XNA game platform general manager Boyd Multerer sat down with Gamasutra to discuss the specifics of the complex system, how it's intended to work, and some of the possible issues and solutions inherent in the new system.
* OK. You're still going to have Xbox Live Arcade, correct? And so Community Games will be differentiated, right?
* BM: That is right. Well, the first differentiator to think about, right now - that's a different differentiator - there's a differentiator of professional content versus community content. That one I can talk better about.
In the professional world - and when you think about XBLA in particular - that is content that has had serious budgets put into it. I mean, to make those games, and to make a high quality game that's worthy of getting big marketing money behind it, and all that, it costs money. Budgets for those games, with multiple people involved, about three hundred thousand dollars, half-million dollars, even a million dollars these days is not unheard of to develop these kinds of games.
The people I'm targeting with the community side of XNA, their budget is... can they eat? Right? Some of these people are in college, some of these people are not even in the software industry, this is what they do for hobby, and it's about giving them a channel where they can still be creative.
No one's expecting that - and of course there will be exceptions to this, but overall - no one's expecting that their games are going to compete with the professional titles, simply because they don't have the art budget for it. There will occasionally be someone who's really, really good at it, and is going to stand out, but for the vast majority of the content, you'll be able to tell the difference as soon as you see it, simply because it just takes a lot to make a professional game.
* You mean if it's over an M rating [then it's not going to make it through the system]?
* BM: If it's over an M rating, then it wouldn't make it through the system anyway. Beyond that, any of this content, when we launch, is going to be officially 'unrated', which is the highest restriction level, so if you set any parental controls on your box whatsoever, then this stuff won't play.
The third piece is, you know, our job is just to make sure that it's a decision the parent gets to make. We're trying to be better than anyone else at explaining, 'this is what you're going to get into if you download this' and you can see those ratings, and you can say, "OK, this doesn't have a lot of language, it's got a whole lot of violence," and blah-blah-blah, and let the parent make their own choices.
* Is the cost nailed down for this yet? Last time I spoke with someone, it wasn't, for the Creators Club and getting the XNA and all that.
* BM: Well, I guess I'd say there's two different costs: One is, to make a game at all - to download the tools, to download the APIs, to download everything you need to make an XNA game - is free. Visual Studio Express is free, our APIs are free, the tools are free on Windows. So you can build your game, you can do all your creative stuff, you can get your point across without spending a penny.
Now, tools from other companies obviously aren't free - you'll need a 3D editing package and all of that kind of stuff - but to make the essence of your game on Windows is free. To get it running on your Xbox, to do the debugging and get it to the point where it runs on that device is $99 a year.
To be able to submit your game to the publishing system, you will need that subscription. So that will be $99 a year. And for that, I don't really care how many games you've made, but there is a barrier to get in in the first place.
* You mentioned that the $99 a year is not going to cover the cost by a long shot; do you have a plan to eventually bring this to profitability, or is this mostly a community-building kind of thing?
* BM: There are different aspects to the program that need to be considered, and we get different things out of them. One of the fundamental things we've always been trying to do with it is to teach people how to make games. And this is an easily-overlooked goal on our part, but it's actually really serious.
One of the problems we've got, and in fact every technical company has got, and the game companies have got, is that we can't hire enough people who know how to write games. There just aren't enough of them out there.
So one of the biggest drivers of the whole program is getting into universities, get people being taught how to write games, get Xboxes in there, and actually get more people into CompSci. Period. So I'm really happy, we're in over four hundred universities right now - which just kind of blows me away.
* Do you have any kind of mechanism through which these XNA Creator creative people can seek out jobs, or anything like that? I don't know if that's too high level integration, but -
* BM: No, that's a great question. One of the dreams that we have for the Creator Club website is to have a place where people in it can advertise their services, get hooked up with other people who are maybe looking for a programmer, or an artist - and I don't care if it's small teams coming together, or people trying to get into the professional companies - that is totally a goal that we have.
Every once in a while we just troll around on the internet and just look to see if anyone's posted jobs where they're looking for someone who has XNA experience, and that's like totally a validation that we're doing something interesting.
* Will people be able to publish globally? Can you say that, or no?
* BM: Um, that would be one of those ones where you say "yes" with an asterisk on it. It's most likely going to be a regional roll-out, and we don't know the full set that we'll be supporting when we start, but it'll be an expanding list as we go.
It turns out that there are all kinds of regulatory and legal issues involved, and it just takes time to sort through those things. Long term, the goal is, yeah, we want to be able to provide developers as large an audience as we possibly can.