Now, just about anyone can be a game developer — and get paid for it, too. At its Gamefest 2008 event today, Microsoft announced that community games made using its XNA tools will be downloadable via either PC or Xbox 360, and that the creators will get 70 percent of the revenues, as we reported earlier today.
We spoke to game developers' group general manager Chris Satchell about the new community initiative. "We realized there was so much creativity out there in the community," he said. "So many people had great ideas, so we needed to give them a toolset to express themselves… and then we had to give them that worldwide stage where they could show it. And then the final step is, why not let them benefit from it?"
Microsoft saw, Satchell said, that incredible innovation came from viral communities of indie game designers across the web, and hoped to capture some of that community for its users. Satchell hopes that community games will become viral in the same way:
"You'll be able to take the url from the Community Games page and forward to a friend… for the same viral effect you get on the internet and in general, as with movies and music, but with gaming through the service," he said.
So, like YouTube, only where people can be paid for the creations they upload? "Well, I think YouTube... and other film services are all very viral, and sometimes you do searches, but often it's your friend just sends you a link. Also, what we realize is a lot of people just want to sit down at their computer, and browse and see what's cool and new."
You'll be able to browse community games by genre, and creators can price their work at 200, 400 or 800 Microsoft Points. Additionally, there'll be a front-of-store section that will feature popular or promoted titles, though being front and center comes at a cost — Microsoft will take a marketing fee of anywhere from 10-30 percent for the duration that a title is so visible, but the creator's take goes back up to 70 percent once it's out of the highlight section.
Community games will have a separate storefront from Xbox Live Arcade, but will still be available to the audience of 12 million Xbox Live users. "That's tens of thousands creating games for millions to download," Satchell said. "In some ways, a good way to think about it is using a baseball analogy. Think about the community games... it's really like the minor leagues. Cool new talent, new ideas... and Xbox Live Arcade is the major leagues."
In baseball, often a star minor leaguer catches the eye of a big-league team, and gets plucked out of the minors to bat for the majors. Does Satchell see the potential for standout innovation in community games to catch the eye of big publishers?
"I think that will absolutely happen," he said. "We sort of do that with Dream-Build-Play… but I think that other publishers will obviously be looking. Games that come up will be brilliant... but maybe not fully fleshed out yet, needing more hours of content and more features, but [publishers will say], 'why don't we go and work with this person or indie studio and help blow it out to a major release,' and so I absolutely think that will happen."
The community games storefront will launch this holiday season, Satchell says, though an official date has yet to be announced. A thriving homebrew scene on a thriving console can only be a good thing for the industry, as high risk and rising budgets limit innovation somewhat among the major publishers, and we look to talented indies for brand-new aesthetics and game mechanics. Bored with this year's E3 slate? Go make your own.
Microsoft Transforms Community Game Developers Into Entrepreneurs
Xbox 360 creates marketplace for user-generated content with Xbox LIVE Community Games.
SEATTLE - July 22, 2008 - During the keynote address today at the Gamefest 2008 Microsoft Game Technology Conference, Microsoft Corp. revealed that it will allow anyone to turn the hobby of game-making into a full-fledged career. Through what is now officially called "Xbox LIVE Community Games," Microsoft makes its marketplace of millions available to members of the XNA Creators Club to create, sell and share in the profits generated by their unique creations.
Microsoft has already opened up game development to the masses by offering the easy-to-use, affordable XNA Game Studio toolset. With this newly announced business model, Microsoft will have truly democratized game distribution by enabling XNA Creators Club members to participate in the multibillion-dollar-a-year console gaming industry.
Newly appointed to his role as Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business Group Chris Satchell said the business model was designed to create the best possible experience for both consumers and developers. Community games that have been submitted by XNA Creators Club Premium members and have successfully passed a rigorous peer-review system will be added to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace catalog for sale to consumers. Creators will be able to choose from three suggested preset retail price points varying from 200 to 800 Microsoft Points to sell their creations and will receive up to 70 percent of the total revenue generated by their game.
"Not only are we democratizing game development with Xbox LIVE Community Games later this year, but we're creating an opportunity for aspiring developers to start their careers on the world stage," Satchell said. "It is really a win for both developers and consumers because this will no doubt act as an incentive for game creators to continue to develop the best, most innovative games for Xbox 360."
A host of new and creative ideas are already appearing on the Xbox LIVE Community Games beta. When the service launches for consumers this fall, community-created games on Xbox LIVE are expected to double the size of the Xbox 360 video game library, offering some of the most inventive, quirky and unexpected games ever seen on consoles. By the end of 2008, Xbox 360 owners are expected to have access to the largest, most creatively diverse game library across all next-generation platforms, with more than 1,000 titles spanning Community Games, Xbox LIVE Arcade and retail blockbuster titles.
When the bold new Xbox experience, a re-launch of the largest online social network on TV that is fun and approachable, is released late this fall, the Community Games storefront will be an easy-to-use addition to the existing marketplace on Xbox LIVE. The new Community Games channel is currently scheduled to launch in the United States, Canada and select European markets later this year. Other regions will be added over the course of 2009 and beyond. Consumers will also be able to view and rate community games on Xbox.com, watch trailers, and even play a trial of each game before buying it.
"Since first launching XNA Game Studio in 2006, we have been working hard on improving the toolset and building resources for the community, and the response has been amazing. To date, we've had more than 1 million downloads of XNA Game Studio and adoption in more than 700 universities," said Boyd Multerer, general manager of XNA. "For some perspective, the incredible creative community we've unleashed worldwide is more than 25 times the number of professional developers in the industry."
Microsoft also is giving aspiring developers a hand with the second annual Dream-Build-Play game development contest based on XNA Game Studio projects. The competition will yield prizes in excess of $70,000 and an opportunity for one of the winners to sign an Xbox LIVE Arcade publishing contract. Three of last year's top performers and winners, "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai," "Blazing Birds" and "Yo Ho Kablammo!" from the United States, Canada, Sweden and United Kingdom, respectively, are all slated for release on Xbox LIVE Arcade in the near future. For more details and Dream-Build-Play Official Rules, see http://www.dreambuildplay.com/main/Rules.aspx. For more information on XNA Game Studio, head over to http://creators.xna.com.