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Editor’s note: Tadhg Kelly is a veteran game designer, creator of leading game design blog What Games Are and creative director of Jawfish Games. You can follow him on Twitter here.

To the joy of many, Microsoft announced another Xbox One pivot: Rather than try to maintain a fortress of solitude, the console will support indie publishing. You’ll be able to use your console as a dev kit (traditionally dev kit licenses could be very expensive) to make and publish your games. Microsoft even promises to remove some of the category barriers that segregated indie games to a backwater page in the Xbox dashboard.

These moves can be read in two ways. The first is largely as a reaction to Sony. Sony has been flirting with the indie developer community for a while, quietly building up relationships and facilitating the publishing of a number of games such as Journey and Thomas Was Alone. As part of PS4 the company has significant plans to allow small developers to self-publish on the system, although still under a dev kit model. It promises to send free kits to developers that need them.

The second read is to consider these moves in light of wider trends. Outside of giant thousand-man studios and tiny indies, most mid-sized gaming companies are nowhere within 100 kilometers of consoles these days. There’s just no place for them in a sector that values its 20m+ unit hits, and they can’t afford to compete at that level. All of those people have shifted to mobile, tablet or social instead, where they are finding success.

The move to attract indies sits semi-uncomfortably. The console industry is used to acting like a car showroom, developing specific pieces of beautiful game content and then engaging in a large sales push toward success. Fans of consoles (including many developers) are also used to this model, and tend to think of this activity as “real games,” as well as the most economically significant activity in the industry. Much as Hollywood still thinks that box office means something, console game executives tend to be more impressed by stories involving unit sales rather than residuals.

That showroom mentality is what led Microsoft down the path of making Xbox One into a mega-hub, which nobody understood, or Sony make a very similar thrust with PlayStation 3. The pivots away from those big plays may at first glance seem like attempts to atone or to broaden out their relationships with game makers, but I tend to think otherwise. What they’re actually about is developing a few show-bikes to go alongside the show-cars.

Indies vs Independents

There are several meanings of the term “indie.” For some it simply means financially independent, able to make games and revenue and be self-sustaining. For others the term is political, expressive of points of view and meaning. This second version is far more popular in the games press because it has more of an emotional component. Indies stand for something and become heroes fighting an unspecified “man.”

It may surprise you, but in the console-ist view the political kind of indie game is more desirable because it ticks the art-game box. Art games are rarely expected to make their money back, and certainly not to become big franchises. Yet there’s a lot of value in having them. If you can have a few notables like Jonathan Blow talking up your platform, a few Phil Fishes and a few “thatgamecompanys” making signature games, then this is a great story. It aligns you with the kind of story seen in Indie Game: The Movie and at GDC. Most important is that it gets the press on side, which is hugely important in the mutually assured destruction of console platforms. Appearing to be indie is worth acres of PR.

At the same time, supporting a few such indies allows platforms to retain their essential power. While PC gaming has always reserved much more power to the developer and treated hardware makers as little more than component makers, console gaming has always worked the other way. The console is the main brand and the platform story. The games all appear on the console with the holder’s say-so. The publishing model places the console brand front and center, and the games are in support, and the market tribally responds along those lines.

Taken in that vein, the modern console industry’s understanding of allowing indies to enter into its playpen is pointed but they are not embracing an ecosystem any time soon. From the standpoint of where they’ve been, modest steps to change their model may seem like great leaps for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Like TV executives who are still tentative about streaming, there’s a sense of not going too fast for fear of losing everything.

This is why Microsoft’s newfound message of developer liberation is still pretty garbled. The exact plans for how Xbox One will go indie-friendly come across as a bit hazy. They smack of a recent decision at the executive level which will need some thoughtful re-engineering time to figure out on the practical level, so don’t expect it for launch. Also how it reconciles with some other showroom features (like the heavy push on mainstream TV) is anyone’s guess.

Not to let Sony off the hook, its plans for indie liberation are similarly convoluted. Sony still wants some forms of concept approval, which – even though the company promises a speedy turnaround – still sounds every bit as ludicrous as Roku wanting concept approval for movies it streams. It should make any developer pause and think seriously about what it implies.

Yet the bigger issue is that both plans are not enough. They do not represent change real enough that indies in the first sense of the word (financially viable) would find attractive. It’s also woefully out of step with just how far games have come. Developers are far more empowered today than they have been since the days of microcomputers in the 80s and are not keen to sacrifice that freedom.

You Are Free To Do What We Tell You

It used to be imperative to placate Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft for any game to have a chance of being published. This was expensive between concept approvals, extensive technical requirements and laborious quality assurance and certification processes. But what could you do? They were the gatekeepers, it was largely a relationships business, and that was that.

Even when they moved into digital markets they were choosy, taking an active role in content selection and publishing. Games were released on schedules to give a window for sales to build and platforms were managed like topiary. Not too many games of one genre or another, just a few key ones and a heavy sense of curation. All very bonsai.

Then Apple and Facebook upended that model with something more organic and irrevocably changed how developers thought of success. Success was no longer to be like Jonathan Blow or Ubisoft. It became being like SuperCell. The console industry has never been able to fully understand the depth of that shift.

