There was recently an interview with Seamus Blackley, Microsoft's Director of Advanced Technology for the Xbox, at Stanford University. When asked about developers for the console, he said something I found rather disturbing. To quote the Gaming Intelligence Agency's report of the interview:
Blackley confided that he personally feels that, contrary to Newsweek editorials, videogames are art, and that he hopes the Xbox will provide a haven for artists who might not be able to realize their vision on another platform--and to provide the necessary technical power to convince the rest of the world that games can be art. A major plank in this platform is the "Unsigned Developer Program," informally called the "garage development program." Basically, anyone who can provide Microsoft with a good game idea and prove that they have the ability to make it a reality, to meet milestones, and to create a finished product--Microsoft will provide them with Xbox Developer Kits and let them try to realize their dream. Once the game is complete, if the quality is satisfactory, Microsoft could either publish it themselves or try to find a third-party publisher for the title.
Am I the only person on Earth who finds this statement disturbing? Is everyone really naive enough that they fail to differentiate between promoting this so-called "garage development" and EXPLOITING it? And with Microsoft, no less! I think it's pretty obvious that the moment Joe Gamer pitches his idea to Microsoft and is "provided" the devkits to make it happen, the idea, the rights, EVERYTHING will become Microsoft's intellectual property. This alarming situation made me realize that the emulation community has the same basic need as home console developers, and that there is a solution that can make it all happen.
What we need is a completely open console system. Hardware, software, licensing, information, ALL of it open. Free devkits, available to anybody, that would eventually be good enough to allow easy game creation by said anybody. Homebrew titles could flourish like Microsoft claims they want them to, and with completely open hardware it would probably be fairly easy to port games to the platform, making it more appealing to mainstream corporate developers.
And think of the possibilities provided by emulation! The console hardware is no longer a necessity, and console gaming becomes a completely widespread, portable concept. Fast, accurate emulation would be aided by open, well-documented hardware and software, and games would be readily availably and, for the most part, freely distributable.
So I ask the reader this: where do you think the future of gaming lies? In proprietary vendors who charge for licensing and can't meet production needs? Console developers who decide that their market is easily exploitable as a source of new ideas with which to line their own pockets? Or does it lie in the gaming community itself? The people who play the games. The people who want the games. The people who are willing to do what it takes to improve something they love, rather than just trying to make as much money as possible with as little effort as possible?
Maybe the step toward legitimization that gaming needs most is the ability for the art to be practiced by everyone. I think it does, and I think that we can take that step if we're willing to abandon the despicable business practices of the 80s and 90s and decide to do something right for a change.