As long as there have been game consoles and computers, there have been people who cannot resist tinkering with those consoles and computers. While some companies turn a blind eye to amateur game development on their consoles (as Nintendo does to the DS homebrew community–albeit uneasily), others openly encourage enthusiasts to romp in their digital gardens.
Microsoft, for instance, recently announced that it will be distributing a non-commercial Kinect software development kit to interested parties this spring. Soon, Kinect games will be able to exist on the PC as well as the Xbox 360.
What kind of games will we see from the amateurs who decide to dabble with the dev kit? Not every individual who is capable of poking around in game code is necessarily good at it. The Internet is already flooded with ROM hacks from people who believe that the key to making a challenging game is to take away Link’s sword and throw enemies at him from every conceivable angle. Or, worse, their idea of a funny game involves relieving Mario’s sprite of his clothes and letting him collect his “reward” from the Princess at the end of the adventure.
Even earnest, clean ideas from amateur developers don’t always work out. If you’ve ever played something that a friend put together in a game built around user generated content, like LittleBigPlanet, chances are you became bored and confused in record time.
But all this nasty pessimism doesn’t mean for a second that Microsoft isn’t doing a good thing by encouraging amateur developers to hone their skills. If a budding developer is earnest about their craft, they will gradually improve, and it’s thoughtful of Microsoft to provide the necessary tools.
It also makes good sense. The the rise of low-cost downloadable games and apps means that it’s far easier for a one-man (or -woman) team to put together and distribute a video game. No longer does video game development exclusively involve moving to Japan or hoping to fall in with a big studio. The next big thing for Kinect might come from a kid in a basement who decided to mess around with the dev kit that Microsoft distributed.
In fact, people have already toyed around with the Kinect’s technology to produce futuristic multi-touch interfaces. Now Microsoft is giving people a chance to experiment legitimately (and sell us any cool thing you might come up with).
Make no mistake, some folks who get their hands on the dev kits are going to make some awful, awful stuff. And that’s okay. Once all the bad ideas are purged from one’s imagination, only the good ones will remain. Well, in theory.