The Xbox Live Community Games, which will be bringing homebrew games to the Xbox 360, will open the doors of game design to anyone with $99 and an idea. It doesn't even have to be a good idea, necessarily; in fact, Boyd Multerer, General Manager for XNA, fully expects that the Community Games will have their fair share of crap.
"There will be good games and there will be....games," he sagely predicts.
Still, Multerer figures that's a small price to pay for the unique opportunity the Community Games present. Any would-be developer can download Microsoft's XNA game design tools for free. Once the game is ready to distribute, simply pay the $99 yearly fee and you're welcome to upload your title onto the Community Games service, where it will be available to millions of Xbox Live subscribers.
"The goals with the Xbox Live Community Games is that we don't want to be managing it as a closed portfolio. In the community, you just write your game and you put it up," explains Multerer. The QA process of the Community Games, such as it is, rests almost entirely within the community itself. The other designers will be checking to make sure that a game's listed description matches the actual gameplay and content; so long as the description's accurate, the game goes on the service. The result, Multerer expects, will be a dazzling variety of games that simply wouldn't be feasible in a tightly-controlled situation like XBLA or WiiWare.
Don't start designing Babies on Spikes Orgy-a-Thon Xtreme just yet, however; there are a few limitations on the type of content budding designers will be allowed to post. Anything too risqué to earn an M rating or lower is strictly off-limits, but Multerer promises that if something inappropriate does manage to find its way onto the service, "a really good reactive team" will yank it as soon as possible. Parents concerned about safeguarding their children will be relieved to know that all of the Community Games will be considered "unrated," and therefore will be inaccessible to 360s with parental controls enabled.
As if the possibility of instantly getting one's work in front of millions of gamers wasn't enough to ensure a steady stream of content, Community Game designers will also earn 70% of the proceeds from sales of their games. A veritable flood of titles is all but guaranteed, which could make finding something to play quite a chore. Xbox Live Arcade is already facing similar navigation issues. Earlier this year, Microsoft decided the best solution to the problem was to delist older, less popular games, a fate that will never be shared by the Community Games, says Multerer.
"We have no plans to delist anything. You as a creator, you still own your game, you can choose to pull it. We're not going to tell people what they should and shouldn't play," he says.
A noble sentiment, but it doesn't make sifting through hundreds or thousands of games any more enjoyable. Microsoft hopes to ease the pain by blurring the line between Xbox Live and Xbox.com, letting users browse games on their PCs before downloading them onto their 360s.
"You'll be able to go to Xbox.com and look through all the content there and when you have web search algorithms, that is a great way to go through a lot of data very quickly," says Multerer. "I'm completely counting on the new Xbox experience to help with sorting through all this content."
Also (hopefully) bringing order to the chaos are mechanisms that will eventually be in place to allow players to rate games based on funness, and a new XNA game storefront that's being added to the standard Xbox Live Arcade channel to highlight new and popular homebrew games.
It sounds as though the Xbox Live Community Games are positively bursting with potential, both for greatness and disaster. Perhaps both. The service is set to launch before the holiday season later this year.