In a rather exciting bit of news for aspiring and hobbyist developers, Microsoft has announced that it will be rolling out its “YouTube for games” service, which it has named “XBox LIVE Community Games”. You can go and download some of the games that have been in development for XNA right now to your 360.
This is great news especially for students, as Microsoft simultaneously announced that it will provide students attending participating Universities with free versions of Visual Studio 2008, XNA Game Studio, and Creator’s Club membership. They, and I, hope that this will foster a new wave of hobbyist game developers and allow innovative and interesting new games to hit the mainstream. Developers can even make money from their creations on this service, although the methods for doing so are still being ironed out.
All sounds pretty good, right? Well, there are two sides to every coin. Several people have independently told me that during GDC Microsoft also made official their rumoured plan of dropping the royalty rate for self-funded independents on XBox Live Arcade to half what it was before – since it was between 60% and 70% before, this means it’s closer to 30% now. I’ve heard that people on the XBLA team think this is a bad idea, and to me it just points to XBLA becoming more of a digital download route for publisher shovelware.
Edit: Kotaku reports on the rumour.
You can read my feelings on XBLA’s output here. It’s nice to see that, at least in part, my complaints in that post have been addressed by the introduction of this new service, but what of professional indies now? How will Ninjabee or PomPom survive with their royalty rate cut in half? Should they move their output to XBL Community Games? If they do, they lose the ability to take advantage of Achievements, Leaderboards and other features of XBox Live Arcade that make the service so popular. Should they stay on XBLA? Maybe they can’t afford to now, what with self-funding the entire project in the first place.
It feels like Microsoft is pandering to the publishers while trying to get as much new content as they can for free (this is unfair; developing XNA must have taken a lot of effort, but on the other hand anyone who isn’t a sudent has to pay $100 a year to use the service). There is no room in this new system for professional indies.