XNA Then and Now Part Two

Hello again,
I can’t tell you all how great it is to finally talk about what we’ve really been building in the XNA team. At GDC this year we showed off managed code running on an Xbox 360. We positioned it as a tool to help the professional industry, which it is. I expect it to be an excellent environment for casual games of all types and it will make inroads into FPS and other big games over time.

When we showed this off, there was quite a bit of speculation about how cool it would be if we let the community at large have access to managed code on their Xbox 360. We all smiled and bit our tongues and looked forward to today, when we could talk about things for real.
The essence of our announcement today is this. We will ship XNA Game Studio Express this fall. It is all about helping the community at large develop games using the Visual Studio environment on the Windows computers. Then they can run those games on either Windows– or on their retail Xbox 360. Yes. That is right. You will be able to run your own code on a regular, bought-at-a-store, Xbox 360, including the one that you already own.

That is the part of the announcement that I expect will get the most attention, however, I want to emphasize that this is a program that will help you learn and develop games in general. Following the path we explored at GDC when we gave away the source code and art to the game MechCommander, we will continue to give away working examples of games that can run on either platform. You’ll be able to get the first one when you download the (windows only) beta of the tools in September.

After GDC in spring, someone correctly pointed out that opening the Xbox 360 would be a tough business model for us, as Microsoft, to support because of the economic realities of the game console business. They were right. Running unsigned code on your Xbox 360 will require a yearly subscription of $99.00. The tools Windows runtimes will be free of charge. The subscription allows us to open up the console within the bounds of the Xbox business model, invest in interesting sample games, and keep the program going.

When I was a kid, I begged my parents to get me a computer. They finally relented and I became the proud owner of a Timex-Sinclair 1000, with the 16k ram expansion. This machine couldn’t do much, but I was able to write several very simple games on it. This is how I learned to love programming, and it was the start of my career. We want to give this same experience to as many people as we can. We’ve heard from many parents who want to turn games into a creative, educational experience they can do with their child. There are several schools who are working on introductory game engines aimed at teenagers.

The program we are building, however, is more than a beginner tool. You will be able to write full-on games with shaders and high-end graphics if you want to go deeper. For example, we have an excellent relationship with Garage Games. They’ve been creating a managed code version of their tools and engines that work the XNA technologies. They’ve built a souped up version of Marble-Blast entirely in C# that is just rocking.

They’ve also got lots of tools that will make game development much more accessible to the story tellers and artists who aren’t as into fancy code.

Anyway, we are all very excited about this stuff. It feels good to do something that will improve the community around us and create innovative new games at the same time. There will be much more new stuff to talk about as we move through the year.

Because this is a blog and not the actual press announcement, I can talk about the big obvious hole in the plan. When we ship XNA Game Studio Express this fall, you will be able to share your final product with anyone on your windows machine that you want, but there is no support for sharing Xbox binaries other than sending your source around. We fully intend to fix this in the future, and if I have anything to do about it, it will be sooner than later. The more people that sign up for the subscription and start showing cool innovative content that everyone wants, the easier it will be to get this done.

The last thing I want to say is that I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented and prolific group of people as we have on the XNA team. We want to bring game creativity to the world and do it this year.  We are all looking forward to seeing and playing with the innovative games the community makes with XNA Game Studio Express.

Boyd Multerer
Product Unit Manager – XNA

Comments (36)

  1. Escobar4Life says:

    Sounds awesome! I read the official announcement today and I’m really looking forward for XNA Studio Express. I don’t know how to code though. But I’ll be reading online tutorials to get me started. I already have a few games in mind that I would like to create and they are all in 2D.

    With XNA Game Studio Pro is it possible to put the created game on Xbox Live Marketplace and sell it? Assuming the game has met all the requirements that is.

  2. evenkots says:

    Now that homebrew software is going to be possible on the 360, is Microsoft going to do anything to prevent software such as emulators for Nintendo, Sega, etc.?  I’m not sure what could be done to stop this sort of software from being made, but I can see this sort of software as being damaging to Nintendo’s Virtual Console.  

  3. Lauren Smith says:

    At the end of the year subscription are you required to turn in your development tools? Will your code be unsellable? Will the XBox target stop accepting new programs? This could be clearer, I think.

    This is way cool, but not being able to target the hardware without paying a subscription seems like a step away from getting people interested in developing for the 360. What’s nice about the Express series is that these are real development tools that let interested people get involved in new technologies as they are born from you guys. Giving away a "Game Studio Express" that can’t target your flagship game device seems to not be quite in line with the rest of the Express philosophy.

    (Not that I’m trying to tell you what the "Express philosophy" is, just, as always, MHO)

  4. Wow, this is big. I’ve been a recreation game programmer for a looong time (purchased all of the SDK’s from garagegames as well). It’s cool to see them and us working together. They have their act together.

  5. JoelMartinez says:

    Is the $99 subscription in addition to the current xbox live subscriptions, or is it merely a premium subscription which includes all the benefits of, say, the gold plan?

