In what could turn out to be an utterly brilliant or mostly forgettable move, Microsoft has released plans to enable home-brew development for the Xbox 360. Right now 360 and Windows game devs frequently use a framework called XNA for designing games to run on either platform (though it’s much more commonly used for the 360 at this point). What MS is going to do is create a sort of XNA-light package and give it away, letting anyone try their hand at creating games without the massive fees usually associated with an XNA license.
It won’t all be free, however. The so-called XNA Game Studio Express package will be free to download and will let you write and test your games on your PC, but if you want to be able to build and test your game on a 360 you’ll need to pay $99 per year to join the creators club, a sort of portal for XNA Express users to upload and share their games, helping others test theirs and sharing information on how to improve.
1UP is speculating about the potential creation of a sort of Community Arcade, where user-created games could be uploaded and shared with others. This has a lot of very interesting implications. While such a service would obviously be full of mostly miserable titles, there would certainly be more than a few gems hidden in there.
For kids in school looking to try their hand at game development this will be a total coup. Writing fun little PC games is easy enough these days, but getting a game running on a console has always been more trouble than its worth, making the process of gaining experience there difficult. However, more importantly to gamers, the influx of creative thought could turn the Xbox 360 into a sort of proving ground for would-be game devs.
While publishers and developers continue to lament about the difficulty of developing on the PS3, this is just another feather in the cap of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 that will help it win the hearts of gamers and small-scale developers alike.