Continuing our chat with XNA Team leader Chris Satchell, the first part of which we posted yesterday, Chris talks about the evolution of the XNA platform and the new community IP rights announced by Microsoft at Gamefest 2007...

XNAbling everyone: Part 2

If XNA games coded for the Xbox 360 will be able to use Live, does that mean that PC games will be able to use Games for Windows Live?

We’ve not pulled the trigger on how Games for Windows Live will be supported – it might require one of our future releases. We’ve got a pattern of doing two releases a year, and this year’s fall release might not have it in.

When we do make that decision, then it’ll absolutely follow the programming framework that the Xbox version does – that’s really our whole ethos, minimizing the differences in developing on the two platforms, build that cross-platform framework to maximise productivity. So if we do go that way it’ll definitely look the same.

There’s two key decisions to be made: the first is if and when we open it up, and the other is whether we allow cross-play or not. I’m sure people in the community would want that and, to be honest, we’re looking for feedback. So, much in the same way as we’ve done with other features, we will take response from the community and try to be reactive as to what they needs to fulfil their goals.

So, what I’ll say for the moment is: it would be interesting, we’re actively investigating it, but we’re still in that decision mode of if and exactly how we will expose it.

There’s a significant number of new features in Game Studio 2.0, despite only being a year since the first version. Is this a pattern you see continuing, and where do you get the ideas from for the new functionality?

Every single release there will be more features and we will tailor the features and improve them to match what the community is asking for, because we do want to listen to take note. The nice thing about the XNA team is that they’re super active on the forums – they get in there and answer questions as much as possible, and they really want to listen to what people are saying.

Other feature additions will come from things we see – trends we observe in traditional development and if we can interpret that in a way that the community can use with Game Studio, that’s even better because we can keep bridging the gap between those worlds. It feeds back both ways: we’ll get ideas from Game Studio that’ll go into our other development tools that the big publishers use, and ideas from there will feed into Game Studio.

We’ll have ideas and the community will have ideas, and you can expect to see continual advancement.

It’s often been said – not necessarily by yourselves but by people comprehending the XNA idea – that there’ll be some sort of community service for sharing these XNA titles, often referred to as a ‘YouTube for Games’. Is this something Microsoft is actively working towards?

It’s always been our vision since we’ve started. We use a music analogy – you know, it’s like we’ve given the instruments so they can go and play music now, but what’s the radio station where they can reach everyone? It’s cool that they can invite people around and play in front of them, which is sort of the Creators Club, but hey, they want to play to the world.

That’s the vision that we’ve always had. And yes, we’re actively working on how we would do that – the technologies required to make that happen. We don’t have anything to announce about it yet, but I think it’s really exciting, and to me that’s the next really big step – we’ve opened up the Xbox, we’ve given a cross-platform framework, we’ve changed the paradigm of game development to make it easier. Now we need to provide people a stage to play on, a distribution medium so that they can show off their creativity to everyone. That’s always been our vision and remains our vision.

Do you have any plans to allow users to share Xbox 360 binaries with non-Creators Club users?

Well, rather than doing something interim, we’d prefer to focus on how we actually provide that real service and community that people can distribute to and not have to do by hand. There’s a bunch of policy things to get through with that, to make sure we’re doing it in a responsible way but not stifling the creativity of the community. Really it’s all wrapped up in that vision of how do we give that great distribution platform to let people experience all the great content that’s being created by the community.

During your keynote at Gamefest, you introduced new IP rights that allow people to use select Microsoft Game Studios IP in non-commercial projects. This mostly seems limited to things like screenshots, artwork and sound content – but do you think it could ever extend to assets from games, like for example models?

I think over time it would be great to see more IP that we’ve built and we control released to the community and I think this is an important first step. As I said at Gamefest, I really encourage other IP holders in the industry to take these initial steps as well, it’d be great to see if we could evolve into some sort of fair use policy around assets we own and even the actual materials that we’ve built, to let people experience with the IP more easily.

As you go farther into that, you increase the amount of creativity people can apply and the situations they can use the content in, but you’re dialling down creative control. And this isn’t just an issue for Microsoft, I really stand by what I said at the Develop conference, which was that this is something the industry is going to have to wrestle with, this balance between enabling the community and controlling our intellectual property.

So there’s some really interesting decisions to make along the way, including some gut-checks from the rest of the industry regarding how we feel about that. Personally, I think it’s an important direction to investigate. I think the more you enable the community, the more you get back as an industry and a medium. The realities of it, though, is that there’ll be some difficulties along the way, but this is a great first step and obviously we’re going to keep looking at how we can push that further and how the fans out there in the community can do even more.

I don’t think we have all the best ideas, but I think it’s good to show some leadership and say ‘We’re going to start investigating this and start experimenting’, and then invite other people who have equally good or better ideas to come on board and give their opinion.

There’s been some discord amongst users who actually view these rights as more restrictive than before – for example, some machinima enthusiasts contacted us to say that the rule about not being allowed to use sound effects would seriously damage the machinima community. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think it is the case that it’s more restrictive than before, because I don’t think we’ve ever really granted this license before. So people may have taken this work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there was ever an IP license granted. There’s a difference between ignoring activity and actually licensing activity.

The key here, though, is that it’s going to take some time for us and the community to work through this and push the boundaries. It’s going to be a two-way conversation as people go: ‘I think this is included, but I want to push here – is this allowed?’ There’ll be some of that to work through.

I don’t want to address the issue that specifically, but regarding the topic in the question, it’s largely a case of where we own the rights and where we can transfer them in some manner.

We don’t necessarily have derivative rights for everything we licence. So, imagine we’ve licensed some music for a particular use in game – that doesn’t mean that someone can pick that up and use it in a different way; we don’t have those rights so we can’t transfer them. And so I think it’s those kind of issues we have to work through. It’s easy when we own everything, but we don’t always own everything, and that may be where some of the issues lie.

We’re really committed to enabling the community and tapping into the talent that’s out there and getting it into our medium. We’re passionate about advancing what we’re doing in games, and I think the community has to be a key part of that.

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