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User-Generated Games Coming to Xbox, Zune

SAN FRANCISCO -- Game Developers Conference -- While it continues to expand the online presence of its gaming consoles, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) says it will soon let people post their own games to the Xbox LIVE community, the company announced during its GDC keynote.

Microsoft is also applying its XNA development tools to its iPod wannabe, the Zune, meaning it's providing a way for users to create mobile games, or port their Xbox creations to the mobile device. Zune support is due to be available later this year.

The moves emphasize how important Internet connectivity has become for gaming, as the big console owners are increasingly touting online communities as a platform feature. Last year, Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) used GDC to announce its Home online world. Sony also touched on the do-it-yourself idea by previewing Little Big Planet, a game where players could build their own levels and share them online. (See Sony Hits Home.)

Xbox LIVE opens that concept to entire games. Microsoft decided 18 months ago to unlock its game development engine, letting players build their own Xbox games. More than 800,000 copies of the tool set have been downloaded, said Chris Satchell, Microsoft's chief XNA architect and the speaker who made the Xbox LIVE announcements.

Microsoft will let any Xbox LIVE community member post a game, with some obvious restrictions. Titles will first undergo a peer review, where a human being checks for obvious piracy and any objectionable content.

The most obvious effect of all this is that more games will be around. "Over the lifetime, we're going to have to double the games we would have had" in the Xbox library, Satchell said.

All that gaming creativity can be targeted at the mobile world, too, with XNA's upcoming support of Zune in addition to Windows and Xbox. The multiplayer Zune games will have WiFi support, too. (Games can be written once and quickly ported to all three platforms, Microsoft says.) Among other things, this opens the possibility of user-created multiplayer wireless games.

Of course, there's also the promise of amateur game writers going pro. When Microsoft opened Xbox game developing to everyone, it also launched a contest. Four winners got contracts to have their games added to the Xbox LIVE Arcade distribution service, where titles can be purchased for download.

One of those winners, James Silva, got a few minutes on stage to explain how gaming fame has changed his life. "I was at a point where it was like, 'James, you've got to grow up.' But now, thanks to the magic of XNA, I can put that off for, like, five years," he said.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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