Microsoft have promised to "embrace the worldwide independent video game development community" with two newly announced programs for its Xbox console - the Xbox Incubator and Xbox Independent Developer Programs. The idea is to encourage independent developers to prototype game ideas on the Xbox without hitting them for a huge license fee like many console manufacturers.
"Changes in the video game industry and the rising cost of production have made it more difficult for independent developers to access major publishers and their distribution channels", according to Microsoft's third party relations director Kevin Bachus. "History has proven that great games can come from anywhere, and we want to establish an environment in which gifted game designers, regardless of their resources, have the opportunity to realize their creative visions through Xbox."
What this means in practice is allowing developers to apply for a free "Xbox Prototype Kit", which includes all the software and information that you need to develop an Xbox game on your PC, which will hopefully then be picked up by a publisher who can afford a license. Meanwhile the Xbox Incubator is designed for developers who want to get a full "Xbox Development Kit" (including Xbox hardware and tools as well as the basic software) before they secure a publishing deal. This involves sending Microsoft "complete written descriptions of game concepts" for evaluation by the company's Xbox team though, and if you are accepted into the program you only get six months to secure publishing and distribution deals. How this will work out in practice remains to be seen... In the meantime, read the press release for the full details.