Back in June, Unity announced that their cross-platform game development engine would support Microsoft’s Xbox One. Even better, the Xbox One Unity tools would be free! But there was a catch: they’d only be free if you published your game through Microsoft Game Studios. If you didn’t want to publish through Microsoft — or, if Microsoft didn’t want to publish with you — it started to look like you were going to have to throw down a hefty chunk of change for each and every Unity/Xbox One developer seat.
Not anymore! This morning, Unity and Microsoft announced that they’ve reached another deal that brings free Xbox One support in Unity to just about every Indie Xbox One dev.
Now, to be clear: there’s still a bit of a gatekeeper you’ll have to get by. To publish a game as an indie developer on the Xbox One, you’ll need to get the thumbs up from Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program — a process through which you’d get the development consoles required to test your games, access to the Xbox One documentation, etc. And in these early, pre-release days, you’ll need to have a fairly established track record as an indie dev to get in. If you can get that greenlight, though, you’ll get a “special Xbox One-only Unity Pro” license, free of charge.
Wondering what the heck all this Unity stuff is? Unity is a super powerful cross-platform game development system, and one that’s really started to flourish in the last year or so. You build your game in Unity’s editor (a clever mashup of WYSIWYG with a surprisingly capable scripting system), and, with just a few clicks, it’s running on just about every major/popular platform. Want to run it in the browser? Sure. Port it to iOS? Okay — just check “iOS” and code up some touchscreen controls. Android? Same deal. Windows Phone? Windows 8? OS X? Yeps across the board.
Unity is actually free to begin with, to some degree. Anyone can download Unity right now and publish a game on the aforementioned platforms — and for most newcomers, the free version would be more then enough to get the ball rolling. They offer “Pro” packages for each platform, though, that bring all sorts of advanced features — and at around $1,500 per developer per platform, that’s where Unity is making their money.
With the Xbox One, however, Microsoft is eatin’ the cost of that Pro license. As you may recall, Microsoft set up a similar deal as a siren song for Windows Phone/Windows 8 developers.
Why would they do that? Because they need developers, and garnering up developer interest is incredibly expensive. If they can convince a developer to publish their game on the Xbox One for just $1,500 (or whatever Microsoft is paying per license, in bulk), they got one helluva bargain.