During the chaos that is PAX Australia, I managed to have a quiet chat with ID@Xbox Director Chris Charla. In the back corner of the exhibition centre, Charla greeted me warmly.
Immediately put at ease by his reassuring and friendly manner, I realised that Charla is exactly the right kind of person to be running a program like ID@Xbox. Especially because he so heartily believes in and is passionate about the program.
ID@Xbox launched five years ago as a way to streamline and assist independent developers to release their titles on Xbox platforms. In 2018, more than 3000 studios have used ID@Xbox to help gamers around the globe play their games.
ID@Xbox Chris Charla
From humble beginnings to now, I asked Charla about the journey he, and ID@Xbox had been on in the past five years.
“It’s been really fun. The last five years going from a new program supporting just a few dozen publishers to now more than 3,000 development studios was a big challenge. But it worked out pretty well,” he tells me.
Initially, when trying to get ID@Xbox off the ground Charla tells me that Microsoft was hugely supportive of the idea. He singles out one game in particular for helping get executives to understand the power of indie games.
“We never really had any trouble. We would go into meetings at Microsoft and people would go ‘Oh, the Indie guys. How can we help? I loved LIMBO.'”
LIMBO first launched in July 2010 for Xbox Live Arcade and was the third highest selling game on the platform in that year, generating more than $7.5 million USD in revenue. The digital landscape for Xbox was a very different one in 2010 and the differences between Live Arcade and ID@Xbox can’t be overstated.
Charla even calls ID@Xbox the younger sibling of Xbox Live Arcade.
The Xbox Live Arcade was our programme on Xbox 360 that enabled digital distribution. In a way, we’re[ID@Xbox] kind of a spiritual successor. But that programme you had to work with a publisher.
There were things like file size limit and only 200 achievements, you couldn’t have a thousand. There were a lot of things that were put in place in the mid-2000s that definitely were done for a reason and made sense then.
As we got closer and closer to the Xbox One launch five years ago we talked to the developers about what they needed and wanted and they really let us know. It was just plainly true, that the independent scene had grown and developed so much that what they really needed was for us to get out of the way.
Getting out of the way may be an oversimplification though, as Microsoft, through ID@Xbox, provided independent developers with enormous support and assistance, without any of the roadblocks that were in place with Xbox Live Arcade.
Charla explains, “We’re there to provide platform support, to provide the kind of marketing information, promotional amplification for the work that they’re doing and technical information as they needed, but we’re not there to be in their business about the exact game that they’re making.”
Cold Hard Facts
When it comes to the success of the program, one only needs to look at the stats. The handy infographic above is a great place to start and outlines the key successes of ID@Xbox including;
- 3000+ Studios
- Four Billion hours played
- $1 billion USD in revenue
- 1000 games released
Charla points to the revenue is a particular success of the program saying, “The best measure we can use to look at that is just how many royalties we paid out to devs and it’s over a billion dollars in the last four years and it feels like a lot of money.
We feel pretty good, it’s always a hard business but the games that ship on Xbox have a really good opportunity to be really successful for independent developers.”
The next step for ID@Xbox according to Charla is discoverability. “Our focus is really on the next challenge developers face which is discoverability, making sure people know about their games, and are playing their games, and that’s going pretty well too. If we look at the Xbox store it really provides a sustainable development environment for studios.”
The Games of ID@Xbox
With 1000 games released, I wondered which of those Charla had a special interest or relationship. Cuphead is the first game that Charla mentions and he’s clearly really proud of his involvement in bringing that game to release.
Oh, there’ve been a tonne. I mean, a thousand games is way more than I can list.
Obviously Cuphead comes to mind as a game that we got to participate in kind of their whole journey from seeing the game in a really early stage when they were just first posting on Dev Forums to featuring it for just a few seconds at E3, watching that just blow up and go viral and that kind of helping convince that team that they really wanted to double down and quit their day jobs and just go all in.
Watching that then ship and be really successful. It’s been really gratifying to see and to think that maybe we’re a tiny little piece of that and enabling them felt awesome.
Other games he mentions are Strike Suit Zero, Video Kid, Supermarket Shriek and upcoming titles like Tunic and Totem Teller.
As for the future of ID@Xbox, according to Charla, it’s brighter than it’s ever been. It also means staying the course and improving on what’s already working well.
“A lot of [the future] is just doing the same thing, which is making it easy for devs to ship on Xbox, he explains. “However, making it easy for devs to ship on Xbox changes.
“Five years ago that was cutting 3-4 days off the time it took to submit a bill. Today, it’s working with developers so they can make sure that they maximise their discovery. Where it’s going is gonna be making sure that developers can take advantage of programmes like Xbox Game Pass or taking advantage of new hardware whether it’s the Xbox adaptive controller or whatever is coming next.”
The guiding principle for everyone at ID@Xbox is to help indies get their games to Xbox fans. “Our North Star is that we make it easy for devs to ship, they ship awesome games, players are happy, it works for everybody. That hasn’t changed and I don’t see that changing,” Charla tells me.
Aside from the mechanical future of the program, the future of games coming to Xbox via ID@Xbox is also bright. Charla told me that there are currently more than 1500 in development and more being added every day.
The thing I really love about it is the diversity of games. It’s just amazing because we’ve got games that are created by a single person and we have games that are created by really big studios all in ID@Xbox.
There’s every kind of graphic style and genre too. From side-scrolling, 2-D, hand-drawn art all the way up to full 3-D, Unreal Engine crazy lighting and everything in between.
Whether it’s genre, gameplay style, art style, art type, we’ve just got a huge variety and players have responded super well to it. It seems like they’re really digging the games.
ID@Xbox has come a long way in five short years and it only looks to be continuing that trend into the future.
Thanks to Chris Charla for taking the time to talk to PowerUp! at PAX Australia.