Thursday, May 21, 2009

I like games

What XBOX Community Games Can Become

When I first heard about Microsoft’s plans to allow anyone to make games for the 360 I was very excited. I, like many others have dreamed about making video games since my first experience with them. Luckily I also have an interest in computing and when XNA 3.0 was released I had a rudimentary understanding of programming, and through copious use of the tutorials on the community site I was able to create my first game and release it onto the XBOX 360 YAY!! :)

Back in November 2008, I think the gaming community was holding their breath, waiting to see what this community games experiment would bring to the world of gaming. Sure, there are plenty of PC based gaming communities that function in a similar manner to the creators club, but none of them have the potential audience of the 360, or can recreate the playing conditions. Which usually involve relaxing on the sofa with friends and family.

I like the creators club, I really like the connect issue system for feedback. I am sorry if I abused it, but when I get an idea into my head, especially one concerning games and how they affect society, it’s all I can think about. I still believe that allowing for more gamers to take part in the playtesting process, and implementing quality controls on the games will have excellent results. I also have a lot of patience, which might not be completely apparent at the moment.

From my perspective, game development with XNA was fairly easy, there are still a lot of things I need to learn about, and 3D games development is a long way off for sure. But for someone who has never taken the time to understand how computers work and has simply just played the games their entire life it’s doubtful that they will be creating a game with XNA anytime soon.

You might be saying that XNA isn’t really meant to be an application that allows every gamer to make a game and then release it to the rest of the community. Perhaps, but every gamer has an idea for a game. It would be nice if there was an application that allowed them to create it. I don’t know what Microsoft’s plans are for the future of XNA, I hope they are for increasing the ease with which we can create games.

I think there definitely needs to be more community involvement in every aspect of the community games channel. I don’t think a small group of programmers can ever understand the whims of the masses. It seems like every day someone brings up an issue with the structure or processes involved with getting a community game onto the channel, and the issue is continuously disregarded. Usually the response is yes we know, that’s not how we do it. And then the thread is locked to further debate. Only to be restarted again the next day by someone else. It appears that this has been going on since November.

Here I will now outline the two simple suggestions that I have been pushing, perhaps too much in the last two months.

Let everyone with an Xbox live account playtest the games.

First the negatives

Most posts tend to describe piracy run amok, or the idea that since everyone can get our games for free, no one will ever buy them. There are millions of potential users of community games and I really doubt that all of them are going to become super playtesters overnight. Perhaps the detractors of this idea fear the currently small buying audience of community games, and the knowledge that its users are generally tech savvy, and would be more likely to join just to download all the games for free? I am a bit saddened by the state of our audience as well.

This will plunge the forums into such chaos that they might never be able to recover. This isn’t really mentioned as a possibility much, but it certainly is one.

I think that’s it for the negatives, please add some if you think there are any.

Now the positives

This would increase the community games userbase by orders of magnitude with future ramifications that are currently unpredictable. But since we want more people playing our games, the general feeling is that the future would be good.

Giving more people insight into what is involved with making a game, by contributing feedback during a games creation will surely get them more interested in making their own. This is what I thought the whole point of this experiment was.

It is sometimes easy to ignore the criticisms of one person, but when a large group of people all have the same issue with a certain feature of your game, you would be more likely to take that criticism into consideration when working on your game.

I am sure there are a lot more positives, please add some if you think of any.

The second suggestion is to put quality control checks into the peer review process.

First the negatives

I can’t think of any ;)

And the positives

Giving more power to the community regarding what games make it onto the channel will breed responsibility in the creators club members.

With an increase in quality, there will surely be an increase in the number of people who decide to check out the community games channel.

These two ideas, by themselves are fairly simple, but together they can drastically change the community games channel. Change it into something that everyone will enjoy and have fun with.

We understand that this article mentions nothing about implementing these two ideas. Implementation will actually be fairly easy, the problem is getting the XNA team to understand that the negatives posted above are not really negatives at all. Nothing that gets more community members involved in something peaceful and fun can ever be negative.


  1. This won't happen. If you really believe in that this concept will work then proof it by creating a playtest site of your own and invite gamers and developers to participate. Once the proof is made that the open uping for the masses won't generate lots of one-time testers who provide zero valuable feedback it will be worth to forward the request to MS. I have strong doubts that the signal to noise ratio will be of any quality, though.

  2. I Agree with the above comment.
    One of the reasons why playtest and peer review isn't open to the public is becuase its meant to be a distribution outlet for indie/hobbyist developers (programmers) not something that most of the general public would understand how to do.
    and if we opened Review up to everyone then most if not everyone would just keep playing the Review copy they got instead of buying it.

  3. i dont believe feedback can have a zero value. even a simple "your game sucks" tells you something. that someone didn't like your game.

    thankfully i believe most people will leave much more feedback than that.

    i've thought about creating a site like this, but it might be simpler to use sites that already exist. two come to mind xnplay and would be a first choice, since its associateed with the xbox, the only problem is forums are only created for already released games.

    hmm, why not just integrate the playtest and review forums into the main community games forums? the simplest way.

    we already have proof that this can work, do you remember when they did a beta test of community games and released a few games for a few weeks? people were leaving feedback about those games in the forums back then. so obviously people will contribute if they are able to.

    i just think you might as well start this thing now, since its going to happen eventually.

