Hoping to spur interest among video-game enthusiasts, creative types, and students, Microsoft Corp. said it plans to offer a consumer version of the professional software tools used to create video games for its Xbox 360 console.

The XNA Game Studio Express program, an offshoot of the company’s more robust XNA Framework for video-game design, will be available starting Aug. 30 for a $99 annual subscription, the company announced Aug. 14.

The software, which requires a Windows PC to operate, will let anyone create their own video games and then share them on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online game service, said Peter Moore, a Microsoft vice president.

“It’s our first step of creating a YouTube for video games,” Moore said, referring to the wildly popular free online video-sharing web site. “It will give you everything you need to bring your game to life on Xbox 360.”

The program would be a first for video-game consoles, which traditionally have been the exclusive domain of skilled programmers, artists, and designers.

Moore said the game-design program is basic compared with the pro tools, which cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Though it’s designed to eliminate much of the tedious hand-coding involved in making a game from scratch, some basic programming skills are still going to be needed for the consumer version, he said.

Analysts cautioned that making a video game–a multidisciplinary process requiring artists and animators, programmers, and mathematicians–will never be easy.

“It’s going to allow very talented individuals to actually be able to do a game in a few weeks, instead of taking years and spending millions of dollars,” said Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group.

Moore described the games users would be able to make as rudimentary. He said future plans might include additional software packs that consumers could buy to tweak their games.

Microsoft will regulate the content for appropriateness and intellectual-property issues, but users will own their work, Moore said.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said such software could get younger people more interested in choosing video-game development as a career.

“There’s a problem where kids have stopped getting excited about getting into software development,” he said. “One way to get kids excited about it is to give them something they want to do. A lot of kids play video games.”

Moore said several schools–including Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the University of Southern California, and Georgia Tech–already plan to incorporate the software into their curriculum this fall.

“It’s a critical need in the evolution of how video games are made,” said Peter Raad, executive director at SMU’s Guildhall video-game school.


XNA game-creation software