The Xbox One is about to become a far more interesting (and accessible) platform for indie game developers — and regular users will soon be able to use their console to chat with Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant, too.
“This morning, we will demonstrate how Windows 10 provides the most productive platform for game developers of all sizes,” head of Xbox Phil Spencer said.
Ever since Microsoft launched its Xbox One console, the company promised it would allow any developer to develop apps for it — but until now, you needed access to the Xbox One dev kit before you could. With the Xbox One moving to Windows 10 and Microsoft pushing a single platform that includes the Xbox One, PCs, laptops, tablets and even phones, that didn’t make all that much sense anymore and, as the company announced today, developers can now turn any retail Xbox One into a dev kit. A preview update is available today.
While Microsoft has long supported indie developers through its ID@XBOX program — which includes two dev kits after the company accepts you into it — that program was only open to “qualified game developers.”
It’s worth noting that you can already find plenty of tutorials for turning the retail Xbox One into a dev kit, but Microsoft always warned against this, and noted that while you could use this method to bring up the development kit menu on the console, this “does not turn the console into a development kit.”
Ashley Speicher demoed how the “dev mode” works. After installing the Xbox dev mode on the Xbox One, you can register your console as a development kit. Then, you can just launch the “dev mode” app to turn your Xbox into a dev kit. It’s a good way to preview Universal Windows Platform apps, as well.
This is an important step for Microsoft, as the company has had a few issues with its policies with independent developers. The Xbox 360 was a major platform for indie developers, with breakthrough successes like Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid getting released on the Xbox 360 and PC first. But things changed quite a bit with the Xbox One.
First, Sony was much more accommodating with indie developers, giving early PS4 development kits before the console release. Microsoft had a two-tier strategy, separating AAA developers from indie developers. In other words, indie developers became second-class citizens on the Xbox.
Second, many developers relied on the XNA programming framework on the Xbox 360, as well as its open-source equivalent MonoGame for other platforms (Fez or Bastion developers, for example). Microsoft is just adding MonoGame support for the Xbox One right now. Once again, this is a good move for indie developers, as mostly indie developers rely on this framework.
When it comes to gaming on a PC, there have been a few hiccups with DirectX 12 and Windows 10. Microsoft is working on fixing those. “We’ve heard the feedback from the PC gaming community loud and clear,” Spencer said. DirectX 12 will soon get support for multiple GPU scenarios. Microsoft is also working on support for overlays, modding and more. Windows games will be able to add live tile support and distribution in the Windows store.
Come July, Microsoft is also bringing the Windows 10 Anniversary update to the Xbox One; with that, the Xbox will get support for Cortana. You may remember that Microsoft promised Cortana for the big Fall update, but it looks like the company needed more time to work on the feature. The Xbox One (when paired with a Kinect) already featured support for some voice commands, but compared to Cortana, those were rather limited.
Also new, the Xbox One will let you play background music if you’re tired of your game’s soundtrack. Finally, developers will be able to offer their Universal Windows Platform apps on both the Xbox One and other Windows-powered devices. This Summer, there will be one Windows store for all platforms. Some apps will be optimized for computers or Xbox, but some will also work on both devices. This could make the Xbox a viable platform for apps, differentiating the console from the PlayStation 4. The company will announce more features coming up in the Summer update at E3 in June.
It’s good to see that Microsoft is still spending time updating the Xbox One. The company is lagging behind Sony when it comes to console sales, but Microsoft is now committed to building a unified gaming and app platform that works similarly on the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.
When Microsoft introduced the Xbox One, the company put a lot of emphasis on the entertainment features. People wanted a gaming console, and Microsoft realized that and later refocused on games. Now, the company is turning the Xbox One into an app platform like the Apple TV. Let’s see if gamers like this strategy more than the Xbox One’s original strategy.
UPDATE: At a press session later in the evening, we had an opportunity to catch up with Jason Ronald, the Group Program Manager for Xbox, who shared some additional insights.
“We are all about making it easier for game developers to bring their games to the platforms where their audiences are”, Ronald says. “As a kid, the number one thing I wanted to do was to have my app or game appear on my television screen. Few things are more magical than seeing something you created in the real world, and I am very excited bringing that experience to a greater number of amateur or hobbyist developers.”
“There is a lot more alignment across the company about the importance of gaming today than it was when I joined Microsoft ten years ago”, Ronald says.