  4. @anonymous
    One of the main ideas behind this, is that the general public will test our games in new and interesting ways.

  5. I don't want gamers to test my game in "new and interesting" ways. I have peer developers to do that.
    I want gamers to BUY my game.

  6. I'm not interested in opening a game for testing by all Xbox Live users, but I have mentioned before that "private testing" where you could invite a list of friends with Xbox Live Gamertags to test your game.

    The problem is that Microsoft doesn't trust "Xbox Live" players in general and that the $99/year CC membership is as much about "buying" trust as anything else. They don't seem all that concerned with opening up testing games to non-CC members or lowering the cost of membership.

    As for a website for connecting good games with good test players: just opened up for Interactive Fiction testing. Certainly if they could be persuaded to help host a, I think that would be a nice domain to use. I also think that it would be cool to team up small, indie game developers of all sorts into a related family of game testing help sites.

    I am +1 on additional quality control. Somehow the review sites need more notice for the general public. Also, the catalog needs some sort of tagging/star-reviews/what have you to help sort through everything and encourage more of the XBL public at large to try new community games.

  7. Allowing us to invite friends to test our games would be a good start. The big problem is the rigamarole you have to currently go through to get these games onto your xbox.

    Im going into wait and see mode while I wait for KODU to be released.

  8. I'm not a current developer. In fact I'm just beginning to learn my way around Torque Game Builder. So it'll be awhile before I can even consider developing games for the Community. Also, I'm on a Mac, and that's a hurdle I'm not sure can be cleared. I'll find out more if and when the time comes. That said, I do have a 360, and I've been buying a lot of community games lately, and would be happy to offer suggestions, opinions, etc. if the opportunity were open to me.

    As for people endlessly playing the review copy and not buying the final game, I don't see how likely that is mainly based on whatever might be in the final, gold version of the game that isn't in the review copy. But I don't know how the whole process works now, so I may be wrong about that.

    Also, is it not possible to program a kill date into the game, that disables all review copies after a certain date?

  9. yes, putting in a kill switch for games in playtest and review is an active connect issue at the moment.

    I still don't think the piracy argument is relevant, just because there are so many potential gamers out there and a very small amount of them will make it onto the forums.

    besides, im already downloading review copies and endlessly playing them ;)

  10. This is insane. You admit to downloading and playing games from review and then say piracy won't be a problem. And testing is there to protect users - how would you like a lawsit because your untested code did something nasty to someone's xbox?

    When a game goes from playtest peer review, there should only be minimal changes to the codebase or you're not playing the game right. If you add a new featue which hasn't been tested between adding it an putting it in peer review, you're begging for a fail.

    Despite the occasional chaos in the test/review forums at the Creator's Club, it's a structured and carefully thought-out system. The fathat a lot of devs don't engage in the testing process does NOT mean that opening the testing to Joe Public will help, unless you're happy to answer 2,000 threads of "you game is a load of shit, go die under a rock"

    There's no rigmarole associated with getting your friends to test your game. Copy your LIVE profile to an MU, along with Game Studio Connect and your game. Take the MU to a friend's house. Plug in the MU, log in to your profile, and play game. Most CC members should have two accounts, especially if they're developing a network game (I've had 2 for a long time) so you even have e luxiry of choosing which account to move to your MU.

    The negatives to opening testing up are far greater than you realise - liability, IP control, controlling how the games are used, and (by your own admission) people continuing to play games after they've tested them. I find it shocking that a fellow creator would be doing that AND openly admitting to it! YOU may havesome halcyon vision of free-for-all gaming where the number of plays is the most important thing, but you have neither the strength of argument nor right to impose YOUR idea of how games should be distributed for FREE around any and every LIVE! user.

    The fee for joining the creators club is so that MS can offset the cost of developing the framework, administering the games and the sales data, and having lots of MVPs to help us right good games play nice in the forums. It may well stop a lot of idiots joining and clogging the system up with "i dun want 3,000 sporite of spinning hat, how for I do it?" questions and crappy starter-kit ripoffs (and so much the better in my opinion) but I don't think that's the primary reason.

    Finally, and most importantl, 98% of gamers don't give a tinker's cuss about testing games. They PAY for games to get quality. And quality control begins at home - YOU need to understand why your game is nowhere near as good as it could, or should, be. Have you started writing an update based on feedback for your game? Have you been checking for reviews around the web - not for ego but for pointers to what you could have done better? Propping up a game with an MS Points prize is crazy, and you're going to end up getting burned.

  11. i dont agree, lol. since this is supposedly a community based content distribution system, quality control begins with the community. you mention that creators should listen to reviewers and make updates to their game. what is the difference between a reviewer and any other community member?

    I also think that 100% of gamers care about testing games.