The way that developers approach making games on Facebook, iOS and Android is radically different to how things used to be when console platforms (and PCs) was all there was. They just do it, no dev kits, relationships, publishing schedules or concept approvals required. They may need to pass some curation (particularly from Apple) but those conditions tend to be far narrower in scope than anything the console industry ever imposed. Essentially don’t crash, no porn, no defamation and you’re good to go.

That new model is the one that breeds true independent game development success. The bonsai paradigm of consoles prevents developers from expanding too much, meaning that a thatgamecompany gets to make cool games but not really grow (if they want to, of course). Whereas the iOS/Android/Facebook model gives birth to Rovios and Zyngas (in happier times perhaps). When platforms get out of the way and let software be software, software becomes wildly successful and the platform itself grows.

Obviously Rovio is an extreme case, but many other smaller studios have managed to forge their own destinies in a similar fashion. Studios like Spry Fox and NimbleBit make the games they want to make, how they want to make them, with whatever business model they desire, and it’s no big deal. So they are free to innovate and they do. Same for us at Jawfish.

Enter the Micros

Console makers do realize that they’ve painted themselves into a corner, want to change and get some press goodwill. Yet not to the extent that they detonate their existing business. Especially not when many of their fans prefer to cheer for stasis and buy into predictable franchises over innovation.

I don’t envy them, but that gap is why microconsoles are a real threat. OUYA, GamePop, GameStick, Mad Catz and whatever Google might be cooking up are relatively unencumbered by old constraints, and therefore able to empower indies in the first sense. The fact that they’re mostly using a common operating system helps, but their main advantage is the potential flexibility and the focus that being simple provides.

The first generation of microconsole hardware is less than stellar. Of course it is. The idea is brand new and still finding its way. The OUYA’s joypad, for example, isn’t good. The processors for most microconsoles are probably underpowered, and there are lots of early firmware and operating system issues. Look past these early-phase issues, however, and take in the longer view.

Microconsoles can iterate on hardware quickly, like phone makers, where Sony is stuck with a fixed spec for the next seven years with PS4. Big consoles have to be static because big publishers (like Activision) need the spec to be stable enough to master in order to make the next Call of Duty. A SuperCell, on the other hand, doesn’t. An iPad doesn’t. Indeed most every other form of electronics has figured out how to move to an annualized cycle except console makers.

Beyond hardware issues the next issue is the customer. Who are microconsoles for? Everyone. Everyone who likes to play games cheaply, for fun, with simple controllers and low (or free) prices. As we’ve seen on phone, tablet and Facebook, that translates to a hell of a lot of people. And before we get too worried about TV being somehow special in this regard, consider that that is a self-cyclical piece of thinking born of consoles being pretty bad as devices. They are only now getting into the idea that maybe they should have power/resume states like every other device you’ve owned since the turn of the millennium. Part of the reason why they have that special gamer aura is because they are a hassle. There’s no reason for micros to follow the same path.

Power Shifts

The future that I see for console gaming is one where hardware incrementally cedes power to software. Pushed by microconsoles offering a vastly cheaper option on the one hand, and developers of incredible games with the right business models on the other, the prospect of all three current console platform holders being reduced to only vertically satisfying their core fans is very real. The prospect of big publishers taking a bath is also very real.

It will take a couple of iterations to get their hardware and business models right. It may take the entrance of a big player like Google or Samsung to validate it (much as Amazon did for ebooks). There will also be that initial flurry of press coverage that will swamp all channels with talk of PS4 vs X1 (and ill-advisedly lamenting Nintendo) for the next 18 months. That will cover over the real story to an extent, allowing OUYA et al room to breathe and pivot.

But in the medium term? The new SuperCells will not be coming from these revamped “indie” console offerings. They’ll come from a very different kind of device entirely.

(If you’d like to hear more, come see me talk about microconsoles some more at Casual Connect this week in San Francisco.)

In Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate you are cast in the role of hunter and will explore an area within the Monster Hunter universe. Completing quests and stalking and assassinating monsters will help you gain skills, as well as earn you equipment upgrades. If you played the previous installment in the series, Monster Hunter Tri, there have been over 38 new monsters, extra stages and hundreds of additional quests added to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, making it the most expansive entry into the series yet.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was developed and published by Capcom and is available now in retail or digital form for Nintendo’s Wii U or 3DS.

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We’ve heard the rumors that Rocksteady would not take on a third awesome Batman game but there would still be a prequel somehow. For a rarity, rumors are full on true! Thanks to the latest Game Informer cover reveal, we know Batman: Arkham Origins will grace consoles and PC this fall!

Little details are known about the game other than it takes place years before Arkham Asylum and features a less experienced Dark Knight taking on his robust Rogues Gallery. The cover did reveal Deathstroke on the back so we can safely believe Bats square off against him at some point. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for more info when the May issue of GI hits mailboxes! Just salivate over the Arkham Origins cover after the break!

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It was bound to happen really, gamers have banded together to show just how pissed off they are about Aliens: Colonial Marines. Turns out people don’t take to well to demos not being the final product they paid hard, cold cash for.

