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Microsoft plans "community-powered arcade" with new XNA tools


Microsoft spoke with us on the phone last week concerning the events going on at their Gamefest event happening in Seattle today and tomorrow. Two and a half years ago they unveiled the XNA platform at the Game Developer's Conference -- which promised to ameliorate the increasing burden placed professional game developers -- and today they've announced XNA Game Studio Express -- a free variant of XNA for hobbyists to develop games on both the Windows and, for a fee, Xbox 360 platforms. A beta will be available August 30th as a free download for Windows XP development, while Xbox 360 functionality will be added into the final version, expected to be available this holiday for a $99 annual subscription.

The product aims to address three unique challenges Microsoft sees facing the games industry: keeping people in the industry (crunch mode sucks), building up the pipeline of new entrants coming into the industry (they'll work with universities), and helping grow the audience to match industry growth (new ideas mean new gamers).

This enthusiast offering will be followed next spring with a professional offering, allowing small studios to sell the games they're developing. While they have no price point fixed just yet, they did tell us they "are looking at a price point of absolutely under $1000," a fair share cheaper than existing devkits.

The $99 subscription grants you access to the (tentatively titled) "creator's club," which will also offer downloadable sample games to help would be game developers get started. Unfortunately, these sample games will not be available outside of the subscription service to entice curious coders to participate, but they are a launching point for the most exciting, innovative, and (understandably) long-term goal of this project. A community-powered Xbox Live Arcade gaming space. Scott Henson, Director of the Game Development Group at Microsoft, told us:

"In the future -- we don't have a specific time frame -- we envision investing in the infrastructure to create a friction-free distribution environment very similar to what you see with YouTube. You've got these really cheap accessible tools, now wouldn't it be really cool if you had a way to share this stuff with people online, potentially sell it in time to people online, and what if we, Microsoft, created the platform and the distribution mechanism as a part of the Xbox Live service so you could do that. So our vision and our ambition is to actually create a community-powered arcade."

As a result, they imagine a "cultural phenomenon" similar to YouTube where would be game designers upload their creations and participate in an online community with the meritocratic notion that better games will inevitably rise to the top. With the announcement that 10 universities will be integrating XNA Game Studio Express into their curriculum, we imagine a great deal of content on just such a future service.

Just as Xbox Live debuted with the original Xbox, but took the concentrated focus of the 360 to fully exploit it, we wonder how long it will be until we as gamers really start to reap the benefits of these ambitious plans, either in the form of a community-powered arcade or innovative indie games. Continue reading the entire press release, pasted below, for all the details.

SEATTLE - Aug. 13, 2006 - In the 30 years of video game development, the
art of making console games has been reserved for those with big projects, big budgets and the backing of big game labels. Now Microsoft Corp. is bringing this art to the masses with a revolutionary new set of tools, called XNA Game Studio Express, based on the XNA(tm) platform. XNA Game Studio Express will democratize game development by delivering the necessary tools to hobbyists, students, indie developers and studios alike to help them bring their creative game ideas to life while nurturing game development talent, collaboration and sharing that will benefit the entire industry.

During his keynote presentation today at Gamefest 2006, a Microsoft(r) game developer event hosted by Microsoft in Seattle, Chris Satchell, general manager of the Game Developer Group at Microsoft, announced details of the new technology, which will be broadly available this holiday season. XNA Game Studio Express will be available for free to anyone with a Windows(r) XP-based PC and will provide them with Microsoft's next-generation platform for game development. By joining a "creators club" for an annual subscription fee of $99 (U.S.), users will be able to build, test and share their games on Xbox 360(tm) and access a wealth of materials to help speed the game development progress. This represents the first significant opportunity for novice developers to make a console game without a significant investment in resources.

During his keynote, Satchell talked about academic institutions that are lining up to include XNA Game Studio Express in their course offerings. Also showcased was the work of key XNA supporters Autodesk Inc. and GarageGames. Through the Microsoft XNA relationship with Autodesk, the leading provider of 3-D authoring software, game developers and enthusiasts can now more easily incorporate content into XNA Game Studio Express via Autodesk's FBX file exchange format. Joining Satchell on stage was Mark Frohnmayer, president of GarageGames, who showcased ports of its next-generation Torque tools and technology over to the XNA Game Studio Express platform.

XNA Game Studio Express Opens Up Game Creation to the World

By providing an integrated, seamless development environment based on Visual Studio(r) Express and .NET that simplifies the integration and use of game content, XNA Game Studio Express makes game development easier to accomplish for smaller projects, strongly increasing the chance for great game ideas to make it out of the concept stage and into the hands of gamers everywhere.

The XNA Game Studio Express beta will be available Aug. 30, 2006, as a free download on Windows XP, for development on the Windows XP platform. XNA Game Studio Express will give anyone with a Windows XP-based PC access to a unified development tool that liberates the creation of great Xbox 360 and Windows XP-compatible games, providing a new alternative to the existing multithousand-dollar development kits that many console games require. The final version of XNA Game Studio Express will be available this holiday season.

"XNA Game Studio Express will ignite innovation and accelerate prototyping, forever changing the way games are developed," Satchell said. "By unlocking retail Xbox 360 consoles for community-created games, we are ushering in a new era of cross-platform games based on the XNA platform. We are looking forward to the day when all the resulting talent-sharing and creativity transforms into a thriving community of user-created games on Xbox 360."

Not only will XNA Game Studio Express turn the community into creators, but a second XNA toolset geared toward game development professionals is scheduled to be available in spring 2007, fundamentally changing the way commercial games are developed.

The Beginning of the Game Developer Revolution

From students at colleges, universities and high schools of the future to the proverbial "guys in the garage," Microsoft XNA Game Studio Express will liberate anyone with a great game idea to create titles for Xbox 360 and Windows XP simultaneously. More than 10 universities and their game development schools - including University of Southern California, Georgia Tech College of Computing and Southern Methodist University Guildhall - have already pledged to integrate console game development and XNA Game Studio Express into their curricula for the first time, and Xbox 360 will be the only console at the center of all coursework.

"Great game ideas are incubating in the minds of students everywhere," said Michael Zyda, director for Gamepipe Labs at the University of Southern California. "With XNA Game Studio Express, Microsoft is investing in these next-generation innovators, creating the canvas for dreamers to express their powerful game ideas. In incorporating XNA Game Studio Express and Xbox 360 consoles into our Gamepipe program, USC will be able to better provide game studios and publishers around the world with a newfound wellspring of talent and opportunity. It's ingenious."

In addition, GarageGames, technology provider and developer of one of the most successful Xbox Live(r) Arcade titles, "Marble Blast Ultra," has migrated both its Torque Shader Engine and new Torque Game Builder 2-D visual game designer over to the XNA Game Studio Express platform.

"The GarageGames mission has always been to provide top-tier technology, tools and community to independent and aspiring game developers," said Josh Williams, CEO of GarageGames. "We are excited that Microsoft is demonstrating leadership by taking the revolutionary step of opening up game development for Xbox 360 to hobbyists and students. In aligning our tools and technology with XNA Game Studio Express, we're helping even more individuals with the creativity and drive to make video games bring them to life on both Windows XP and Xbox 360."

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