Microsoft seems to be playing catch up to Sony in many ways as the first year of the newest console generation is soon to come to a close. Aside from sales and general PR, Microsoft is also struggling to maintain sturdy relationships with smaller independent developers. This is exemplified in the company’s parity clause, which strictly limits the chances of games coming to the platform if they have appeared earlier on other platforms. This clause mainly effects the ever growing indie scene on consoles. Many indie developers have developed solid relationships with Sony at the beginning of this console generation while being made to feel alienated by Microsoft.
Phil Spencer commented on this parity clause this past week, defending it by claiming that he feels that Xbox users deserve the right to be “first class citizens.” By this he seemed to imply that Xbox gamers are entitled to receive indie games either as soon as other platform users, or if later, in an elevated form (i.e. exclusive content). To me this seems like a weak justification for such a clause. If Microsoft doesn’t broaden its horizons in terms of its business model for indie games, then Sony is set to have a key advantage with a target segment that continues to grow on consoles with every passing year.
Speaking with the Inner Circle podcast, the exact quote from Spencer regarding Microsoft’s parity clause is as follows:
“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 to feel like it is a first class citizen when an indie game launches…For me the parity thing is, if you own Xbox One I want to work for you to make sure that when great content launches, if it’s coming to Xbox One and another platform, you get it at the same time as everybody else does…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.”
There are a few issues with Spencer’s statement. For one, there is an implied sense of entitlement, whether intended or not, by Spencer’s insistence on Xbox users deserving to get content at the same time or otherwise receive more if it comes to them later. Why is this the case? A Sony user spends the same amount to purchase a PlayStation 4 as it would cost to purchase an Xbox One. What exactly “entitles” Xbox users above any other gamer to get a game on time, late but with exclusive content, or not at all?
The second problem comes in Spencer’s apparent assumption that indie developers are somehow taking advantage of Microsoft. Spencer seems to see some intangible, unfair benefit for indie developers in bringing their games to Microsoft late. Indie development is on a smaller scale than AAA development, but is still quite expensive (my piece from a couple months ago on some Shovel Knight statistics touches more on this issue). Resources become a very real issue very quickly for indie devs, and to hint that them waiting until later to release on an Xbox console intentionally rather than out of necessity, seems off base.