[email protected] – Microsoft’s innovative programme that allows independent video game developers to self-publish titles for Windows and Xbox One – is heading into its fifth year.
This year’s Games Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco is an ideal time to celebrate how far the programme has come, with nearly 800 games released to date, from 477 studios around the world.
The incredible success of [email protected] is apparent for attendees at the show, where Microsoft is showcasing more than 50 titles coming to Windows and Xbox One – many of which are landing as launch exclusives.
With more than four billion hours (or 450,000 years) sunk into [email protected] games since 2013, the appetite for independent titles and the creativity and soul they bring with them, is clear.
We were lucky enough to spend some time with a few developers from across Europe, who are currently showcasing their virtual wares on the GDC show floor, for their thoughts on the [email protected] programme and how it has helped them on their console-gaming journeys.
Coffee Stain Studios
Based in Skövde, Sweden, you might best know Coffee Stain Studios for Goat Simulator which has provided both casual and hardcore gaming fans alike with plenty of entertainment over the past few years.
More recent titles include Deep Rock Galactic and Huntdown – both of which are being released on PC and Xbox One this year.
The former is a humorous first-person dwarven mining adventure with a twist, which sees you and a team of friends traverse the depths of alien planets to harvest precious resources, all while holding off hordes of monstrous alien creatures who are doing their best to encourage you to leave.
Huntdown on the other hand, is an old-school hand-drawn pixel, co-op arcade shooter which will send gamers straight back to the 80s, with over-the-top villains, music and visuals to boot.
Since Anton Westbergh, CEO of Coffee Stain Studios first embarked on his journey in the games industry, things have changed. He recalls life in the earlier days of independent publishing, and the issues he faced:
“As a self-publisher, Steam used to be the only viable platform, but it wasn’t as open is it is today. While we actually did publish on console, we had to use a publisher due to the closed nature of console systems.”
“For us, [email protected] has been a great move by Microsoft that enables smaller developers like us to be able to self-publish. It’s opened up the whole console ecosystem which has been great. These days it’s not just about having the biggest budget or having the most experience. With so many great games coming out, the publicity and the platform that [email protected] has given us, is very much appreciated.”
Founded in 1999 and based in Prague in the Czech Republic, Bohemia Interactive released its first game – military shooter Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis – in 2001, before moving on to the ARMA series.
From the ARMA series, an incredibly popular mod called DayZ was born as a full standalone survival game after being in development over the past few years.
While the game has been available to play as an alpha build, fans have an improved, polished experience to look forward to:
Eugen Harton, Lead producer believes that “It’s important to state that the game players are playing right now, is running on the old engine. Only a couple of the new technological developments we’ve created are in the current live version. The changes that you’re going to be seeing in the next couple of months will be huge.”
In addition to a smoother gameplay experience, the new engine and technology that Bohemia Interactive has been working on has allowed it to develop DayZ’s first ever console release, coming to Xbox Game Preview later this year.
The process of bringing DayZ to more players outside of the PC market was made substantially easier, thanks to the support from [email protected]
Martin Čulák, Brand Manager, states that “While we have released console games in the past, it’s still an unexplored area for us – the console market is new for us as a developer as we are mostly focused on the PC market – and everyone in the [email protected] team has greatly helped us with the experience of publishing a game on Xbox, and we really appreciate, it.”
11 Bit Studios
Further south from Prague in Warsaw, Poland, lives 11 Bit Studios, which was founded by a group of Polish games industry veterans, who released their debut title Anomaly Warzone Earth after their first year.
Finding huge success in November 2014 with This War of Mine – which netted the team over 100 awards and worldwide recognition – 11 Bit Studios is currently developing Frostpunk (which will launch as a UWP app on the Windows 10 store) and publishing Children of Morta due for release on Xbox One later this year.
A beautiful hack’n’slash adventure game with stunning hand-painted, frame-by-frame pixel art combined with modern lighting techniques, Children of Morta is as stunning to look at as it is diverse – thanks to its procedurally-generated locations which offer infinite possibilities for adventure.
Pawel Miechowski, Partnerships Manager at 11 Bit Studios, recalls that “Before when we were working with second-party games, publishing on consoles was more difficult. It was more time-consuming, and lacked the human touch.”
While publishing console games used to have some level of automation – and 11 Bit Studios takes full advantage of the programme’s ability to set up product pages and go through the required certifications – the human factor that [email protected] also offers developers and publishers, is one of its largest selling points.
“I remember working on certifications in the past – the process was quite painful, and I think we even failed the first two attempts to publish. Now, we have a dedicated person to help us with coding for Xbox platforms and the process is far easier and very well organised.”