Chris Charla of Xbox believes that indie developers should think of themselves as the leaders in the video games industry. Charla, the head of ID@Xbox says that smaller studios are going toe-to-toe with AAA in such a way that they’re showing the way forward for the bigger studios.
GameIndusty.biz’s GI Live Online gave us plenty of insight into what leading developers of the gaming industry think of the current trends in gaming. The one that caught my attention the most was ID@Xbox and the philosophy they’ve set for Microsoft’s relationship with indie developers.
Indie studios bring plenty of new things to the board that most AAA studios end up adopting or in some form integrate it to their own medium as well. Indie games have a way of enticing the curious sort or rather those looking for a new flavor than the usual open world game of the year. Don’t get me wrong, AAA games are great but titles like Vampire Survivors capture my imagination.
“I date that 2008 launch of Castle Crashers as the beginning of an indie Golden Age. 14 years in and that Golden Age hasn’t stopped.” Charla said at 19:20 in an interview you can watch below.
“We look at the games that have come out recently, games like Tunic, like Shredders. It’s just amazing. We started out by seeing games like Castle Crashers, like Braid, that are sort-of like from an earlier time. We saw a lot of early indie games look like 8-bit games, in terms of look and play style, with 2D side scrolling, that sort of thing. As time’s gone on, what we’ve seen is independent developers start to occupy every niche that has ever been successful in the history of game development.”
“Now we’re on Gen 9 with our consoles, Xbox Series X, Playstation 5, and we see small developers making games that are super competitive,” Charla continues, saying that indie developers have caught up to and are producing Gen9-quality games citing Shredders, a snowboarding game that came out in 2021, as an example of an independently created title that pushes the boundaries of the current hardware.
“I see the future is really independent developers having the opportunity to lead where the industry is going.” Charla says and then recalls an instance he had speaking with a AAA developer who wanted to make something like Hades, as an example of how indie developers are leading the industry. “So to see that independent developers are now able to lead where the industry is going, to me, is really fantastic.”
“I do think that for independent developers, it’s a great time to think about not just being part of the games industry, but where they help lead the industry next.”
This is just one of the many reasons Xbox is proactively working with indie developers by providing new technologies, discoverability or business models like Game Pass or cloud technology like Azure. The ID@Azure program acts as a democratization of development that allows indie developers access to technologies that would typically be only reserved for AAA companies.
“We know that when we give independent developers access to our tools and technology, right back from Xbox 360 days… no one would have guessed that Castle Crashers was going to be the game on 360.” Charla says. “No one could have guessed that a 1930s-style, hand drawn side-scrolling boss rush platformer was going to be a thing that people wanted to play. But when Cuphead came out it was this amazing success. So when we give developers access to the power of the cloud, I think we’re going to see similar mind blowing things from them. And so we have to do it.”
When asked what was the catch for all the help Xbox is providing indie developers, Charla said, “We ask for a lot. We ask them to work really hard to make fantastic games. The really nice thing about whether it’s ID@Azure, where we’re going to be offering cloud services, or ID@Xbox, where we help get games onto Xbox and PC [and Game Pass], is we only succeed when the developer succeeds.”
“Our motivations are right in line with the developers when it comes to commercial viability. Now developers have more than just commercial success in mind, they’re artists, so there’s creative success, there’s personal success.”
“When we talk at events, we always make it really clear that there are lots of different definitions of success for a developer. Where our interests and developer interests perfectly overlap is commercial success. We want devs to have as much commercial success as they can, so that they can have a sustainable future and keep doing what they love to do. And obviously so we can have a sustainable future as well.”