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Power to the People

If publishers believe in interactivity, why aren't they embracing it?

Published as part of our sister-site' widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial offers analysis of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

Chris Satchell, Microsoft's XNA group manager, commented this week that he believes that Sony and Nintendo would be "inviting trouble" by allowing user-generated content to get too close to the metal of the system, rather than being confined to a sandbox environment.

His comments are revealing, not so much on a technical level - the reality of course is that none of the above companies are allowing user-generated content to have that kind of hardware access without passing similar strict technical checks to the ones which commercial games must pass - but rather as a clear sign of where the industry is headed in the coming months and years.

It's not so long since the question of whether there was any real value to user-generated content would have been a divisive issue between the platform holders. When you get to the point where they're instead taking pot-shots at one another over the relative security of their user content offerings, you know we've come a long way.

Or have we? Scratch the surface and you'll find an industry which is happy to pay lip service to user-created content - but which is far from committed to this emerging ecosystem in reality.

Microsoft's XNA is arguably further down the path in some regards than anything its competitors are doing - since neither WiiWare nor PSN title development is remotely open to users. Sony's apparent willingness to embrace user-created mods for some titles is also a positive step in a similar direction - but hardly represents a widescale commitment to the vision of user-created content.

Game companies and platform holders like to tap into the lexicon of online success by talking expansively about a "YouTube for games", but the reality is that while this is a valuable concept in some regards, it's a lazy and over-simplified way of looking at how user-created content could - and should - change the way videogames work.

The concept of a gaming YouTube is comfortable for game publishers, who think of it in terms of talented amateur teams putting together small shareware titles in the hope of breaking into the market. The volume of titles would always be low - and the quality always well below the benchmarks being set by 100-person teams at professional development studios. It would provide a handy way to spot up-and-coming talent, and shut up the people who complain that the industry stifles innovation. It's a nice, comfortable, cozy idea.