Mitchell looks to what he referrers to as sister industries - video and music - to see a current evolution in the game industry. In order for this industry to remain healthy and grow, Mitchell believes we must embrace the role of the consumer-created content.

Microsoft wants players to be peers with developers, or become de facto developers themselves. "We'd love to see that direction embraced by the game industry." Mitchell hopes that developers can find ways to engage users to contribute more on an ongoing basis.

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It might be hard to understand why Microsoft is offering this technology in such a freely philanthropic manner. "It's in our DNA," explains Mitchell. "We've been doing this for many years - making the commercial technology also available to hobbyists and students. The other aspect is we're all gamers, we love games, and we want this industry to be healthy and profitable.

"Ultimately, we as gamers will benefit, and we as platform owners will benefit. Fresh ideas will be out there in the industry. And we, like the other platform providers will go after them."

As part of their initiative, Microsoft is extending XNA to universities and students. Some students wanted to focus on fun, others on their individual projects. "We're just wrapping up our Dream-Build-Play contest," Mitchell says. Two hundred game demos from over 100 different countries were submitted for the PC and Xbox 360. The game submissions ran the gamut. Mitchell recalls one game, which featured art assets hand-drawn with crayon. Another featured rich trees and vegetation, imported from a SpeedTree license into XNA.

As an added benefit to Microsoft, giving universities a cheap but high-class development platform means more students will learn how to develop specifically for Microsoft. Mitchell says "it's becoming less and less of an issue. ... [Games are] always ported to other platforms." He thinks a number of games will start off on XNA Studio Express 360, where, "if we're successful, we'll absolutely see them on other platforms as well as ours."

As for Microsoft's competitors, Mitchell can't speak for the other console manufactures' ability to support a technology like XNA, which might allow user-created games to run on a PS3 or a Wii. "For the overall health of the industry, I certainly hope that they look to enable some of that." Considering what XNA has the potential to do, we can only hope other shops lift their licensed curtains, as well.

N. Evan Van Zelfden expects great things for the future of games. Games are the greatest art form to date, he asserts. This is why he plays games, writes about them, and continues to work in the industry of games.

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