Why does Microsoft care about this idea of socially-conscious gaming?
Well, I’d say that it’s not a new thing. We have been very interested in safety and security in the world of computing for some time. When you have as large a role to play in the operating systems of the world’s computing as we do, then you have to take larger issues very seriously, and we continue to be committed to that with the Xbox. Because we’re such leaders in the world of Xbox Live, we also know that we have a responsibility to the community. We’ve always taken very seriously the safety and security role; I think that now, we’ve moved from putting the tools in place, raising awareness and education for parents and others playing games about ratings and controls—now, we’re moving towards content.
So if you have these positive messages, and these socially-conscious games, it’s good PR for the gaming industry in general.
It is; without any question; there’s a positive ecosystem overall. Age of Empires—my kids love that game. And they’d come tell me that they were learning about Genghis Khan, and the history of his leadership. And they’re learning from [the game]. Lightbulbs are going off.
And when they get excited about learning, discovering this practical application of games, it makes them want to consume more games…
Exactly. It’s a very virtuous cycle.
The ethic of service is a nice idea. On the other hand, for this kind of vision to actually materialize in reality, these games need to translate to being viable on the commercial market—and there seems to be a general consensus that they’re not there yet. Any of these developers can use XNA to create a game and upload it to Xbox Live—but what do you think these organizations and these game developers need to do to get to the point where they’re actually working for you?
Absolutely, they’re not there yet. But we’re not looking, with this first step, to do anything other than empower and motivate people that love gaming, and love these social issues, to use gaming to try and drive awareness and education and participation. I don’t know if our vision is that different than the ones that came out of file-sharing ideas like Napster, or even YouTube. It’s a democratization of content—and we’re just starting.
I wish I could tell you that I knew for sure that [these games] were all going to be great, but we will make available the Xbox Live Arcade ecosystem to present these games for people to play them—assuming that they’re of a quality that it’s not embarrassing to their creators, or to the community of participants within this challenge.
Will you be establishing standardized quality benchmarks?
Well, I’m interested, in the course of the next year, to explore the notion of a peer review. I think that’s really a strong idea. We have a Creators’ Club now where people are participating with XNA Express—but ultimately, yes. I think both external to Microsoft, as well as Microsoft Games Studio’s experts—we need to have a jury that’s going to make the final decision on who are the best games. And then, I’m confident that these will be engaging and terribly wonderful games that we will be able to put onto Xbox Live Arcade for everyone to enjoy.
What are Microsoft’s plans for continuing involvement in this arena?
We certainly are committed to this conference and through next year, and we’re hoping that from small things, big things grow. We really want it to succeed, and this is just the first of many initiatives promoting the breadth of the game development community. The depth is there—this is no way a criticism of our partners, who are clearly on the vanguard of tech. But we are using this as a way to increase breadth specifically, and explore new genres.