User-created content is one of the Big New Things for the future, but the thought of keeping offensive content out of the system is a frightening thought. But with Microsoft leaving the control of its Xbox Live Community Games ecosystem with the users, we ask: can they be trusted?

Q&A: Chris Satchell, Part 2

Were there any people within Microsoft that were reticent to the idea of opening up the Xbox Live Community Games system to potential abuse?

One thing that everybody feels good about is how we’ve architected the software layer – the sandbox we use with the CLR and the .NET Framework makes the Xbox people happy that the system is secure.

In terms of content, well… people needed to understand how we would deal with the community pipeline, and once that made sense I think they got why they’d get this sensible content and why they could give the community this freedom to be given the tools to exercise responsibility for that freedom.

I want to be clear: the ESRB doesn’t rate these games, but we have shown it to them to get feedback, and they’re really excited because they’re saying that we’re the only people that are taking community driven content and thinking really seriously about giving the community the tools to manage that.

We’re doing this all over the world – we’re giving all the standards agencies the chance to comment. They’ve got great experience, and we want to be respectful of that and give them a chance to come in on what we’re doing, and so far the response has been super positive.

Why are you so keen for the community to manage the content themselves?

For us it’s really essential that the gamers understand what they’re going to get, and that we lay some ground rules and let the community enforce those rules. There is definitely content that the both of us would find offensive and we don’t want that on our system, but also creatively we need to respect other people’s IPs and those are the two major ground rules.

Aside from that, we don’t want to be the arbiters of what’s good and bad content, we want to put the power in the hands of the community and ask them to just be truthful about what’s in their game so that people can make an informed decision. That’s super important.

What worries me is when I see people saying that they’ll let anything on their system and they’ll remove it if it’s bad or broken or whatever – that isn’t the future. I think the future is giving the community the tools to really manage that.

I’ve seen people chasing community-driven content but not talking about security or tools to manage that content, and I worry what’s going to happen to their customers. Because that’s what this is about in the end – we want to give everyone the biggest range of gaming experiences, but I don’t want any of them to have to worry that if they download something then their box might break or they suddenly see things they really don’t want to.

Is the peer review process an ongoing process?

You can think of it as sort of uploading into an escrow service – it stays there until enough of the community agree that you’ve followed the basic guidelines, fairly described what’s in your game and you’ve not made something that crashes, and then once enough people have agreed it gets distributed.

Anybody with a Creators Club subscription can do the rating, because they’re the more involved users and probably the people that care most about the community. What we’ve seen is that if you can get a few core people that care about a community, then it can be remarkably robust and standards of conduct evolve quickly.

What’s to stop people just letting their friends’ games through?

Well, your creator identity keeps track of what you rate, so if we see that someone’s clearly not playing the game before rating it then their reputation will go down and they’ll have less of a voice. Also, we’ve put a clause in our Terms of Use that says you shouldn’t rate a game if you have any involvement with the development. Obviously there are reactive measures too, if something goes up and there are complaints we can trace back to the reviewers.

But all this punitive stuff – I just really hope that the community cares about this like we do and that they want it to work, otherwise they’ll just ruin it for themselves.

Do you think that this will prove a good example to other developers looking to embrace user-created content?

Yeah, I think it will, and I hope it does. We don’t have the panacea for everything, but I hope that this is a really positive step to show how a community can take responsibility for what they’re doing.

You said earlier that distribution was the last big piece of the puzzle. So where does XNA go from here?

Well, we’re also extending to Zune this year, and I think that there are other platforms that we could extend to like, for example, smartphones. As for the distribution, it’ll be about tuning it and making sure it’s as good as possible, making sure that multi-region distribution works. That’s where we’ll be focusing short- to long-term, and I think that’ll inform where we go from there.

Will people have to pay to play the Community Games?

We haven’t decided that yet – to be honest, we’re not really focused on the business model, we’ve been focusing on this pipeline and connecting people. Once we’re in beta more will come to light. For now it’s just getting this distribution to work – it’s a hell of a lot of work!

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