XNA Game Studio Express, described in a New York Times story today, is a big deal. The tools, when they are released around the New Year, will let anyone make a simple game for play on their XBox.
For $99 a year, users will be able to share their games with other members of a "Creators Club," according to CNET. It points toMantra: Customers make their own fun a world of gamer-created competition that exists alongside the polished games produced on the Hollywood model that has dominated gaming during the past decade, when the complexities of authoring made gaming a capital-intensive industry instead of a hacker-inspired free-for-all.
The first games that the free tools support will be relatively simple. Based on the functionality described, it appears arcade-like games will be the first wave. But, if Microsoft continues to expose more libraries, it's not inconceivable that a group of gamers working together will be able to produce something as complex as Halo or MLB 2006.
Question is, if gamers have to join a club to share the games, and only clubmembers can play, will this be an effective viral approach or simply a way to give Microsoft the pick of the litter? Not that getting a contract to have your game distributed by Microsoft would be a bad thing, but let's face it, with Playstation 3 coming, XBox needs to have every customer selling the system to their friends, not just to a closed group of fellow authors. My bet is that the club will evaporate pretty quick.
Then, will Microsoft require runtime licenses? They'd better be really inexpensive, so a gamer can "gift" his first 500 copies to friends and gamer communities to get a community growing around their creations.
I spent the last month watching my son learn to mod Halo and his Nintendo games. This is exactly where the world is going, but Microsoft should not be so shy about embracing the DIY movement if it wants to buttress the market against more closed game systems.
Mantra for this market: Customers make their own fun, because customers are the ones having fun.