- Prompted by the recent reports about Ikaruga coming to Xbox Live Arcade - formally written up by both Eurogamer and by Computer & Video Games, I thought I'd write a brief post on Partnernet and why it's just a bit of a horror for, well, anyone releasing games for XBLA and hoping to keep them under wraps.

The way it works is this - all Xbox 360 debug kits have a Dashboard executable on them, and on that, you can set yourself up with a Xbox Live account under a name of your choice (the 'Partnernet' version of Xbox Live runs completely separately to the release version), and then go online to check out and test games and add-ons. We have a debug Xbox 360 in the Game Developer/Gamasutra office, and many other members of the press have them, but the contents of the Partnernet download area is NDA-ed - you're not allowed to discuss it. So we're not.

One of the problems for Xbox 360 developers is that, if they want to test downloading for something (say, add-on map packs for retail games, or XBLA games themselves), then they need to put it on Partnernet using their game name. At which point, because Microsoft currently has no screening across this debug network, all the other developers and press people in the world can also download that file - even if they allegedly can't discuss it.

And most of the time, they don't, but after a recent podcast cited on NeoGAF mentioned that Ikaruga was playable on Partnernet, apparently both Tom Bramwell at Eurogamer and Andy Robinson at C&VG booted up their debugs to check, and then ran stories about it. I sorta thought that... wasn't allowed? They seem to have got away with it, but C&VG had a story about JetPac Refuelled removed, also citing Partnernet - presumably taken down because Rare reads C&VG and Treasure doesn't.

Anyhow, there are even shadowier figures who I'm guessing got X360 debugs as part of Microsoft's community outreach, but see no need to honor NDAs - DaKing240 from Xbox360Achievements.org has recently been posting lists of new games as they arrive on Partnernet, which I'm sure is not what Microsoft would want when some are unfinished and many are unconfirmed.

What I'd like to see is a press-facing part of Partnernet where preview builds of games can be uploaded with full knowledge of developers, thus enabling announced games to get officially previewed and appreciated - while cutting out this nonsense about developers not knowing that 'confused' press will leak info on their Xbox 360 game. I strongly suspect it's stopping some developers from uploading and perhaps even testing stuff over Partnernet, esp. for unannounced games, and that's a shame. [Obviously, the reason no change has been made yet is that Partnernet is not architected that way. Still...]