Microsoft said Wednesday it will make Xbox 360 video games developed by players available for download through XBox LIVE, the console's online service.
The new service will double the size of the Xbox 360 game library, to 1,000 games within a year of its launch, scheduled for this holiday season, the company said.
To distribute a game on the Xbox Live service, game creators must use Microsoft's XNA Game Studio software, which requires a $99 per-year subscription, or be an XNA Creators Club member. Each game will be vetted for quality and appropriateness by the online community itself.
Creators Club members will be able to test a beta version starting this spring.
In addition, Microsoft announced that game developers also will be able to build games for the software maker's Zune digital media players.
"The time has come for the games industry to open its doors to all game creators, enabling anyone to share their creations with the world," said John Schappert, corporate vice president of LIVE, Software and Services for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. "Our goal is to drive a creative and social revolution in games with the same transformative power that we?ve seen in digital music and video sharing."
Microsoft also said this week it will give students free access to its XNA Game Studio 2.0, its video game development program.
The company also said trial versions of the first independent games, with titles such as "JellyCar" and "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai," were available immediately, and it expected hundreds of games to hit the service by the end of the year.
The moves to encourage Xbox 360 game development come as the company faces fierce competition from Nintendo and Sony's PlayStation in the game console market. Nintendo last year unveiled its own game development tool, called WiiWare. Nintendo said its WiiWare service, to launch in the United States in May for its Wii console, would help lower the cost and risk of creating new games.
Sony also has been also pushing independent games through its PlayStation Network, using the service to spotlight games like "Flow" and "Everyday Shooter", made by teams of just one or two people.
Gears of War 2
Microsoft also said that it would release a sequel to blockbuster "Gears of War" video game in November.
The original "Gears" was released in November 2006 to strong critical acclaim, sold 3 million copies in its first 10 weeks, and boosted sales of Xbox 360 hardware.
In addition, game developer Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios took the stage at Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2008 to showcase new multiplayer features for "Fable 2," introducing dynamic cooperative play, a first to the franchise. Molyneux also announced that later this year, and before the launch of "Fable 2" gamers can get a sneak peek at the game?s world when the "Fable 2" pub games debut as a stand-alone download on Xbox LIVE Arcade. When "Fable 2" launches, gamers will have the ability to transfer currency earned in the pub games directly to their character in "Fable 2."
Tomonobu Itagaki also revealed new "Ninja Gaiden II" game-sharing features, including Ninja Cinema, which is enabled solely through Xbox LIVE.
Cheaper console for Canada
Microsoft also announced late on Wednesday it will cut the prices of its Xbox 360 consoles in Canada. Microsoft said in a statement it would cut the price of the Xbox 360 console to C$349 from C$399, while the premium Elite model with a larger hard drive would drop to C$449 from C$499. The more basic Arcade model is dropping to $279 from C$299.
But prices in the United States will not change.
"No desision for Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on"
Commenting on Toshiba's announcements regarding HD DVD, Microsoft released a brief statement saying that it has not yest made any decision on the future of the HD DVD on Xbox 360. The company said it would wait feedback from Toshiba before deciding a policy for the future. However, Microsoft could be close to a announcement of a Blu-ray add-on for Xbox 360 in the near future.