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The indie question: Microsoft explains its reservations about self-publishing on Xbox One

Microsoft's Phil Spencer on finding a medium between freedom of access and content curation

The funny, unhelpful thing about Xbox Live Indie Games is that it's both a cheery advertisement for, and a dire warning against letting developers publish their own games on massive digital storefronts. On the one hand, this is the service that gave us such mammoth commercial hits and critical darlings as Gateways, Cthulhu Saves The World, FortressCraft and Bleed (check out Craig's recent round-up for a selection).

On the other, the entire lack of curation has resulted in a mountain of clones, fart apps and pervy digital novels. Clearly, a balance needs to be struck between over-protective curation and total freedom of access.

For the next generation of Xbox Live, Microsoft is starting afresh - and has sparked controversy in the process. Xbox 360 began life as a gaming-only device, but grew to embrace a swathe of movie, music and TV applications. Xbox One is an all-singing, all-dancing universal recreation box from the off, designed to establish Xbox as this decade's default living room entertainment brand in the face of challenges not just from Sony and Nintendo, but Samsung, Apple and Google.

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Care of a new IR blaster, split-OS design and an HDMI port, Xbox One will plug into your existing TV setup and let you browse live television while you're waiting for a Call of Duty match to commence, perhaps dropping into a high-def Skype chat to discuss the latest from Dr Who.

One consequence of this redoubled interest in broad, interconnected offerings, we're told, is that digital quality assurance is of even greater importance. This poses obvious ramifications for the less salubrious residents of the Indie Games channel, which will shortly be merged alongside Xbox Live Arcade into the rest of the Marketplace - and thus, presumably, become subject to Microsoft's requirement that developers partner with a publisher in order to release games on its service.

"Given the role that television plays, and that we know we have a true family box - we everybody to be able to sit down and play Sesame Street, National Geographic or if you're age-appropriate, Call of Duty and Halo - we'll want to keep some control over the appropriateness of the content that's on the box," Microsoft Studios corporate vice-president Phil Spencer observed of the potential for developer self-publishing on Xbox One, during a chat at the firm's hardware labs in May. "Which means it's not going to be [like on] the PC. It's just not going to end up in that space."

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Spencer and his colleagues are all too aware of Apple's on-going battle to maintain a certain level of respectability on the heavily oversubscribed iTunes Store. "The core question of 'can I go and plug in my own Xbox, create my own games and push to the box'? We're not at that point right now," he went on. "We think that one of the nice things about an Xbox plugged into a television for parents, is that you know you're not going to get - I'll just say the worst versions of iFart showing up on your television screen.

"And there are worse things than that - regrettably - that parents don't want on their screen. That's why Net Nanny and those types of things get built. We look at a curated ecosystem as important to us, so simply opening doors and saying that any form of content can show up on the Xbox? I don't know we're comfortable with that."

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