Admit it: You've often longed for a video game where Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises battle the forces of totalitarianism by shooting dollar signs out of their hands–The Revenge of the Austrians. Now, finally, this dream can be a reality.
Microsoft announced yesterday that it plans a fall release of a basic version of the tools required to write games for PC and Xbox. Amateurs can get the software for free, and users who become part of the "creators club" (for a relatively cheap $99 a year) can build, test, and share versions playable on an ordinary Xbox game console.
In retrospect, it's surprising that it took this long–lots of the geeks who write code for Linux and make AMVs are gamers, too. They've been tinkering on the edges for years, of course, but real game production has been the exclusive province of studio with huge budgets and full-time staff.
Microsoft thinks we're ready for the revolution now, as opposed to Sony's failed effort in 1997, because of the massive cultural shift taking place from what Lawrence Lessig calls a Read-Only culture to a Read-Write culture. Scott Henson, a director for Microsoft's game developer group was quoted in the New York Times acknowledging that "we're going from a monologue world to a dialogue world" and expressing the hope that XNA Game Studio Express will the YouTube for gamers.
The conventional wisdom casts Microsoft and other big developers as the losers in this transition, but Microsoft might not be as dumb as certain geeks claim. True, the main motivation behind this release seems to be desperation: The Xbox isn't dominating the market, and gamers are wearying of endless sequels and Hollywood retreads.
Microsoft's hope for the future, it seems, is us. As technology analyst Richard Doherty told the San Francisco Chronicle: "While some of these people can't work at Microsoft yet, you can still have that talent work for you." They're mimicking Wikipedia, My Space, YouTube, and other tools for user-generated products and content: Get people to work for free, then beg/borrow/steal/hire the best stuff.
So call me, Microsoft, if you're interested in Revenge of the Austrians. It's going to be awesome.