CDM has received several anonymous reports about the Music Player feature of Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 360. In short, Microsoft’s new custom music feature is so aggressive, you can elect never to hear the music written for your game.

Xbox Player is On All the Time

The Music Player plays “gamer-initiated music,” streaming from a device (portable/PC) or loaded onto the Xbox hard drive (WMA/MP3), during game play. That much isn’t new; previous Xbox consoles and games like The Sims have long had this feature. (In fact, the non-linear nature of The Sims made it a perfect match.)

What is new, according to our reports, is that the Xbox 360’s player is on all the time. Hit play and your game, any game, is forced to turn off its soundtrack and defer to yours. Lots of Xbox games didn’t support this feature, so Microsoft’s message to game developers is simple: either kill the music, or get out. Agree to mute everything in your game any time the user hits play, or you won’t be certified.

Bring Back Game Music

At a time when game composers are trying to get game developers to see game music as an art form, this is a disaster. Sure, a user who cares about music will give the score a chance before muting it. But they may find there’s nothing to hear, because the message to game developers is that music doesn’t matter. Sound effects, graphics? Integral to game play. Music? Incidental; turn it off at will. Imagine if they did this with graphics: there’s no feature in Xbox 360 for turning off ugly character designs. (And believe me, I’ve seen a few games where I wish I could!.) Giving users control where it makes sense is one thing; forcing developers to shut off the soundtracks is another.

Bottom line: why is Microsoft touting the ability to play MP3s, something I can (and do) do all day on my PC, rather than focusing on some of the great new soundtracks in today’s games? Hard-core gamers look for ways of playing game music in their main library, not the other way around. Microsoft should push developers to turn great scores on, not turn all music off.

And to developers: would we sometimes like to turn your music off? Absolutely. Give us a reason to keep it on.