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Getting out of the way of independent developers could be Xbox One's biggest innovation

Last week, months after botching the reveal of its new console, Microsoft accidentally announced what could be the Xbox One's most important feature.

Within a year of launching the console, the company promises, every Xbox One can become a tool for creating games, allowing any game player to become a game maker.

While the details, important details like how the money made is divvied up and how much it will cost to publish a game, aren't set to be revealed until late August, the news seems to signal a sea change in the platform holder's philosophy. The policy hints at the notion that Microsoft no longer wants to be a gatekeeper, because that approach simply doesn't scale. And that a company with an arguably contentious relationship with independent developers, wants to make things easier.

With the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, game makers typically needed to use an expensive development kit, a special version of the console, to test and polish their games. There were fees to be paid to have the game checked before it could be published and more fees to update or fix a game once it was released.

While those fees kept some developers away from the consoles, the biggest hindrance for mass indie game development was the dev kit.

The news seems to signal a sea change in the platform holder's philosophy.

Even if a platform holder wanted to hand those systems out to every single developer that asked, they had to prepare them first and ultimately that becomes a chokepoint.

With Microsoft's approach, getting that dev kit is as simple as running to the local retailer and picking up a console.

The impact of this form of development democratization can't be understated. It will be as important a change in the shape and face of console gaming as was the robust online support of Xbox Live was for consoles.

This approach seems to echo Apple's approach to mobile gaming and ironically, because it was so long in coming, Microsoft's own approach to PC game development.

And look what those models have delivered.

With few exceptions, the most successful new gaming brands of the past generation weren't born of massive publishers and developers pushing out multi-million dollar blockbusters, but rather one-person, two-person, three-person studios creating something toy-like and fun.

Three students from Helsinki University of Technology teamed up to make mobile games in 2003, resulting in Angry Birds for the iPhone in 2009, a game that has since been downloaded one billion times and propelled that small team to a multi-million dollar company with more than 500 employees.

Educational games could finally invade the sanctity of an Xbox

A single Swedish game developer created the billion dollar Minecraft game for the PC and Mac.

Finish developer Supercell was bringing in an astounding $2.5 million a day from sales of virtual items through its games Clash of Clans and Hay Day.

None of these games were spotted by developers or plucked up by publishers; they became grassroots, overnight successes simply because there wasn't anything in the way to stop them.

And that's what Microsoft seems to be promising to do: Getting out of the way of people who want to make games.
More importantly, if handled properly, this could portend not just a flood of fun, new games coming to the console, but perhaps the sort of gaming that never had a chance on consoles, not really.

Educational games could finally invade the sanctity of an Xbox; as could games for change, titles that tackle subjects as important and diverse as teen dating violence, health and mental health, environmentalism.

With no one to say what should be fun, perhaps console gamers will finally have a chance to decide that on their own.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and their bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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