Bill Reiss is a Windows Platform Development MVP and a Senior Consultant for AgileThought

The future of game development on Microsoft platforms

Just when Microsoft was getting to the point where it looked like XNA was going to be the unifying game development technology across platforms the BUILD conference came along and they dropped the bombshell that XNA wasn’t an option for creating games to sell in the new Windows 8 Store. This seemed crazy at the time, and I still think it is since Microsoft is losing out on all of the games developed for Xbox Live Indie Games and Windows Phone over the last few years. These would give an instant boost to the fledgling store and I’m sure that many of the developers that created these games would do what it takes to move them over.

There are no indications that XNA will have any new releases, and some key team members have moved on, with the latest being Shawn Hargreaves who is now on the Windows Phone team working on undisclosed projects.

Michael Klucher, a key XNA team member who was involved in the original port of XNA to Zune among many other things moved on about a year ago.

GDC is around the corner, and I would expect to hear a lot more about Microsoft’s game development strategy going forward but I’d be very surprised to hear much about XNA.

It seems that Microsoft is unwilling to take some short term gains instead focusing on where they want the technology to go moving forward. Here is a quote from Shawn Hargreaves which I think sums it up nicely:

If you want to make games for Windows 8 Metro, XNA is not an option. Take your pick out of C++/D3D, C++/XAML, C#/XAML, Javascript/HTML5, or one of the third party C#/D3D wrappers.
If you want to make games for Windows Phone or XBLIG, XNA remains your best option, just like it always has been.
If you want to make games for Windows Classic (XP, Vista, Win7, Win8 desktop mode), you can use whatever programming technologies you like, including XNA, just like always.
Hopefully that ends your confusion?

One question mark is still Windows Phone 8, although XNA games will run on Windows Phone 8, there are also indications that Microsoft will be adding C++ to the options for developing games for Windows Phone 8.

So what will I be doing? I have an open source .NET 2D game framework called Frolic that I’ve been working on which abstracts out the rendering technologies to make it easier to adapt to these changing times and to avoid a lot of the lock in to a particular technology. It currently can use either Silverlight or XNA for its rendering and I have a prototype working on WinRT. I’ll also be looking at how I can use some of the concepts I developed in Frolic in C++ for Metro Style apps. Finally, I’ll be listening closely to what comes out of GDC and the Mobile World Congress related to Microsoft game development strategies.

  • Chris Gomez

    I have been following this for some time. I personally have been thinking the problem is the Windows 8 schedule. While I’m sure the folks in Redmond have been working on Win8 a long time, I’m not sure the XNA team had the resources to keep up.

    I agree the departures are unsettling, but much of the original Xbox team moved on and the 360 seems to be in capable hands for the moment. I just wonder if MSFT has kept mum in order not to create a scenario where developers just say “Oh XNA’s coming in 2013? I’ll wait then…” It’s definitely not an ideal situation, but neither would an empty app store because devs are waiting for a future release of tools.

    Is it possible there is some thought going into how this will all work on ARM? If XNA was built on DirectX 9, and Metro is DirectX 11, and given what we are learning about WOA, then XNA can’t run as is on ARM? Isn’t that basically a restart for the XNA team to get to Dx11, including all the features to catch up to XNA Game Studio 4.0, including new features that might be ideal for Metro style development and the new Xbox Live services?

    I’m not saying that it’s perfectly clear XNA will be back in a short timeframe after the launch of Windows 8. But I do think MSFT has to know that to encourage an ecosystem like other app stores, they’ll need to bring along their eager .NET developers. Maybe there is a future out there that isn’t called “XNA” but is very similar?

    I have no inside information and it’s definitely possible the future is “go back and learn C++”. I just think it’s reasonable to think this all couldn’t be done in time to preview at BUILD or even by Windows 8 launch.

  • Frank

    So it could not be worth my while to start learning XNA at this moment. Nice to know. I was just moving away from Silverlight, because it is terrifically slow on the Windows Phone.

  • billreiss

    we’ll hopefully know more soon, but one thing I’m hoping for is that C++ Windows 8 game dev for metro style games will bring with it some strong community provided and third party libraries. Unity3D is probably a sure thing, and I’m sure we’ll see some FPS game engines. I really thought we would have seen more third party stuff for XNA but it never really materialized.