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Xbox Live Leaves Indie Developers in the Cold

Xbox will be even more socially connected, come autumn, but will smaller game developers be let in on the action? Probably not.
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As if connecting to Facebook and Twitter 24/7 from a cell phone or home computer weren't easy enough, Microsoft will soon offer social networking via your sofa, as announced at this month's E3 conference.

Microsoft plans to 1) add social networking capabilities to the Xbox Live console and 2) allow users to broadcast screenshots of their gaming prowess through Facebook Connect, beginning with an upcoming version of "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR."

But smaller video game developers may have to wait a while before they can fuse the social networking angle into their individual games.

Drew Jensen, the producer at Dallas-based game developer, Nerve Software, said everything will depend on Microsoft.

"The ability for smaller developers to take part in this sort of thing will depend largely on how available Microsoft makes it," Jensen said. "'PGA TOUR' is a very large franchise, and the inaugural title for this sort of feature would involve heavy instruction and assistance from Microsoft. Initial applications are more likely going to come from an alliance of Microsoft and major publishers with big name titles."

Stephen Totilo, deputy editor of a leading video game blog Kotaku.com, said smaller developers shouldn't expect much from the launch.

"When we asked [Microsoft] if gamers would, say, be able to get status update alerts from friends while they're still in a game, they said that could be part of a later roll-out," Totilo said. "I think the early impact of Twitter and Facebook on the Xbox 360 won't be a gaming one as much as it'll be a lifestyle one, in which 360 owners find a little more reason to spend time connected to the Internet via their consoles and a little less time via their computers."

Microsoft's improvements to Xbox Live could also affect the influence of already existing outlets. The recent tidal wave of Facebook application development has produced several such avenues for broadcasting gaming bragging rights, the most popular of which is "Xbox 360 Live Gamercard." With 113, 937 monthly active users – a solid 105K more than its nearest competitor – the application already allows Facebookers to post scores of specific games to profile news feeds.

Ben Caller, developer of the Gamercard app and a member of Microsoft's Xbox Community Developer Program, which gives developers exclusive access to certain data, said the E3 announcement could either augment or cripple his application's popularity. If users can post updates directly from their 360 console, they won't need the Facebook app to do so, he explains.

"On the one hand, anything that gets users to think about their Xbox Live account when on Facebook is good for me," Caller said.

But, of course, Caller said the possibility of an official Microsoft Xbox app on Facebook could bump him out of credibility.

"If this is the end, it has been fun," he said. "But at least initially, I intend to stay."




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