Microsoft has just announced that it will give development systems to programmers who want to create games for its Xbox One. Of course, it isn't as simple as just saying "Yes please"!
Microsoft seems to be unfocused about its approach to the Xbox One and developers in particular. It has reversed so many of its policies that you just have to conclude that they are making things up as they go along.
First it was announced that independent developers wouldn't be allowed on the system as it was for the big well funded outfits only. Then there was a 180 degree turnabout and Xbox One was to be all things to every programmer. In fact any Xbox One could be used as a development system by anyone who wanted to use it as such.
However the details were all very vague and "more to come later" was the get out clause.
Now we have some clarification in the form of the ID@Xbox . Microsoft will give developers two complete development program kits which deliver the full power of the Xbox One, cloud services and the Kinect. There will be no charge, but you will have to be a proven games developer with a track record of success - beginners or newbies with a good idea need not apply it seems. To quote from the FAQ:
Of course, we’ll be evaluating each developer application individually on its own merits, but in the initial phase of ID@Xbox, 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!
Once the game is developed then the marketing will be via the standard Xbox One store. Games will still have to be approved, but given the degree of help and supervision Microsoft is promising this should be easy. Why would it provide two development kits and then refuse to publish the result?
What about the promise that every Xbox One could be 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!"
So at least we now know that it is a "vision". The big problem is that in dumping XNA Microsoft has removed the only easy-to-use approach to creating Xbox games and, if it is going to deliver something that can be used by the novice, it has to implement some new tools. At the moment some sort of IDE based on the WinRT environment seems most likely, but if this is going to be the approach then either some Xbox One features are going to be left out or the API is going to need significant augmentation - e.g. a Kinect API.
The Xbox One, providing it is a commercial success, has a huge potential for getting people interested in programming. Let's hope Microsoft delivers on its promise in a form that makes it happen.