Killer Instinct  (Source: Microsoft)
Microsoft tries to stoke sales of its upcoming console

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is trying to rally support for its upcoming Xbox One console, which launches in late November in the U.S. and a dozen other markets.  Microsoft won some supporters back when it agreed to drop its SDKs which offered developers a built in digital rights management system to lock offline users out of games.

I. Microsoft Announces 20 Xbox One Launch Titles

But the console is still struggling a bit with image.  After jumping to an early sales lead, recent listings have indicated it has fallen behind Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758) PlayStation 4.  Microsoft has responded aggressively, bumping its upcoming console's onboard GPU to make sure it's not viewed as the "less powerful" console of this holiday season.

Looking to further excite fans, Microsoft has released a tentative list of what titles will and won't be available at launch.  This list may shift somewhat, and more titles may be added or removed, but these games (20 total) are likely what will be available in November:
  • Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (Ubisoft, Ubisoft Entertainment SA (EPA:UBI))
  • Battlefield 4 (DICE, Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA))
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward, Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI))
  • Crimson Dragon (Grounding/Land Ho!, Microsoft Studios)
  • Dead Rising 3 (Capcom Comp. Ltd. (TYO:9697) Vancouver, Microsoft)
Dead Rising 3
Dead Rising 3 is among the launch exclusives for the Xbox One. [Image Source: Capcom]
  • FIFA 14 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
  • Fighter Within (AMA Ltd., Ubisoft)
  • Forza Motorsport 5 (Turn 10 Studios, Microsoft Studios)
  • Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft)
  • Killer Instinct (Double Helix, Microsoft Studios)
  • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games, Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) Warner Bros. Interactive)
  • Lococycle (Twisted Pixel, Microsoft Studios)
  • Madden NFL 25 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
  • NBA 2K14 (Visual Concepts, 2K Sports, Take-Two Interactive SW Inc. (TTWO))
  • NBA LIVE 14 (EA Sports, Electronic Arts)
  • Need for Speed: Rivals (Ghost Games, Electronic Arts)
  • Peggle 2 (Popcap, Electronic Arts)
  • Powerstar Golf (Zoe Mode, Microsoft Studios)
  • Ryse: Son of Rome (Crytek, Microsoft Studios)
  • Skylanders: Swap Force (Vicarious Visions, Activision)
  • Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft)
  • Zoo Tycoon (Frontier Developments Ltd. (LON:FDEV), Microsoft Studios)
  • Zumba Fitness: World Party (Zoë Mode, Majesco Entertainment Comp. (COOL))
(Titles in bold are Xbox platform exclusives or exclusively first on Xbox; green denotes titles with exclusive or timed exclusive content available on Xbox.)

The following titles (30 total) are announced, but won't be available until sometime after the launch:
  • Below (Capybara Games, Microsoft Studios)
  • D4 (Access Games, Microsoft Studios)
  • Destiny (Bungie, Activision)
  • Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Harmonix, Disney Interactive)
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare, Electronic Arts)
  • Dying Light (Techland, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • EA SPORTS UFC (EA SPORTS, Electronic Arts)
  • Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix, Square Enix Holdings Comp., Ltd. (TYO:9684))
  • Halo Xbox One (343 Industries, Microsoft Studios)
  • Kinect Sports Rivals (Rare, Microsoft Studios)
  • Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix 1st Production Department, Square Enix)
  • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • Mad Max (Avalanche Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, Konami Corp. (TYO:9766))
  • Minecraft: Xbox One Edition (Mojang Studios, Microsoft Studios)
  • Mirror's Edge 2 (DICE, Electronic Arts)
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (PopCap Games, Electronic Arts)
  • Project Spark (Microsoft Studios)
  • Quantum Break (Remedy, Microsoft Studios)
  • Star Wars Battlefront (DICE, Electronic Arts)
  • Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac Games, Microsoft Studios)
  • The Crew (Ivory Towers, Ubisoft)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online (ZeniMax Online Studios, Bethesda Softworks)
  • The Evil Within (Tango Gameworks, Bethesda Softworks)
  • The LEGO Movie Videogame (TT Games, WB Interactive Ent.)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt RED, WB Interactive Ent. – NA)
  • Thief (Eidos Montreal, Square Enix)                                
  • Titanfall (Respawn Entertainment, Electronic Arts)*
Titanfall -- sort of like a modern Mech Warrior -- won't land until a little bit after the November launch. [Image Source: EA]
Be aware that some of these games may launch in December, allowing game studios to still cash in on the lucrative holiday season.

From the titles list, one can clearly see Microsoft's deep investments in first party titles and how it hopes to use that to drive sales.  One can also see that the launch lineup is perhaps a bit weaker than expected, with the heavy hitters -- which include Halo and Titanfall -- missing.

II. Microsoft Announces ID@Xbox Fast-Track for Indie Devs

In addition to its launch lineup Microsoft -- who always loves its developers -- also announced its ID@XBOX (Indie Developer at Xbox) development platform for the console.  Microsoft already had announced that any console will be able to be used to develop games, channeling a the smartphone industry's high successful model of indie game development.

The good/bad news is that Microsoft will be singling out certain "worthy" indie developers/indie studios for special fast-tracked status.  The selected parties will receive two development kits, allowing them to start developing their games right now, three months before the console launch.

Microsoft illustrates the general ID@Xbox application process to score the early dev kits below:

In the FAQ, it also clarifies that games from indie developers must get ESRB ceritified, but that once they do they'll be sold alongside full professional studio games in the Xbox Live Market, with no second-class status given to the indie titles.  And Microsoft vows indie developers will have full SDK access, writing:

Developers in ID@Xbox have full access to the Live stack and support the exact same features as all other digital content on Xbox One – full support for multiplayer, Game DVR, Kinect, in-game transactions, updates, DLC, SmartGlass, etc. Bottom line: if a feature is supported on Xbox One, games in ID@Xbox can take advantage of it.

Clearly traditional studios do have the jump in that they're the only ones who have developer kits for months or more at this point (as no "retail kits" -- i.e. Xbox One retail consoles -- are available, currently).  Microsoft also makes it clear that its ID@Xbox fast-track program for indie developers is not a fully "open effort", but rather a meritocracy.  It comments:

[I]n the initial phase of ID@Xbox, we are looking for professional independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile, or tablet. We want to ensure your success in your development effort on Xbox One. Developing and publishing a console game is not trivial!

Less experienced developers will have to wait to get their chance.  Thus is the way of the world (but at least they will get a chance at some point).

Sources: Microsoft, Xbox Launch Games, Microsoft, ID@Xbox [Press Release]

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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