"We wanted to recognize that this program is just starting out," said Chris Charla, who heads up the ID@Xbox program and its support team. "We're really looking for qualified developers, especially in the early stages." Though there is no generic checklist for what is a "prioritized" application, Charla says Microsoft is looking for established indies that can provide good feedback to help the program improve in the future.
Once accepted into the program, ID@Xbox participants will receive two Xbox One development kits at no cost, along with full access to Achievements, the Xbox Live toolset, cloud services, Kinect and SmartGlass for use in their games. "We have a pretty quick turnaround to letting people into the program, and signing their hardware agreements and that sort of thing," Charla said. However, "if we get 1000 entries on Tuesday, it's going to take a couple days longer than if we get 200." Charla would not disclose the general details of the resulting contracts, only saying that "every contract is probably a little different."
Microsoft claims it consulted with over 50 independent developers, including SpyParty's Chris Hecker, to refine the program, which will place accepted games in the same digital store as offerings from major publishers. "On Xbox One a game is a game is a game," Charla said. "There's no distinction like there was on Xbox 360, like XBLA and Games on Demand and XBLIG. It's a unified marketplace."
The difficulty in surfacing content in a cluttered marketplace has been a long-standing criticism from indie developers, many of who have publicly spoken out against Microsoft's treatment of lower-tier games. To them, "I would just say give us a call," Charla said. "We like criticism. It never feels good to be criticized, but that's how you get better, right? I think we've come up with something that devs will be really happy with, and that's really just focused on getting the best possible original games onto Xbox One."
Microsoft says games can draw a spotlight in numerous ways, including through search, a selection of trending games, player-driven recommendations and video upload sharing, editorial highlights and Achievements. "We want to make sure that when players are checking out what's out on Xbox One, they're just seeing a huge variety of content."
Charla also confirmed that the ID@Xbox program precedes Microsoft's longterm plan to open up self-publishing further and turn the Xbox One into a hobbyist machine. At some undisclosed point after the console's launch, a software update will allow any retail Xbox One system to be used for development and self-publishing.