XNA takes a step in the right direction

Last week at GDC Microsoft made a bunch of announcements related to XNA, but the biggest one was that they are adding a new service that allows anybody to create and distribute a game on Xbox Live without Microsoft acting as a filter. From the FAQ:

Starting with the beta launch of the Xbox LIVE Community Games service later this spring, subscribers of the XNA Creators Club will be able to submit their own game creations for self-distribution through to Xbox LIVE Marketplace via the http://creators.xna.com website.  A community of their subscriber peers will be given a chance to download, play and review the game and its content for appropriateness and conformance to the service’s TOS.  Should it pass, the game will then be added to the global games catalog on Xbox LIVE Marketplace and available to gamers worldwide connected to Xbox LIVE.

They’ve obviously been heading in this direction since the initial launch of XNA Studio Express and the XNA Creator’s Club, but it’s nice to see that they’re sticking with it. I really thought that they would get cold feet and continue to use the standard (and expensive) certification process as an excuse to not provide a truly open platform. Of course they still control the hardware and the distribution network, but at least they’re letting the developer community itself decide what games get to go live on the service.

In my mind the biggest remaining question is monetization. How will a developer who writes a game using XNA Studio make money? Microsoft is talking about two completely different approaches there. The first way to make money is that if your game makes enough of an impact on somebody at Microsoft, they might decide to promote it to full XBLA status. Obviously this isn’t an approach that scales very well, and it won’t work for the vast majority of developers.

The much more promising avenue is that Microsoft is starting to talk about revenue sharing with developers.  They aren’t saying much yet, but just acknowledging that sharing revenue is on the way is a big step.  This is all they’re saying on the subject for now:

Q: Can I sell my game on Xbox LIVE Community Games? What is the revenue split?
A: We are still finalizing the business models and revenue sharing details of Xbox LIVE Community Games at this time. More information will be available closer to the retail consumer launch this holiday.

Hopefully Microsoft will follow through with this. There are many ways they could screw it up, though. Any of these things would restrict the Xbox Live Community Games to being a playground for amateurs, and keep anybody with any business sense far away:

  • Require that all downloads be free
  • Keep 90+% of the revenue for themselves
  • Only pay developers in Microsoft Points instead of actual cash

As long as they avoid these obvious pitfalls, this is all big big news. The ability of random people to make and sell games on early PCs in the 80s is the reason we have a game industry today. As XNA evangelist Dave Weller said in his post on the subject, “Oh, so THAT is what a paradigm shift feels like…”

~Joe


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