For many long time gamers and game developers, one of the biggest concerns about the size and success of the industry today is the effect such success has on creativity. With video game teams these days consisting of dozens of full time workers and more than a handful of contractors, and development budgets in the tens of millions of dollars (or more) taking risky chances on new ideas is not always possible. This sort of experimentation has typically been the domain of hobbyist programmers, and their (often great) projects have very seldom been enjoyed my more than a couple of people.
Microsoft took the first steps towards changing that with the release of XNA Game Studio Express in 2006. This allowed hobbyist developers not only to rapidly develop games with a toolset that saved a lot of time and hassle, but also to experience multiplatform development by deploying their creations to their Xbox 360 and share it with the rest of the Creator's Club community. In this week's keynote at the GDC, Microsoft's John Schappert announced the next step in this 'democratization' of game development: XNA Game creators will now be able to share their games with the 10 million plus strong Xbox 360 owning public through a service on Xbox Live. Games will be filtered by peer review, with Microsoft keeping their distance as much as possible.
This amazing move will undoubtedly expose gamers to great new game ideas that otherwise may have disappeared into obscurity, and will allow fledgling developers to get some great experience in the process.
The first couple of community games is already available for download, including Dishwasher, the winner of the “Dream. Build. Play.” competition held last year. Besides being a really fun game, it has a level of polish that only a handful of XBLA have thus far achieved. It's unique visual style is a testament to the kind of freedom independent development offers developers. Another visually unique title is Jelly Car, a driving puzzle game that reminds me of a LocoRoco/GripShift hybrid, but rendered as if it is a children's drawing.
After playing these demos, I can honestly say I'm excited to see what else the community will come up with next and I'm certain that recruiting developers will be keeping a close eye on the service to see what prime talent they can pick up. Kudos Microsoft!