It is almost as though Microsoft looked at Apple’s Garage Band and said, hmmm, what a great idea, what if we applied it go games? I mean how cool would it be to quickly and easily be able to create your own kick ass game, and turn around to sell it for money. The “easily” part I’m sure will be relative, as we will likely see a great deal of junk result from this. However, so many great ideas are lost because it is very difficult to take an idea or concept and turn it into something someone else can get excited about. The product is called XNA Game Studio Express. OK, the name kind of sucks when you compare it to “Garage Band,” but “Garage Games” was taken. Personally, I think it would have been very wise to drop the XNA part, but if you can get by the name, the concept is actually very appealing. What is of particular interest about this service, and it is more service than software, is that at the outset it creates a network of people who will eventually be able to help design, create, and sell a quality gaming product that will play on an Xbox or a PC. In some cases, both! It is easy to see that most of the people who may want to develop a game won’t even know where to start; this is where the network and service come in. Showcasing what is likely the future of packaged software, the product is free, but the service will come with an affordable annual fee. In addition, the real value is in the service because that’s where you’ll get the knowledge needed to use the tool. Current professionals won’t need the service, but it is likely that they will also have outgrown the tool so there shouldn’t be a lot of free rides. Danger to Sony Think of the danger to Sony or Nintendo if this takes off. These games won’t run on those systems. It also adds a dimension to Microsoft’s platforms that the others lack, one of creation. If you don’t like the games you’re seeing on the Xbox you can write your own and sell them. Imagine how much parents may actually like that part. Having a game system that actually generates revenue, rather than simply drilling a never ending hole in my pocket, would be a huge incentive to buy Xbox or a PC over a Sony or Nintendo. The real danger is that Microsoft will get better user feedback through the service than they do now from gamers who are also trying to develop cool games. If they listen, and listening can be a big problem for any big company, the result should be vast customer focused improvements to what they have; improvements that Sony and Nintendo will probably never even know are possible. Long Term If this is successful, Nintendo and Sony will have to respond, and neither is known for their “easy to use” developer tools. I understand that the tools Sony has for the Cell are particularly ugly. This could force both companies to better resource their own tools, or seek a partner that is actually good at building software tools. Better tools typically mean more good games, regardless of the platform, which is good for all gamers. As mentioned above, this showcases a future for all software in terms of how it is purchased and probably the best defense for piracy. If the product is free and the value is in the service, what’s the point of pirating the product? In addition, a service ensures the continued contact between a customer and a developer. That contact generally results (at least it does in business where this is more common) in products that do a better job of addressing customer needs than most packaged products that don’t have strong user groups. We are also beginning to see the emergence of the new Microsoft built more on collaboration than the IBM/DEC model the old Microsoft was based on. I’m thinking that too looks like it will be a positive step.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.