Microsoft has announced it's making a free version of its game developer tools, meaning amateurs, students and anybody that's interested will be able to develop games for Windows, and later, the Xbox 360. Microsoft says that the software, called XNA Game Studio Express, simplifies development, and is intended to create a new pool of games developers. It's an interesting idea, particuarly since the world of console gaming has largely been closed off to homebrew and small developers, while PC games have gotten a huge boost from third-party mods and add-ons. Later this year, people will be able to pay a $99 yearly subscription to distribute their games via Xbox Live, something that could hinder the company's desire to create a community of user-generated games, but it's unclear as yet exactly how the details will pan out. Getting the games into Xbox Live opens up a lot of possibilities, including the chance that developers could charge for downloads of their games and Microsoft take a cut, like in the Xbox Live Arcade. Giving people an incentive like this to create their own games could spur a lot of interest, as well as test the idea that great games don't require the most powerful technologies. The Xbox 360's media capabilities mean it's much more than just a simple video-game console, and it could be a powerful living-room media platform for Microsoft. But for it to become that, the company has to take steps like this to open it up and allow people to play with it, to explore new uses and discover how to make it more valuable to people.
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