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Is Microsoft’s Reign of Terror at an End?

Microsoft’s method of keeping game exclusives has been somewhat shady: they pay exorbitant amounts of money and do not allow companies to publish elsewhere for at least six months. Even high-profile companies like Bethesda had to stay true to this, as their Dawnguard expansion is still exclusive to the XBOX360, even though the developer has stated that they intend to release for the DLC for the PC and PS3. With the next generation of consoles arriving and modifications rumored to be a major feature on them, will Microsoft be able to keep up their charades?

One of the main sources of drama stemming from Microsoft is its exorbitant price for registering a game—even if that game is only patched to fix bugs, and already available on XBLA. Developer Polytron claims that registering their patched game would take $10,000—which might seem like a small amount to a large publishing company or major developer, but for a small indie studio that already shoveled out money for a bug-fixing patch, it can break a company.

If consoles want to keep up with the accessibility of a PC, they will need to support mods, competitive prices, and indie developers, as well as minimize their DRM policies. These are all traits that have kept Steam successful since its launch in 2003, and continuing to ignore it now that it is a major competitor would not bode well for console companies. Since Microsoft is very consistent with its policy in charging high prices for game licenses, even for patches, their tactic of paying for exclusivity won’t hold over into the next generation. After the way the company has treated indie companies like Polytron, indie developers will steer away from the bait. Although the XBOX 360 is a good platform, with many potential customers, the risk is not worth it.

Combined with how Microsoft treats larger companies, Microsoft’s next console is unlikely to receive the kind of developer support it had in this generation. After Microsoft acquired Rare in 2002, the company was slowly turned into a development team centered around the Kinect, instead of the typical platformers that they founded the company to make. While large companies may not be able to control their stock in its entirety, seeing the way Microsoft shuffled important employees in Rare might convince them from selling what they have to Microsoft in the first place.

Of course, there’s still quite a while to go before we see the XBOX 720 or PS4. There’s always a possibility that the next generation consoles will be completely different—more akin to modifiable PCs—or perhaps go the way of cloud gaming, with a simple console in-between to keep latency low and provide support for the television. Either way, mods, patches, and indie companies are a huge part of modern gaming, and if Microsoft does not take them into account in the next generation and continues with their money-grabbing policies, they will be left behind by developers.

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