Following the official unveiling of the Xbox Live Community Games channel, we had the opportunity to speak with Boyd Multerer, general manager of XNA at Microsoft, about the initiative. We've assembled our questions and his answers into the eminently readable Q&A format, below, where we cover everything from cost to availability of trials to file size limitations to release scheduling to delisting to achievements and more. Read on!
How many games will be available on the service at launch?
It's "a different type of game in a different channel," Multerer told us. Since "nobody has ever done this before ... there's very little data to go on." In the first few weeks of the beta, over 100 games were submitted and over 60 games were passed through the peer certification, if that's any indication. In other words: You'll just have to wait for any kind of specific number, but you can probably assume several dozen games would be in the service on day one.
Will games still be able to graduate from Xbox Live Community Game to full-blown Xbox Live Arcade title?
"Yes," Multerer told us. "In fact, I hope to see more of it. Community Games is like the minor leaugues in baseball" where young talents can show off what they've got before making the jump to the majors. This wasn't the last time Multerer used the baseball metaphor.
How much will Xbox Live Community Games cost? How large will the files be?
Either 200, 400, or 800 Microsoft Points (that breaks down to roughly $2.50 to $10). The 200 point games will be limited to 50MB downloads, while the 400 or 800 point games will be limited to 150MB.
Will there be any free Xbox Live Community Games?
Nope. Multerer said that if a creator wanted to share his game for free with friends and family, he can send it to their Windows machine for free, "no problem." However, in "opening up that platform to a new market, [Microsoft] needs to prove that [they] can sell things on it." He did want to point out, though, that because they're not offering free games now, that "doesn't mean [they] won't ever look at making that happen."
Will there be demo versions of all XBL Community Games since we'll have to pay for a bad choice?
Multerer said that "especially given the fact that these are community games" (read: some may not be Game of the Year caliber), all games will have a trial mode. "Download it, play it for a period of time, and then decide if you actually want to purchase it." The trial mode wil default to a time-based limitation (they're still determining the exact criteria here) or creators can construct a better trial experience if they choose (ie: a whole level, or the like). There will also be trailers available to familiarize yourself with an unfamiliar game.
Will the Community Games be rated and, if not, how will they behave with parental controls?
Ratings are "something we were very concerned with," Multerer told us. Since there will be "lots of variety," Microsoft is depending on the "peer review process" to classify the content of Community Games. Because all Community Games will be considered "Unrated" they'll be blocked if the console's parental controls are activated. Of course, if a game graduates to full-fledged XBLA status, they'll be rated by the ESRB.
Will Xbox Live Community Games be delisted based on player feedback or sales?
Multerer told us that Microsoft has "no plans to delist any Community Games," elaborating, "In the Community space, we believe in having lots of games, lots of variety, and we see no reason to have to remove any of them." Because of the potential scale of the service, Multerer says, "We have the burden to improve the search capability." So there will be search capability, eh?
How does the rating system work? Will it be accessible from the console?
There are two different kinds of ratings: "Peer review is making sure the game is described accurately," Multerer says, which is "very different from whether or not the game is any fun." For all of the Xbox Live Community Games, you'll be able to go onto the web and assign the game a star rating. When the service launches this fall, this rating system will be web-only, though Multerer tells us, "We certainly know we need to bring it onto the console." As for whether or not the star ratings will be available to see, if not contribute to, from the console on day one, we were told the team is actually currently working on that, so it's undetermined as of yet.
Will Avatars, Party chat, and Achievements be available in Community Games?
"For the meantime" those features are "only available for professional games going into XBLA."
Will these games be available on Windows as well, or just Xbox 360?
The "Live Community Gaming Store is only on Xbox" for now, we were told, "though that doesn't mean we're not looking at bringing it to other platforms." We think Windows is a pretty good guess for "other platforms."
Will Community Games be available on Wednesdays, like XBLA games, or any day?
Since the "community manages how the community works," the schedule for game availability is dependent on them. "The community is always changing, it's always fresh, and content is always coming in," Multerer reiterated. It's like minor league baseball, you see ...
Speaking of going up to the big leagues, are developers free to take their game wherever they want?
Yup! Developers own their games so, should they choose, they can bring their Community Game up to Xbox Live Arcade by partnering with a publisher. Of course, there are business realities to partnering with a publisher (that 70% cut would be a little lower, for starters!). Multerer said, "Last year at Gamefest, we showed 20 of the [Community] games off and the publishers just walked around those games and they felt like kids in a candy store."
The Xbox Live Community Games "candy store" is expected to open "later this year."