A bit of bittersweet news today out of Microsoft:
If one thing has become clear as we’ve been working on [email protected], our independent developer self-publishing program for Xbox One, it’s that today’s independent game developers are using middleware to help realize their visions more than ever. Of course, middleware isn’t cheap.
One of the cool things about working at Microsoft is that we have access to pretty amazing resources. For independent developers though, tools like Unity on console can cost quite a bit.
We talked internally at [email protected] about ways we could help developers for Xbox One. Many developers we talk to are using Unity today to get up and running quickly, and to be able to harness the power of hardware and realize their creative visions without spending tons of time on technology development. We thought about paying for some developers’ Unity licenses but the more we talked about it, the more we felt paying for some developers’ licenses and not others just didn’t feel right.
To us, [email protected] is about providing a level playing field for all developers. So, we worked with Unity and we’re pleased to announce that, when released in 2014, the Xbox One add-on for Unity will be available at no cost to all developers in the [email protected] program, as will special Xbox One-only Unity Pro seat licenses for Xbox One developers in the [email protected] program.
Will we devote marketing and promotion to promising looking titles in development? Of course. But we want to make sure the dev who’s working away in Omaha, or Coventry, or Chiba will have the same shot to realize their vision on Xbox One as one of my developer friends we hang out with in Seattle or at a trade show like GDC or Gamescom. Because at the end of the day, we want gamers to pick the hits. That’s what Xbox One is all about: One games store, the best discovery tools on console, and a powerful, equal playing field for all games, from developers big and small.
This announcement is cool for a bunch of reasons. The Unity add-on for Xbox One supports every element of Xbox One, from Kinect to SmartGlass to the impulse triggers of the new controller. Using Unity, developers will be able to take advantage of all aspects of Xbox One, which is rad. More importantly, Unity is available for Windows and Windows Phone too (and yes, the add-on is available at no cost to developers for Windows Phone and Windows 8 store games). So from one base game, developers can ship their games across all Microsoft platforms. For more details on Microsoft’s partnership with Unity, check out this Xbox Wire post from BUILD 2013.
As always, our goal at [email protected] and Microsoft remains the same: We want to lower friction for developers on Microsoft platforms to make sure gamers get access to the broadest and deepest library of amazing games on the planet. We’re also excited to work with other middleware and service providers to drive value for independent developers, and we hope to have even more announcements that directly benefit developers.
You can read the entire Microsoft blog post here. You can also read about it on Unity’s blog here. Here is a snippet of their announcement below:
Unity and Microsoft will now be working together to bring the Xbox One deployment add-on to all developers registered with the [email protected] program at no cost to the developers. This is huge news and means that everyone that’s part of that program, not just partners to Microsoft Games Studios, will be able to take advantage of Unity to create awesome gaming experiences for the Xbox One. On top of this, a special Xbox One version of the Unity Pro tools are also being made available for these same developers at no cost.
The Xbox One is a powerful platform and we’re building powerful tools to take advantage of all of the features that make it so special like the Kinect and SmartGlass. Production is well underway and is progressing faster than originally anticipated! Very early testing phases will begin soon with a broader beta program in 2014.
In case you have never heard of it, [email protected] is Microsoft’s independent developer publishing program. Of key importance, is probably this piece from the [email protected] FAQ about who can qualify:
Of course, we’ll be evaluating each developer application individually on its own merits, but in the initial phase of [email protected], we are looking for professional independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile, or tablet. We want to ensure your success in your development effort on Xbox One. Developing and publishing a console game is not trivial!
Our longer term plan is that anyone with a retail Xbox One will be able to develop, publish, and sell their game on Xbox Live.
So in a nutshell, you can now get a version of Unity for free supporting Xbox One functionality, including Smartglass, the controller and Kinect if you are a member of [email protected]
Why bittersweet? This essentially means that chances for an XNA successor is pretty much zero. Increasingly this means alternatives to Unity are becoming increasingly rare. Additionally pure hobbyist developers are left in the lurch for now. Got an Xbox One and want to just play around making games? You can’t for now. Again from the FAQ:
Can I use my retail kit as a development kit?
As part of our vision for enabling everyone with an Xbox One to be a creator, we absolutely intend to enable people to develop games using their retail kits. Right now, though, you still need a development kit! We provide two kits to everyone in the registered developer program. Additional kits, if needed, can be purchased.
Bummer, at least for now.
So, if you are an established indie developer, or more specifically an established indie developer working in Unity, this is amazingly good news. If you however are a hobbyist, especially one hoping for another XNA like SDK for Xbox One this certainly isn’t. Of course this isn’t to say Microsoft won’t be creating another XNA like development kit, but given this news, I highly doubt it. They’ve effectively outsourced it to Unity.