ID@Xbox has been bringing indie games to the Xbox One steadily over the last year and a half. Meanwhile, the new preview program will be bringing even more indie titles to the console with a heavier dose of community participation and early adoption. The Xbox One indie scene, then, is looking healthy and vibrant.
However, you may remember back around the launch of the Xbox One in 2013, Don Mattrick and the Xbox team introduced the parity clause, an agreement that indie titles had to be released first on Xbox One or simultaneously with any other platform they were launching on. There was certainly more nuance to the clause, with a stipulation that titles could come to the console later if they were enhanced or included additional content, and the creation of the ID@Xbox team softened this blow even more as they considered titles on a case-by-case basis with dedicated support, but whether due to initial confusion about it or because it was intended to be as limiting as it seemed, initially this appeared to be a killing blow to small indie developers.
The arguments from developers was that creating a game in the first place is hard enough, developing it to launch on multiple platforms simultaneously is insanely difficult and time-consuming. It’s a limitation that threatens the likeliness of projects ever seeing the light of day.
On the Microsoft side, however, was the argument that Xbox One players would feel short-changed to be playing a title X months or years after it first released on another platform. That it wasn’t fair to make Xbox One players wait.
In an interview with The Inner Circle Podcast in October 2014, Phil Spencer said this about the clause:
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 Xbox one customers we want good games as they come out on both platforms. But I also get that for some guys they just can’t afford the time to get both done. So we have entered into the conversations with people as they are launching it and I feel pretty good about the plan.
Both indie developers and Xbox had an argument for and against the clause, but the potential barriers this erected for indie developers was clear to see. But while this may be the reason for the slow initial trickle of indie titles hitting the console, the last year or so has certainly seen an increased flow.
The indie titles have been raining from digital clouds and pooling comfortably on the Xbox One more recently, including many that have previously released on other platforms. With so many titles seeing release regardless of previously launching on other platforms, is this parity clause such a bad thing after all? In fact, does it even really exist any more?
Yes and no seems to be the answer, but don’t just take my word for it. An interview in the latest Edge Magazine let’s you proverbially hear it from Phil Spencer himself:
Is the parity clause dead now?
I think so.
Phil Spencer replies.
There’s this idea that’s been named ‘parity clause’, but there is no clause. We’ve come out and been very transparent in the last four or five months about exactly what we want. If there’s a developer who’s building a game and they just can’t get the game done for both platforms – cool. We’ll take a staggered release. We’ve done it before, and we’ll work with them on that. If another platform does a deal with you as a developer to build an exclusive version of your game for them, and you can’t ship on my platform for a year, when the games comes out in a year let’s work together to make it special in some way. People complained about that, but you did a deal with somebody else and you for paid for it and I’m happy – we do those same deals, so I’m not knocking you. It’s going to be better for you, actually, because people don’t want last year’s game, they want something special and new.
Based on the releases we’ve seen since the console’s launch it’s clear there’s been some wiggle room with the clause, and indeed the idea of having the Xbox One version enhanced in someway if it is delayed on the console has seen a variety of new content and scope of new content hit these titles. Phil Spencer’s latest word on the clause clarify its evolution to a much fairer and beneficial program for all parties. It’s not gone completely but over the last year it’s been evolving to meet the needs of developers, Xbox, and consumers.
Finally the confusion over this parity clause is beginning to clear up, and hats off to Xbox for listening to developers and the community about changes to such policies.
The future for the indie scene is looking brighter than ever!