Microsoft has announced plans to release a new development platform that will enable indie studios, hobbyists and students to create cross-platform titles for the PC and Xbox 360 - free of charge.
XNA Game Studio Express, billed in an official statement as "Microsoft's next-generation platform for game development" and a product that will "democratise game development", will be available free of charge to all Windows XP users. For an annual Creators' Club subscription fee of US$99, users will also be able to use the technology to develop games for Xbox 360.
Developers won't be able to sell games made using XNA Game Studio Express - but enhanced versions of the most successful titles could eventually appear on Xbox Live Arcade. A second toolset, XNA Game Studio Professional, is aimed at developers who want to create games for retail, whether via Windows digital distribution, Xbox Live Marketplace or high street stores.
Microsoft has already signed up several partners to help out with the new initiative. GarageGames has provided its Torque Shader Engine and Torque Game Builder 2D designer for XNA Game Studio Express, and Autodesk has contributed its FBX file exchange format.
"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," said Chris Satchell, general manager of Microsoft's game developer group.
"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."
The beta version of XNA Game Studio Express, to include tutorials and basic games which developers can experiment with, will be released on August 30 - with the full version to follow by the end of the year. XNA Game Studio Professional is due for release in spring 2007.