May 29, 2013 at 5:37 PM ET
Compared to the other major console developers, Microsoft sounded like it had all its plans for its next-generation console launch down pat last week when it introduced the Xbox One. Even the console's name exuded confidence as, in the words of NBC's own Todd Kenreck, "your all-in-one must-have gadget."
All this crystalline logic fell apart after Microsoft's deliberately choreographed one-hour presentation of the Xbox One came to an end last week, however. Would the console, as many gamers feared, have some sort of "always-online" requirement? Microsoft didn't have a clear answer. What would the company's new exclusive games look like? Fans will just have to wait and see. And what's the deal with that partnership with Activision to bring new Call of Duty content to the Xbox One before any other console? We still don't know, but one thing we can say is that "Call of Duty: Ghosts" will have more life-like dogs than the series has ever seen before.
This prevarication was especially glaring when it came Microsoft's policy on indie games. While the company said very little about any new games for the Xbox One during the console's reveal event, quickly thereafter it drew the ire of many gamers thanks to a comment Matt Booty, general manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms, gave to the tech site Shack News.
Booty told Shack News that Microsoft wasn't planning to change its current framework for publishing games through Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) or Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG). Rather, Booty said, Microsoft intends "to continue to court developers in the ways that we have."
What this meant for many game critics was that Microsoft was all but abandoning indie game development. Unlike Sony and Nintendo, both of which allow independent game developers to self-publish content on their digital stores (the PlayStation Network and eShop respectively), Microsoft would presumably continue to require that anybody hoping to put a game up on XBLA find the support of a third party publisher or Microsoft itself.
Given the general boredom that many gamers have begun to feel over the long lifespan of this console generation with the constant iterative releases of many blockbuster gaming franchises, their frustration stemmed from the fear that Microsoft's more stringent publishing and curating standards would squeeze the creativity out of indie game developers. Hoping for a critical darling like "Braid" or "Minecraft," nobody would want to find a subpar version of "Call of Duty" or "Assassin's Creed" done on an indie studios budget, after all.
But that may not be the entire story either. Speaking to Kotaku after the Xbox One announcement, Microsoft head of interactive entertainment Don Mattrick said that the company is "going to have an independent creator program" to support the Xbox One.
"We're going to sponsor it," Mattrick said. "We're going to give people tools. We're going to give more information."
Mattrick's comments dovetail those of a Microsoft spokesperson, who told NBC News last week that "Xbox One is a platform that allows all creators, including those who work on games and apps, regardless of team size, funding, business model, etc. to take advantage of unique capabilities to build amazing experiences that push the limits of technology."
And even in his original statement to Shack News, Booty admitted that he "would also expect that for this new generation, that [Microsoft is] going to continue to explore new business models and new ways of surfacing content," adding that "Microsoft Studios is a publisher that works with a wide range of partners, as do a lot of other people, to bring digital content to the box."
The only thing that Microsoft's various spokespeople for the Xbox One can seem to agree upon, then, is that gamers will have to wait for more information about its indie game development plans. These may come next month at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), where Microsoft has already promised to bring the meat of its info about new games for the console.
But it seems just as likely that Microsoft, like all of its followers, doesn't truly know what its policy for indie games is going to be. Like the players the players themselves, game developers may just have to wait and see when the console box actually hits the shelves this holiday season.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: email@example.com.