If you’re looking to get an Xbox One for your free-to-play kick and don’t mind paying for an Xbox LIVE Gold membership… well, you still might be out of luck because your selection of games could be seriously limited, thanks to Microsoft’s Stone Age policies regarding digital distribution.
By now, you’ve likely heard about Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi saying that he’s “not happy about” the Gold subscription requirement for World of Tanks on the Xbox 360. He’s still one of the lucky ones, though – his game will actually be on an Xbox system.
On the heels of that interview comes DayZ creator Dean “Rocket” Hall’s questioning Microsoft’s digital distribution model – or rather, it’s existence at all, which he calls “ridiculous”. DayZ won’t be free-to-play, but the points he brings up – echoed in another piece from last month – seem to indicate that Microsoft isn’t exactly friendly toward indie studios and especially developers that don’t have a major publisher or that ship a physical product.
That issue is, of course, at the heart of free-to-play gaming. There are major companies that make free-to-play games, like SOE and EA, that ship plenty of physical products, but if this information is accurate, even they’re limited to one digital-only game on Xbox LIVE Arcade for every two physical retail games shipped.
And what about smaller companies that can’t get on the shelves of Best Buy or GameStop or Walmart? Many F2P-focused companies fall into this category, and F2P gaming itself is primarily a digital venture, usually with no accompanying physical product. Even a well-established company with a very successful “other” game, like CCP, does most of its business digitally, which probably explains why DUST 514 is on the PlayStation 3 and not the Xbox 360.
Microsoft needs to seriously wake up on this issue. It’s no longer 1995, where the only way to produce and distribute games is through physical discs (which they seem to understand only as it pertains to DRM). Perhaps the issue is that they don’t want a ton of indie/low-budget games cluttering up the XBLA marketplace, but that could be solved with a little more quality control… but that would probably require more resources, a.k.a. money.
Victor Kislyi may be right when he says “We will teach – excuse me – we will advise them on how to embrace” how to properly handle free-to-play gaming and alternate payment models. I’ve spoken with Victor and he can be a little blunt, but in a charming way, and this seems like him coming up with the right, though undiplomatic, word and realizing he needs to quickly soften it. Still, it’s a little troubling that developers need to teach Microsoft this lesson, one that a true forward-thinking company should already be in a hurry to implement.
If you care at all about the Xbox One, you’d better hope that enlightenment won’t come too late.
By Jason Winter