Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ID@XBox Seattle Event notes

Last week I attended the ID@Xbox conference at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond. It was a very useful event for me because I was able to get my most pressing questions about the new platform addressed by some of the Microsoft staff working on the Xbox One. There were a number of presenters ranging the spectrum of technical, business and management areas of the Xbox One. They covered a wide variety of topics over the course of the day, all of them of interest to me. Apparently it was a more condensed version of talks given at a previous conference, but overall it was useful information that really helped solidify my understanding of where the platform is headed and how Indies can be part of it. There was a Q&A session after each speaker and at the end of the day with all the speakers available to answer questions that may have accumulated during the day. I have to say, the folks presenting were all very eloquent, articulate and almost visibly radiating their brainpower as they spoke in detail about the features they have been working on. 

Since NDAs were required to be there, I’m going to have to skip any specifics of what I learned but I will say the tech seems pretty dang cool. There are definitely some new things going on with this platform that will enable fun new features in the games we make, and it doesn’t appear there will be any of the unfortunate limitations that were imposed on XBLIG. From a technical standpoint, I'm pretty happy with what I saw and look forward to working with it.

Like any big product, there are lots of ideas and other things they would have liked to have ready for launch that will have to wait for the future but they did make it clear that their plan for the platform in general involves a lot of evolution. They expect it to change and grow, and built their systems with that in mind. That’s not to say anything seemed lacking for launch, in fact it has a ton of great things going on, it's more about how there is a lot of potential for the future of the platform and they have been as forward-thinking as possible. It’s plain to see they learned a lot from pushing the Xbox 360 so far beyond its original specifications and this is a good thing because this motivated them to put effort into making sure the Xbox One will be easier to manage and extend through the life of the product. Being able to safely update and extend the platform is from my perspective far more important than getting every last feature they could think of in the first release. It's easy to think of more features than you have time to implement, regardless of the product; it's much harder to make a framework that supports evolving a product's core features while maintaining compatibility with previously released titles.

The thing that I am most excited about is that it does seem likely the Xbox One will be generally a lot more open than the Xbox 360 was. A shorter wall for the garden, if you will. Not as open as the PC, but not as restricted as the previous generation either. While I get the impression a lot of things are still being decided, I think there is a good chance Microsoft will strike a better balance between the chaos of completely unrestricted app stores and the stifling limitations of access to the more visible marketplaces of the previous generation. One thing is certain, they are deliberately choosing a business model for the Xbox One and Indies that is different than what I’ve seen before and I can only think that is a good thing. It could just be the afterglow of the event affecting my opinion, but right now I think there is a good chance they will hit the right combination of curation and openness that will allow innovation to occur on their platform without flooding the market with junk apps that cause visibility problems for games worth having.

In the end, I left the conference optimistic about the platform. WinRT+DirectX, here I come!