Excerpts from the blog The latest iteration of Microsoft's XNA community-games program may be the most exciting yet for amateur game developers...

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Excerpts from the blog

The latest iteration of Microsoft’s XNA community-games program may be the most exciting yet for amateur game developers, including college students around the world using the software in school.

Microsoft announced Tuesday at its Gamefest conference in Seattle that it will now sell community-developed games on Xbox Live and give developers 70 percent of the proceeds.

“We want to encourage as many people as possible to be creative, make a lot of content, put it through the system and make a lot of money,” Boyd Multerer, XNA general manager, said during his opening keynote with Chris Satchell, chief technical officer of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business.

Community games will be listed on the slick new Xbox Live interface debuting by this year’s holiday season. A handful of games will be highlighted on the “front page” of the section, in return for an additional 10 percent to 30 percent commission that Microsoft will charge.

The games will be sold at three price levels, using the Xbox Live point currency — 200 points, 400 points and 800 points.

Community Games will debut this fall in the U.S., Canada and a few European countries. Other countries will be added in 2009.

There are potentially thousands of games for the service. Microsoft said its XNA game-development tool kit has been downloaded more than 1 million times since it was released in 2006, and it’s now used in more than 700 universities.

Microsoft is also upgrading its Xbox.com Web site so gamers may peruse and buy games from a PC browser and have them automatically downloaded to their Xbox console.

Satchell also talked about Microsoft’s efforts to boost PC gaming, and announced that Microsoft plans to offer free multiplayer gaming on the Live gaming service for Windows.

That gives PC players the equivalent of gold-level Xbox Live service, with no charge.

Video-game industry likely to grow

Video-game software and hardware are getting more expensive, but the industry should keep growing despite the recession, NPD analyst Mike Klotz said during a Gamefest presentation.

Last year the average retail prices increased 15 percent for game hardware and 16 percent for game software, he said.

Overall game sales at retail totaled $19 billion, closing in on retail sales of toys ($22 billion last year) and home videos ($24 billion). Left in the dust are movie tickets, which totaled $10 billion last year, and music sales, at $11 billion.

Klotz also noted that the huge opening weekend for the latest Batman movie — $155 million for “The Dark Knight” — pales next to $300 million opening-day sales of “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

NPD thinks “recessions have little effect on video-game sales,” Klotz said.

One reason is that games are still a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment. With games becoming more social, families may opt for games they can play together again and again, he said.

Klotz was bullish on sales of games for handhelds, such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, noting that they have a higher installed base than the current generation of consoles, the Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3.

Yet the best-selling console since November 2005 has continued to be Sony’s aging PlayStation 2, showing that, on average, people still favor smaller and less-expensive video-game hardware.

Klotz expects PS3 sales to “show continued strong growth,” but he said the growth won’t necessarily come from people who previously owned PS2s.

“They’re actually more attracted to the Wii so far and even to the 360,” he said.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.