SAN JOSE (CNN/Money) – Microsoft is taking its battle with Sony to game developers, hoping to woo them away from the gaming industry leader with a new suite of tools designed to make building video games cheaper and easier.
The company will today unveil the software development platform that will drive the next-generation of Xbox, as well as future PC games. Dubbed XNA, the suite of tools will let developers skip writing boilerplate code that often bogs down the time it takes to create a game, said Microsoft in a statement.
"Software will be the single most important force in digital entertainment over the next decade," said Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and chief software architect, in a statement. "XNA underscores Microsoft's commitment to the game industry and our desire to work with partners to take the industry to the next level."
Creating a video game for today's machines costs, on average, upwards to $10 million. With the Xbox 2 set to roll out as early as next year and the PlayStation 3 expected in 2006, those prices are set to soar. And with games already commanding $50 at retail (and consumers unwilling to pay more), software publishers and developers are eager to find ways to reduce costs and speed up the time it takes to prepare a title.
They're also looking for a bit more security. When an Electronic Arts (ERTS: Research, Estimates) or Activision (ATVI: Research, Estimates) has a game that underperforms at retail, it's able to absorb that loss, due to strong sales of other titles. Smaller gaming companies do not have that luxury, however – and a single flop can have devastating effects.
While the specifics of XNA deal with technical coding languages and tools, they are expected to result in tangible real world effects for consumers. Xbox 2 owners, for instance, will be able to plug their controller into the back of their PC, and thereby use the same handheld device for an Xbox or a PC game.
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Perhaps more exciting is the potential for cross-platform integration – the ability for future Xbox owners and PC gamers to interact in the same virtual world. In other words, subscribers to Microsoft's (MSFT: Research, Estimates) Xbox Live service may soon be able to compete with or against PC users. While specifics of how that will work will ultimately be up to developers, it's unlikely that games will play exactly the same on each machine. Rather, imagine a game where PC gamers have one type of play experience, while Xbox owners have an entirely different one – yet both are playing simultaneously.