With the release of XNA Game Studio Express just behind them, Gamasutra met with Microsoft Game Studios' corporate vice president Shane Kim, and Microsoft Game Developer Group director of marketing Dave Mitchell in the heat of the 2007 Game Developers Conference.
In this extensive interview, we discussed the Xbox 360's current placement in the market, the possibility of making harddrives mandatory, the state of Microsoft Game Studios in Japan, future Zune connectivity with the 360, Kim's thoughts about the competition, and the future of XNA Game Studio Express, both commercially and for educational purposes.
Gamasutra: So the big thing you're pushing this GDC is XNA?
Dave Mitchell: [XNA Studio Express] really is a follow-through of what we started talking about in 2004. We got up on stage and talked about the next generation being defined by hardware, software, and services, and at that point in time, we introduced XNA as an initiative and the software offerings that would come behind it to address the software component.
Certainly, with the console being in the hardware space and in services we've got a fantastic service in Xbox Live, and we're bringing that on to the Games for Windows platform now as well; that's all going very well, and Shane will be addressing that too. On the tools side, however, we're extremely pleased that today -- fast-forwarded three years from 2004 -- XNA is now at a point where three out of four game developers are leading using XNA tools for their next generation console development. They're leading on the Microsoft platforms using our tools.
I think you had a chance to see that the games we're releasing this year have got some fantastic stories, and great storytellers now telling their stories in their games on these platforms using those tools. So we're extremely excited and pleased about that, and want to talk to you in more detail about what that is, but also at the same time the Game Studio Express. I don't know if you had a chance to see what's going on upstairs [with the "Dream-Build-Play" contest].
We've previously talked about that on Gamasutra, and have since carried on with that. Since we shipped the product in December, we've had 250,000 downloads of that retail product. That, by the way, is an order of magnitude larger number than professional game developers in the industry, so that represents a significant number of people actually creating games. Take a look at where we are with universities and what's happening on the community front. There are lots of different areas we're going into as to what XNA offers in terms of tools and technologies, and that's what we're talking about here at GDC this year.
Shane Kim: Certainly that's an area where we feel like we have a strong competitive edge over Sony. It's part of our heritage as a company. We obviously have this legacy as a platform company with Windows, and we understand how to work well with developers, and we've carried that over into the gaming space. That's an important message, an important achievement. Dave talked about three out of four game developers leading on Microsoft platforms. We never would've been able to say that two years ago. I think that's just testimony to not only the commercial success of the platforms we're having, but to how much focus and attention we put on working with the game creators, because they're the ones who create the magic.
GS: Do you know at this stage how you're going to live up to XNA's YouTube-like potential? Do you know yet how games are going to be implemented in terms of being able to be downloaded by users?
SK: We're not ready to talk about those plans in detail yet, but, as an update, we are definitely making progress. We feel even more confident in the fact that we'll be able to start delivering solutions to not only our creators out there, but also to gamers who want an alternative type of creative content.
The backbone of that entire service will be Xbox Live. We just announced this week that we've exceeded six million members for the Xbox Live network. Games for Windows Live is now taking that service over to the Windows platform, where we've got more than two million gamers. If you combine those two platforms, that ability to use that as a backbone -- as an infrastructure -- to deploy community-created games -- that's what we're excited about. Enabling that "YouTube for gamers" model is completely based on an integrated experience and is possible for all commercial games and community games.
GS: Do you have any stats yet on what the percentage of the downloads are, with regards to either average users or developers?
DM: I can tell you anecdotally that based upon forum activity and the types of games people are submitting and sharing, that the vast majority of them are first-time game developers. We're seeing lots of testimonials being posted where users say, "I've tried developing with other tools before, but this is the first time I've succeeded and I actually have a game." That excitement just carries on, and they're making a second and a third game as they get better and better and learn more and more.