Skulls of the Shogun collaborator Borut Pfeifer and developer 17-bit Studios cut a deal with Microsoft to launch their game simultaneously across XBLA, Surface tablets and Windows 8. Pfeifer had some reservations about working with Microsoft, but at the time, he thought getting onto a console could mean instant success. As the years dragged on, the bureaucracy of working with Microsoft complicated development and hit the team financially – Microsoft didn't pay them on time, and they had to take out a loan, Pfeifer told Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
"To be fair, we knew we were kind of making a deal with the devil," Pfeifer said. "Probably one of our biggest mistakes was thinking in 2008 terms, where it's like, 'If you want to be on console you've got to be a console first,' and that's just not true any more."
As a publisher, Preifer said that Microsoft Studios never tried to interfere with Skulls of the Shogun creatively, but that branch had deep-rooted problems.
"They came across as though they were institutionally incompetent," Pfeifer said. "I think they're not really set up to be a decent publisher. I do feel slightly bad saying that, because there were people there who worked hard on our behalf, but at the same time there are systemic problems with the way that division is set up and run."
Microsoft doesn't hate indie developers, Pfeifer said. "There are people there, like Chris Charla, the portfolio manager of XBLA – though that's probably changing, because XBLA is going away – who are great champions, but as a whole, it's not that Microsoft loves or even hates indies. It's just that they're an indifferent machine to it all."
An expanded edition of Skulls of the Shogun launches on Steam in July, and the beta is available now with pre-orders. On XBLA, we found Skulls of the Shogun to be an absolutely enjoyable experience – so much so that we gave it a perfect score.
After the Xbox One reveal, we asked a handful of independent developers what they thought Microsoft said to them with the presentation: "It was sort of weird," was the overall summary. Before even that, we asked a larger handful of indies what they thought of Microsoft in the current generation, and received a mixed response.