  6. Lots of discussion about today’s XNA announcements.  To get some answers, you can check out the…

  7. In one of my posts yesterday I linked to it, but it is a good blog to read.  I really…

  8. epobirs says:

    I like the idea of a XBLA section that acts as a YouTube for amateur games. A way for users to vote for their favorites and some form of reward would be the next step.

    The Atari Program Exchange from the 8-bit days of yore would be a good model to adopt, at least the quarterly and annual competition aspects of it. What the winner’s rewards would be need different criteria for the modern age and free online distribution but in terms of encouraging beginners it was a great thing back then.


  9. How big will this XNA programming thing be, well I invested a little in some domain names http://www.learn-xna.com...

  10. Bigboy says:

    I have to say I’m glad that someone has finally taken note of this problem, I’ve been screaming for years about how hard it is to start making games now. In the past, you’d switch on your computer and were ready to rock and roll! Now, its hell!  Well done guys!

    And to those that think $100 a year is too much? Come on… for those that don’t want to code the very latest in hardware for <$2 a week – theres always the free windows version! It doesn’t matter where the codes run, as long as people find it easy to get into – thats whats the most important thing!!

    Way to go guys and gals!

  11. captn blasto says:

    This is great news. I am excited to see what the community can create. Good luck everyone.

  12. nickspacek says:

    What’s the problem with having people develop emulators?  Assuming that whenever the sharing system is brought to the 360, they have disclaimers (they’d have to probably), that should cover them.  How different would it be than having people using Microsoft’s developer tools to create an emulator for Windows?  Well, I guess they don’t assist in the distribution of it…

    Then again, how are they ever going to allow community contributed content if they have to worry about people infringing on trademarks?

  13. As everyone should know by now, Managed DirectX 2.0 was replaced some time ago by XNA Studio, a cross-platform…

  14. reibeatall says:

    I’m not sure if it’s been announced yet or not, but will you be able to patch/update/give add-ons to the games made with XNA?

  15. EastBeast314 says:

    This is tremendous news. Make sure that the final release has a few tutorial or example games so that we can buy it, set it up, and play a demo game on the 360 as easily as possible. Just simply tweaking it and playing it on the 360 would make me happy.

    This news makes me even more elated that I’ll be interning at Garage Games in a few weeks!

    I’m bookmarking this blog for sure!

  16. Jonesy says:

    Outstanding stuff, $99 is nothing and I am sure will not prohibit anybody from getting in on the action. Am also interested in how copyright issues will be dealt with especially WRT emulators and the like. I have a ZX Spectrum emulator that I wrote in C# which will be my first port, but it requires a ROM image?. Manic Miner on the 360 here we come! 🙂

  17. strawdonkey says:

    Hello loves,

    Are we ever likely to be able to play the souped-up version of Marble Blast without subscribing to the service?

    Programming is way beyond my capabilities and so spending $99 on a development kit is a bit of a waste of time for me.

    Marble Blast, however, is very much not beyond me, and some extra levels would be lovely 🙂

  18. albertpascual says:

    Can you include a sample in your blog?

  19. ArKiLe says:

    question, what schools will be teaching developing in XNA? I’d love to get on board right off the bat. I live in St Petersburg, Florida 33772.

  20. rrife says:

    Will XNA be available via MSDN or will I have to purchase it separately?

  21. Bigboy says:

    Spectrum ROM is free, Amstrad allows it to be given away as long as its not charged for.

    Will there be basic TCP/IP? so we can do web or FTP app’s?

  22. andyl says:

    I don’t get the business model – how are Microsoft going to stop alternatives to XBLA popping up all over the place? Surely all you would have to pay is a piddling $100, and you could download games from anywhere? If this was open to game developers only this would be fine and dandy, so how hard is it going to be to get subscribed?

  23. bburbank says:

    Hey guys, just wanted to say that I was at GameFest and was absolutely floored by the XNA sessions.  My team’s been writing tools in C# for a while now but we’re all really interested in using it for other stuff (prototyping, internal fun projects).  My jaw went limp when I started seeing how clean the Space War Kit code was!

    Anyway, just wanted to chime in as a little guy from a big box studio.

  24. NippBit says:

    As a developer in the games industry, I am skeptical. First of all, the decision to use managed code for this to run seems to me to be a waste. I understand that you compile this at run time into native code, but from working on consoles(including the XBox) I’ve noticed the true performace comes from hand coding certain routines and optimizing yourself. Things like pathfinding, AI, scripting, and actual memory management and streaming from disk were issues that haunted us as developers. If XNA can answer those problems, and somehow run in managed code, then my hat goes off to you!

    I don’t work with a large company, and I prefer to keep it small. The issues I am faced with every day is how to squeeze that last drop of performace out of whatever hardware(from consoles, to PCs, and even cell phones) meanwhile creating a direct route for the art pipeline and creating tools to use my nifty algorithms. If all this is automated… AWESOME!

    I suppose the truth will come out in the game dev community once this is released.

    -Ken Noland