With the headline of "Microsoft Invites the World to Create Its Own Xbox 360 Console Games for the First Time," it is no surprise that everyone is now talking about XNA. From Jupitermedia's DevX to the New York Times, the announcement that Microsoft will be releasing a free tool called XNA Game Studio Express as a beta on August 30th—a tool that will then be made broadly available by the end of the year.
XNA is not a new topic. In fact, I mentioned it in May of 2005 here on CodeGuru, but it was actually back in 2004 at the Microsoft Game Developer Conference (GDC) that Microsoft first announced the concepts behind XNA. In 2005, Microsoft then announced "XNA Studio," which would be a tool to allow developers to create games that targeted both the Xbox and the PC with a single set of source code. At the GDC this year, a Community Technology Preview (CTP) of pieces of XNA was made available. This March 2006, CTP is available today from the Microsoft site (HERE). The CTP runs on Windows XP with SP2. Additionally, the CTP XNA is built on top of Visual Studio 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0. The downloads include the XNABuild programs and a readme file. You also can download a number of other files, including a presentation on XNA, help files, and more.
Now, a bit over a year later, Microsoft has expanded on that announcement and the name. XNA Game Studio Professional is the new name. There is also a more solid time frame for the tool's release. More importantly, as mentioned above, an express version also is going to be released. Although the Professional edition is expected early 2007, a beta of the express edition is expected August 30th, 2006 with the release of a final product around Christmas.
Don't get excited just yet. There are a few things to know about the XNA Game Studio Express edition before you rush to develop that first PC/Xbox game. Microsoft stated that that XNA Game Studio Express would be free. Although you should be able to use it to create a game, what you do with that final game is where the issues come into play. To use the game on your Xbox, you'll need to join the "XNA Creator club." Otherwise, you won't be able to fully build, test, and share your game. To be a member of the club will cost $99 (US) a year for a new Xbox Live subscription offering. This Xbox live subscription will provide the additional pieces needed to develop non-commercial XNA Framework-based games that work on an Xbox 360.
Most importantly, it seems that for your friends to run your game on their Xbox 360, they will need to be a member of the XNA Creator Club as well. They will have to download the XNA Framework as well as have XNA Game Studio Express installed on their own development PC. Finally, the person you are sharing your game with must compile it and deploy it to their Xbox. In essence, you are sharing only your source code and they are compiling their own copy.
If sharing isn't complicated enough, with the release of the beta there are a few additional restrictions. Whereas the fun is in building a game for the Xbox 360, the initial beta release will only target the PC. Additionally, although you'll be able to use the product to build games for both Xbox and PCs, only PC games can be distributed commercially. To sell an Xbox game, you'll have to join the Microsoft developer program.
Microsoft has set up an FAQ with many of the frequently asked questions. If you're interested in the XNA Game Developer products, it is worth reading through the FAQs at http://msdn.microsoft.com/directx/xna/faq/.
Regardless of the hurdles, the excitement of XNA Game Studio Express has just begun. With this new product, the C# and .NET 2.0 skills that a developer has will not move them one step closer to the game developer world.