his week Microsoft announced a new?and free?product called XNA Game Studio Express to be released on August 30 that supports the XNA Framework?a game-development framework based on the .NET Framework 2.0. Based on Visual C# Express, and targeted at students and hobbyists (don’t confuse this with the professional XNA Studio), XNA Game Studio Express gives C# programmers the ability to create cross-platform games that run on both Windows and the XBox 360.
There is a slight catch: If you want to deploy games you develop to other people to run on the XBox 360, you have to purchase an XNA “Creator’s Club” subscription, which costs either $99 for one year or $49 for four months. Moreover, according to this Microsoft Federal Development and Platform Evangelism Team Blog, if you want to deliver your brand-new games to other individuals to run on their XBox 360 consoles, the receivers must:
- Be logged in to Xbox Live and have an active subscription to the XNA Creators Club.
- Have downloaded and installed the XNA Framework runtime environment for the Xbox 360.
- Have XNA Game Studio Express installed on their own development PC.
With those conditions in place, you can deliver your game project, including all source and content assets, to the receiving users?who then must compile the game to deploy it to their Xbox 360s.
In other words, these restrictions mean you won’t be able to share your games (to run on the XBox 360) with most people?only with other interested students and hobbyists, at least for now. You will however be able to deploy games you develop to run on Windows without any such restrictions.
The signup page for Beta 1 of XNA Game Studio Express says it will contain only these features:
- A version of the XNA Framework targeting Windows development only.
- Documentation, how-to’s, and kits that demonstrate how best to utilize the XNA Framework.
- Fully documented and playable starter-kits that demonstrate end-to-end how to build a game using the XNA Framework.
If true, it’s hard to understand the purpose of these draconian restrictions?and unfortunately, the information Microsoft has released thus far isn’t forthcoming about the reasons (nor, for that matter, has Microsoft officially published any such restrictions). Are game publishers worried that students and hobbyists might write XBox 360 games that tap into their market share? Is Microsoft worried that professional developers might adopt these free tools rather than purchase XNA Studio? Or is Microsoft worried that malicious developers might use this to write some XBox Live virus or worm, and have put these restrictions in place so they’ll have a way to trace code to its source if that occurs? Your guess is as good as mine.
Despite the restrictions, if you’re interested in writing games, having tools that help you do so?for two Microsoft platforms simultaneously?is a major step forward for game hobbyists, and a promising first effort, because until now, there’s been no way for most developers to target any major game console. Now, if Microsoft can just simplify the deployment track this would truly be an exciting product.