“Each of the ‘actual gameplay’ demonstrations purported to show consumers exactly what they would be buying: a cutting edge video game with very specific features and qualities. Unfortunately for their fans, Defendants [Sega and Gearbox] never told anyone – consumers, industry critics, reviewers, or reporters – that their ‘actual gameplay’ demonstration advertising campaign bore little resemblance to the retail product that would eventually be sold to a large community of unwitting purchasers.” -Polygon post

Both Sega and Gearbox Software are named as defendants in the lawsuit and neither have bothered to comment on the news. Can’t say that I blame those folks, it certainly looks like both companies misled fans. We’ll watch and see if this goes all the way, hopefully it does. Publishers and developers should be held accountable for this horrible mess.

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If you played video games in the 90′s, you knew there were two mascots fighting for your gaming dollars: Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Both starred in awesome games, both had cameos in comics and both, both were damn endearing. Once Sega bowed out of the console market that left Sonic a free agent. Since then, we’ve seen him on the Xbox 360, PS3 and even a Nintendo console or two. That was shocking but the latest from Sega is even more shocking.

Sega and Nintendo have struck a deal to make Nintendo the official home of Sonic! That’s right geeks, long time rivals Mario and Sonic will now permanently live under the same console roof. Sega will still make the games but they will only be on anything Big N, at least for the next three titles.

Back in my childhood gaming I would have never thought, I imagined it, that the foes would become BFFs. Now they can braid each other’s hair, make pies and chase after evil doers together forever. Chalk this one up to the strangest exclusive ever!

SEGA of America Inc. and SEGA Europe Ltd. today announced details of an exclusive partnership with Nintendo of America Inc. and Nintendo of Europe GmbH for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The new agreement will make Nintendo consoles the number one destination for Sonic gaming over the next three titles. The first two titles of the deal were announced today via Nintendo Direct, and details of the third Sonic title will be revealed at a later date.

“Sonic the Hedgehog has performed incredibly well on Nintendo platforms and this exclusive partnership is a natural fit for the next evolution of Sonic games” commented Jurgen Post COO SEGA Europe Ltd. “The Wii U and Nintendo 3DS are ideal platforms to showcase Sonic and we are looking forward to working with Nintendo on these three exciting adventures.”

Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared as a videogame character in June 1991 and instantly became an icon for a generation of gamers. Defined by his super-fast speed and cool attitude, in the years since he first raced on to videogame consoles Sonic has become a true global phenomenon with over 75 million videogames and smartphone apps sold worldwide. SEGA’s iconic blue blur has also gone on to enjoy incredible success in many licensed areas, such as toys, apparel, comics and animation.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been the bestselling videogame console in the U.S. every month for more than two years.

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There’s no doubt about it’s strength in the U.S., but internationally, it’s not so clear how the seven-year old game console is faring, especially in comparison to Sony’s PlayStation.

Microsoft sold 281,000 Xbox 360 units in January, up 4.1 percent from 270,000 a year ago, according to the NPD Group, which tracks sales of video-game software, hardware and accessories in the U.S. that occur at retail.

Earlier this week at D: Dive Into Media, Yusuf Mehdi, who leads Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, also provided an update based on internal data.

He said the overall Xbox installed base is now at 76 million, up from 70 million at the end of September of last year. Also, 24 million Kinects have been sold, up from 20 million last year, and there are 46 million Xbox Live accounts, up from 40 million.

Sales continue to be brisk because the company has been successful at moving beyond a hard-core gaming audience to serve members of the family who like other forms of entertainment, such as streaming video or music.

But the rivalry between the different console makers is particularly intense right now as the industry waits for the next-generation devices to launch.

The Nintendo Wii U was the first to launch this holiday season, but has had a relatively lackluster performance. Next week, Sony is planning to unveil its new home videogame console at an event in New York. But Microsoft has remained mum on its plans for any potential Xbox 720. Earlier this week, Mehdi refused to budge on the subject. “I’ll politely decline any comment,” he said.

So, the question is, will Sony’s PlayStation 4 be well received?

If global trends are any indication, it’s possible. Based on numbers culled from the three company’s earnings reports, Geekwire was able to determine that the PlayStation 3 was the best-selling home console worldwide during the holidays.

Sales of the PS2 and PS3 totaled 6.8 million units for the December quarter to beat the number of Nintendo Wii and Wii U units sold (5.3 million), and the number of units reported by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 (5.9 million).

For the full year, the two PlayStation devices together sold 15.6 million units worldwide, compared with 8 million for Nintendo and about 11 million for the Xbox 360.

In other words, Sony continues to have a very strong worldwide presence for the PlayStation, compared to the Xbox which seems to dominate in the U.S.

Overall, however, the hardware sector remains fairly weak. Most executives in the videogame industry believe a new wave of hardware is needed to spur consumer interest again, while others believe that gamers are less attached to the living room than they were before and prefer gaming wherever they are from their phone or tablet.

NPD reported that sales of hardware in January were down 17 percent year over year when taking into account that the month had five weeks instead of four.