. If you are near Ottawa I owe you a drink.
  • Put an emphasis on "Likely". There were zero promises or even inferences from MS, publishers, or Devs that Xbox One's DRM would lower the price of games. Anti-reseller includes consumers who had to resell the game first, before any retailer could. That said, I like Microsoft's stance on indie game parity. Indie games have not been big system sellers in the past, and aren't predicted to be in the future. It's a big gamble for devs, and they take on far more risk than MS.
  • There are lots of examples of exemptions from this. They're not so hard headed as you make it sound.  They've completely offered to work with devs to accomodate them in some way and there are already lots of games on Xbox One that came late. Microsoft isn't totally blocking games.  In most cases they seem to negotiate that they release some sort of Ultra version or what have you.   
  • This is true but only for certain cases. I believe out of those 47 games we see coming to PS4 we'll be lucky to see maybe 10. But why not just abolish this and allow the smaller studios and games to port to Xbox One as well and not been shunned.
  • Because if you abolish it, all indie developers will make their games first for PS4, and Xbox One's indie scene will become exactly what gaming is like on Windows Phone: sloppy seconds to iOS and Android where you are lucky to get the same version of a game that launched years earlier. Case in point: Minecraft: PE, 2011 debut on enemy platforms, 2014 [almost 2015] debut on Windows Phone; same game. That will become the norm on Xbox One if the parity clause goes away.
  • One exception to this rule would be contrast. Which was given to ps4 owners for free and then what all most a year later showed up on Xbox One.
  • There has been a couple of exceptions but it's usually bigger titles not small titles.
  • Translation:  It's usually better titles, not failures.
  • I can name a bunch of games that are smaller titles that have amazing reviews that haven't been ported. But it's usually games that have lots of press that are ported. The smaller ones deserve the support as well.
  • what exactly is there to accomodate? It's like saying: "we're being unreasonble pricks by default, but we're willing to negotiate". how about this: "don't be an unresonable prick".
  • It's actually the developers who are being unreasonable. Rational choice theory dictates that they should develop first for Xbox One in this situation.
  • Rational choice would be to develop for the console with the largest user base to maximize revenue. This rational choice would result in ps4 getting the release first. This is the same logic applied to a mobile app developer when they're deciding which platforms to launch on and the reason windows phone gets whatever after IOS and android.
  • No, that's a fallacy because no mobile platform has a parity clause. The "largest user base" is to develop for all platforms: Xbox One's user base + PS4's user base > PS4's user base. If by developing for the PS4 first means you cannot then develop for the Xbox One, then it is irrational to develop for PS4 first. Either you release simultaneously or you develop first for the platform that does have the parity clause (in this cause, Xbox One).
  • You're forgetting the very real reality of budgets, funding and risk management. Of course being able to have your game in both user bases is better than just 1. But what if you've only got the money for one at a time? What if you publish to the smaller install base and you don't make enough money back to fund the ps4 version or any other project for that matter? You're dead in the water, thats what. So its easy to say, oh, just go for Xbox then ps4, but indie devs are indie devs for a reason; they're small and so are their budgets. So to someone with limited resources, a risk assessment may recommend attacking the largest user base so they have the greatest chance of making money and funding future projects.
  • Just wanted to take a moment to agree with your common sense, Killa. By the other logic I'm hearing, Windows Phone should come out with a parity clause soon, because everyone else is being so irrational to devote more time to larger install bases. What we need is more parity clauses. /s