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Microsoft To Xbox Fans: Make Your Game

By: David Utter

User-generated content, like text and photos on blogs to videos dropped on YouTube, has driven a number of sites to heavy traffic and popularity; Microsoft will try to ride the lightning by enabling gamers to create games for the Xbox 360.

Microsoft To Xbox Fans: Make Your GameVideo games as an industry represents some big money, and rivals Hollywood as a $10 billion per year industry. Gamers turn to the Internet regularly for gaming information; News Corp (NWS.A) bought in 2005 for its Fox Interactive Media group to capture some of that group's traffic.

For Microsoft (MSFT). gaming means the Xbox 360, and the Home & Entertainment Division of the company. It isn't the profit center Microsoft wants yet, as Sony (SNE) dominates the home console market while Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) and its little consoles like the DS and the GameBoy Advance are in thousands of hands worldwide.

Microsoft has announced the late 2006 launch of XNA Game Studio Express in an effort to increase interest in the 360 through user-generated content. The company also said a number of universities like Georgia Tech and the University of Southern California will incorporate the new product and the 360 into their game development curricula.

A beta of XNA Game Studio Express will be available on August 30th, as a free download on Windows XP. Microsoft called it a "new alternative to the existing multi-thousand dollar development kits that many console games require."

Microsoft disclosed the new product at Gamefest 2006, and featured a couple of technology contributors to the platform. Autodesk (ADSK) provided support for its FBX file-exchange format for 3-D data elements, while GarageGames ported its Torque Shader Engine and new Torque Game Builder 2-D visual game designer to the XNA Game Studio Express.

Building, testing, and sharing games on the Xbox 360 itself will require a $99 annual subscription fee to what Chris Satchell, general manager of the Game Developer Group at Microsoft, called a "creators club." Microsoft will provide additional resources through the club to assist developers.

The university side of the announcement shows how Microsoft hopes to create interest in the 360 among developers in training. By tapping these students early and making 360s and development tools available to them, Microsoft is betting it can help the commercial side of 360 gaming as these developers graduate and enter the job market with a couple of years of 360 development experience.

If that experience can come at the expense of Sony and Nintendo, all the better for Microsoft. Coupled with the end-user game creation potential, Microsoft has put the tools in place to create more interest in the Xbox 360.

It won't be a short-term fix for Home & Entertainment's finances within Microsoft, as it will take time for students to move through the Xbox 360-centric coursework. Depending on adoption of the creators club, Microsoft may have to move that price down from $99 per year to capture more interest, too.


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