The next big videogame could be created by one person in their bedroom rather than a big studio, according to the head of Microsoft’s independent developer programme in Europe.
Programmers who run very small companies are more likely to take risks and make games they would like to play, rather than focus on what will sell, Agostino Simonetta said. With digital tools, social media and self-publishing platforms such as ID@Xbox now in the mainstream, anyone can create a game that can achieve critical and commercial success.
“One of the biggest titles last year was Stardew Valley,” Simonetta said. “That was one guy, working on a game for four years. He released it and it sold massively, everybody loved it. Ten years ago, who would have thought that one guy, in his room, on his own, could have created something that sold millions of copies. Some [indie games] have come from nowhere and outsold big games.
“Independent developers push the boundaries of our art form and they are always moving it forward. They tend to do it in a less commercial way, and often they don’t think about market appeal, they just have this amazing idea, so they take risks that big companies might not take.
“Anybody can make a game now the technology has become a lot easier to use. What that means is the next big title could come from anywhere.”
With social media now being used by small developers as a “free marketing channel”, they can also “reach out to platforms and publishers at the click of a button” to promote their games, he added.
Simonetta was speaking at an event to showcase some of the most highly anticipated independent games that will be released this year via ID@Xbox, a Microsoft platform that enables qualified developers of all sizes to self-publish on Xbox One and Windows 10 with Xbox Live.
The eight games on show at Microsoft’s London office ranged from child-friendly platformer Snake Pass and fantasy hack-and-slasher Path of Exile, to music-led shoot-em-up Aaero and retro point-and-click adventure Thimbleweed Park.
Snake Pass is the first original game by Sumo Digital. David Dino, a designer at the firm, said Microsoft had been “super helpful” in getting Snake Pass “into the spotlight”.
“The ID@Xbox team has been very supportive,” he added. “They’ve come by our offices many times to make sure we had everything we needed. It felt very natural; getting the game out how we wanted, when we wanted. It’s been great.”
It’s a view echoed by Mad Fellows, the two-man company behind Aaero. Paul Norris, Creative Director, and Dan Horbury, Technical Director, spent two years making the title, and said the process would have been a lot more difficult without the help, support and advice provided by Microsoft’s ID@Xbox team.
“We’ve been close to Microsoft all the way through both of our games,” Norris said. “There is no way we would have been able to do events like this [on our own]; if we approached the media directly, we wouldn’t get anything back. This sort of thing is invaluable to us.
“It’s been a positive experience all the way through and I’m really grateful. I don’t know what our situation would be if we hadn’t worked with Microsoft but it certainly wouldn’t be what it is now.”
Mad Fellows also successfully applied for Creative England’s Greenshoots fund, which offers investments of between £50,000 and £200,000 to games companies who are creating exciting, innovative games and can demonstrate high growth potential.
“Greenshoots was ideal for us during our first game; that team was really great to us. Then Greenshoots 2 came around and we pitched for that as well, and got that with this game,” Norris said.
“Now it’s just about getting in front of people, but because we’re a small company, we can’t afford to spend millions on marketing,” added Horbury.
ID@Xbox helps by organising press events, and setting up presentations and meetings for developers to showcase the games. The Microsoft team also talk at industry and in-house events to explain the best ways of releasing and marketing a game.
“With independent developers you build a very personal relationship,” said Simonetta. “You build relationships with bigger companies, too, but with independent developers you talk to individuals and you are really building friendships. It becomes a lot more than just business and selling games. They become part of the family.”