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PAXAUS 2014 – Interview Chris Charla – anybody can make a game on Xbox One

Chris Charla heads up Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program first announced at Gamescom in Germany back in 2013.  For Charla curating the fresh (and in some cases not so fresh) faces of independent development teams, and getting their product out to the masses is a dream job.

Charla has sat in all paddocks that make up the video gaming industry farm.  As one of the founding members of gaming journalism site IGN and then having spent a significant amount of time being an independent developer himself, he understands the challenges and motivations of those trying to break into the industry.

Microsoft has made an effort to counteract the impression it doesn’t support indie developers.  Sony made a concerted effort to attract the innovative talent found in the indie scene when the PS4 was announced, and Microsoft is out to prove it is equally as welcoming.

At PAXAus this weekend, Sony is not here, and the Xbox One booth is has at least half of the floorspace devoted to games funnelled through the ID@Xbox program.

Charla explains how the application process is being streamlined “There is vetting, because there is a limited number of dev-kits.” Explains Charla “Right now we are giving them out to more experienced developers, with evidence of a game inflight, in the IGF or had a successful kickstarter”

Will exclusivity to the Xbox platform be part of the vetting?  “not really, we are really just looking for developers to work with, developers that want to make cool games.  And then once a developer has kits, they have access to our support forums, any middleware whether it is Gamemaker, Unreal 4, Unreal 3 or Unity, and a lot of them use Unity, so we have made provisions for them to use Unity for no charge”

Dev Kits?  At the Xbox One launch, were we not told that every Xbox One would essentially be a development kit, that we would not need special hardware to get our whacky game ideas developed? Charla sets the record straight:  “We said in the future everybody will be able to make games using an Xbox One, and that is still the plan, but we don’t have a timeline to announce on that”

“When they want to do a game, they fill in a really simple concept submission form so we can do concept approval, not looking to be censors, but just ensuring there is content appropriate to Xbox.  Then we sign a publishing agreement so that they have to publish on Xbox One”

Are their timeframes that developers need to hit to remain part of the program? “There are, but they are very broad.” says Charla “There is nothing like ‘milestones’, or your need to ship by this certain day.  You need to eventually ship to keep the agreement in force.  We have a special portal for developers to get special support, they can email us with specific questions that can’t be addressed elsewhere, and as we get close to release we help them both with release management, going through our certification process, and then also give them opportunities to help amplify the promotion of their games and use our resources to help get the word out there about their games”

How does ID@Xbox do this, what tools are available for so the indies can compete with the big publishers, as well as other indies?

“Everything,” says Charla “like featuring the games at tradeshows and conventions like we are doing today, talking about the games on Xbox News Wire, Tweeting about the games, doing introductions, if we know there is a cool game, and we know somebody in the press whose looking for a cool game, making those kind of intros behind the scenes.”

Chris Charla comes across as a bloke that is really enjoying what he is doing; “It’s been awesome!” he chimes “It’s always a tough question to answer because my job is to come to work each day and say, how are we messing up?  How can we improve things?  But if I step back for a minute, we shipped our first game in April or May, twenty five games have come through the program so far, there are hundreds in development right now, I have the privilege of seeing the portfolio and it is amazing.  We just announced Screencheat from Australia, and we are super excited to have that one on the program. Really fun on the PC, but comes from playing Goldeneye with your friends [on the N64 Console] and casting your eye to see what they are doing, and so we are really excited to see it come to the Xbox console.”

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