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Microsoft to distribute community-created games on Xbox Live

There wasn't much big news during Microsoft's keynote address at the Game Developers Conference, though the ability of community members to get their games distributed on Xbox Live is interesting.

Microsoft unveiled its Creators Club, an initiative that will allow community members to have their games distributed on Xbox Live. Daniel Terdiman/CNET Networks

SAN FRANCISCO--In a frenetic keynote address at the Game Developers Conference here, Microsoft showed off the next phase of a strategy it claims will "democratize" game development and distribution.

For several years, Microsoft has been working on its XNA Studio, a platform that allows anyone to create games for the Xbox and for Windows.

But now, the company is expanding the XNA offering to allow the best community-created games to be uploaded to and distributed from Xbox Live.

Microsoft is calling the new offering its "Creators Club," and the idea is to present the Xbox Live and XNA communities with a way to create games using the XNA tools, submit them for peer review, and then put the best of them up on Xbox Live.

And while Microsoft Corporate Vice President John Schappert was designated the actual keynote speaker, the most important news that emerged from the talk was delivered by Chris Satchell, head of Microsoft's game development group.

He talked at length about the Creators Club initiative, explaining how game developers in the community would be able to get their games examined for possible inclusion.

"This is gaming created by the community, managed by the community, and enjoyed by everyone," Satchell said.

Essentially, he explained, just about any game created by someone in the community would be eligible to be included in Xbox Live, though he did say that peer reviewers would be tasked with excluding those with "objectionable" content. He didn't define it. It's probably a little bit of that old Supreme Court definition of obscenity.

Satchell also offered up another of the most notable pieces of news in the Microsoft keynote. He said that it would now be possible to take games created using the XNA tools and put them on Zunes, the company's portable music players.

And because the Zune is a wireless device, he added, Zune games can be multiplayer. Additionally, music from someone's Zune library can be used as the soundtrack for a game.

All told, Satchell said, the XNA Studio initiative has proved to be a success. He said that since the tools were first introduced in 2006, there have been more than 800,000 copies downloaded.

For his part, Schappert began the keynote with some impressive statistics about the video game industry.

He said that the industry netted $18 billion in revenue in the United States in 2007, a figure that now not only eclipses Hollywood box office figures, but also worldwide music revenues.

For Microsoft, the Xbox 360--which has become a hard-to-find game machine recently--has been a winner, with seven titles selling more than a million copies during the 2007 holiday season. The Xbox is currently the leader in total sales among the three next-gen consoles.

Schappert also touted the success of Xbox Live, which he said has earned more than a quarter billion dollars in money spent on downloadable games.

In addition, he said that one feature built into Microsoft's hit game Halo 3--a tool that would allow players to upload video clips from their play to Xbox Live--has generated unprecedented popularity.

There are more than 100,000 clips uploaded every day, a number he said was 30 percent higher than the number of YouTube clips added daily.

That was pretty much the noteworthy news from what was altogether a fairly mundane keynote address.

There were a few additional tidbits, such as the fact that Grand Theft Auto IV would be available for the Xbox on April 29, and that Gears of War 2 would be released this November.