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The Guide: Community Organizing


Welcome to The Guide, an editorial feature in which former Xbox 360 Fanboy lead Richard Mitchell looks at issues important to Xbox fans. The opinions expressed here belong to the author and don't necessarily reflect those of Joystiq, Weblogs Inc. or its affiliates.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai came out this week. It's a very good action game and I'm playing it as much as I can. Over the last year and a half or so, I've had the opportunity to talk with Dishwasher's creator, James Silva. You may remember that Microsoft devoted a hefty chunk of last year's GDC keynote to Silva, touting the fact that he created Dishwasher entirely on his own using XNA. Microsoft used The Dishwasher as an example of what could be accomplished with XNA and, by extension, Community Games. Thus far, we haven't really heard that much about Community Games -- apart from less than impressive sales.

Playing Dishwasher, I started to wonder why. And then I found Rocket Fart.

Yes, Rocket Fart. It's a real Community Game and it can now be yours for only 200. I'll get into the gameplay later -- you can make an educated guess, for now. First, a little background. Generally, I just don't spend much time looking at Community Games. Sure, I might check out the occasional game that bubbles up to media outlets (I'm looking forward to Clover) but, for the most part, Community Games just aren't on my radar. That's the problem.

Before it became a reality, Community Games was often characterized by Microsoft as "the YouTube of games." That's a reasonably apt analogy. Forget the cost, let's just look at the distribution model. All of the games are created / uploaded by users. It then falls to the users to promote whatever they upload. Microsoft won't do anything to promote your game, unlike Xbox Live Arcade titles. Also, unlike Xbox Live Arcade, there is no real vetting process. There is no guarantee that the game you'll download will be any good. Actually, there aren't even any indications that a game will be good. Hell, you can't even be sure you're getting a game at all. It could be a virtual aquarium (in HD!).

Okay, so how do you at least attempt to weed out the bad ones? There's a section for award winners, games like CarneyVale Showtime and Colosseum. That's nice, but it's not like that section will change very often. There's only one Dream-Build-Play competition every year, after all. After trying out that handful of decent games, what's next? You might check new arrivals, but those are just new. No indication of quality there. But what's this? A section for the most popular games? Surely, a goldmine of gaming goodness awaits!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where I found Rocket Fart. I also found Rumble Massage, the infamous massaging "game." And, believe it or not, I found Remote Masseuse, which actually lets you massage other people over Xbox Live -- "Great for long distance relationships" claims the description. Is it any wonder Community Games are (apparently) tanking? There is absolutely no way to separate the wheat from the chaff. No user ratings, no quality control. As far as I can tell, there isn't even an option to recommend a good title to a friend.

It might be similar to YouTube, but it's like a YouTube where the only way to find content is to randomly search and hope for the best. You can't look for five star videos and your friends can't send you a hilarious video of a sleepy kitten.

But back to Rocket Fart. The gameplay is pretty simple. You play as balding man who, for some reason, is trapped in a lava filled cave. The only way to avoid death is to fart so hard that it rockets you upward and away from the lava. Of course, no one farts forever, so you'll have to refill what I have dubbed the Fart-O-Meter by eating all the food that is constantly whizzing through the air. Suffice it to say that the game is crap, which isn't surprising given crap's proximity to the subject matter.

That's beside the point though. There are bound to be some bad games on the service, even those with higher aspirations than Rocket Fart. The point is that this is in the Most Popular section, and it's not even the only fart game in Most Popular! Let's take stock again, shall we? Two massage games, a digital aquarium and two games about farts are all among the most popular Community Games.

That's not Microsoft's fault. That's purely the will of users. The problem is that Microsoft doesn't offer any better ways to find decent content. The potential of the Community Games service is immense. The Dishwasher is proof of that. If Microsoft ever wants the service to realize that potential, it needs a serious overhaul. Preferably before someone decides to roll out Fart Hero.

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