Farewell, then, to the oft-mocked and rarely promoted Xbox Live Indie Games service. Microsoft has announced that as of yesterday, 9 September, no new sign ups will be accepted and it is beginning "the sunsetting process" for indie self-publishing on Xbox 360.
Those who are already part of the program, and working on games, have exactly one year to finish off their projects. One year after that, in September 2017, the indie marketplace will be closed for good and the XNA developer website mothballed. All indie games that have been purchased can still be downloaded and played. "Over the next two years we'll be working with game conservationists and creators to preserve the legacy of XBLIG content", said Chris Charla, head of the ID@Xbox program which has replaced XBLIG.
Few will be surprised by the decision. When the Xbox One launched without the Indie Games channel it was clear that the project had run its course. Even before then, in 2013 development was halted on the XNA codebase that XBLIG relied upon, prompting many developers to see the writing on the wall. Most notoriously, in 2011, during one of the Xbox 360's many dashboard updates, the Indie Games channel was pushed to the background, hidden behind a generic icon of a woman in a green hoodie and the caption "GAME TYPE". Although Microsoft relented after developer backlash, it was a clear indicator that the scheme's proliferation of cheap and cheesy avatar gimmicks and Minecraft clones wasn't a comfortable fit with the advertising-led ambitions of the Xbox platform.
Some developers managed to make a living from the program, however, and a handful of genuinely great games emerged from it. In place of XBLIG, Microsoft continues to push its ID@Xbox program, which allows indie developers to self publish on the Xbox One.
"As I look back, I feel the vision of the original creators of the program has been completely proven out by subsequent events," said Charla on the Microsoft blog. "Games are a hugely important art form and the torch of democratizing game development has been carried on with amazing tools such as Unity, GameMaker, and Unreal Engine."
"We've known the end was coming for a while, and thankfully two years notice is plenty of time for those still in progress," added indie dev Andy Dunn of ZBuffer, developer of several notable XBLIG hits. "Many of the XNA people have moved onto Unity, Unreal and other gaming tools. The XNA style of programming lives on cross platform with MonoGame for those who wish to continue, and the knowledge we all got is still a valuable skill. Thanks for the good times Microsoft - we may not all have an XNA tattoo, but XNA and Xbox Live Indie Games were a huge part of many people's lives."