Microsoft 'to axe XNA'

Future of XBLIG becomes clouded; Xbox manufacturer says DirectX 'is no longer evolving'

Microsoft has given the clearest signal yet that it will phase out XNA, its development framework that had become popular among numerous indie developers.


[UPDATE: CVG has obtained a full copy of Microsoft's email notice which reveals its plan to phase out XNA]

In an email reportedly sent to various games developers and Microsoft employees, the Xbox manufacturer confirmed that XNA would be "retired" from a program that promotes the company's own technologies.

The email, however, does not appear to have been widely distributed. Several of CVG's development contacts say they have not received it. Microsoft has been approached for comment.

A portion of the notice has been published by Promit Roy, a technical lead at Action Equals Reaction Labs, on his personal blog.

The email claimed that the XNA Game Studio is "not in active development".

In the long-term this would mean that the development framework will be less and less relied upon for developing Xbox games. But it is possible, and now speculated, that Microsoft is preparing a replacement as opposed to outright shutting down its own access to a pool of indie talent.

One development source told CVG that the phase out of XNA could be an omen for the removal of the Xbox Live Indie Games service.

"What will be interesting will be to see if Microsoft replace XNA with another newbie-friendly technology, which seems unlikely, or if they will persist with XBLIG for the next-gen using their other technologies," the person said.

"There's a lot of extra knowledge needed to make something workable and XNA was a managed language, meaning it was much harder to crash the whole Xbox OS via an XBLIG - the same would not be true of the lower-level APIs that 'proper' game developers use.

"No-one wants to learn a dying technology, and a big part of XNA's appeal was the prospect of selling a game on Xbox LIVE, even if that wasn't the most commercially-sensible thing to do. If there are no advocates of the technology, and we infer from the lack of internal support in Microsoft that there will be no XBLIG on the next-gen machine, there is no-one to drive XNA adoption and no incentive to learn it."

Games developed using the XNA framework includes Bastion and Fez - two acclaimed indie titles that launched on Xbox first.

Meanwhile, in the letter Microsoft also appeared to be distancing itself from the DirectX API - claiming that the tech is "no longer evolving".

Developers have already begun to air their views on social media.

One, carrying the name Foxish, said: "Well, time to talk to the instructors. I'm supposed to be taking XNA to graduate, but Microsoft's basically said it's being phased out. (Which is also awesome as I've been waiting years and three cancelled class attempts to learn it.)"

Developer Bill Reiss, meanwhile, was more philosophical about what he described as "the death of XNA".

"Overall I'd rather XNA was supported going forward, since I love the technology and there are a ton of existing games using it that would easily port to Windows 8 if the option was available," he .

"The reason I think [XNA's death] may be good is for the same reason that I think the death of Silverlight could be good, as long as something better comes out of it. Windows Phone 8 is very similar to Windows 8 for development and from what I hear the next release will converge even more. The best guess across the board is that the next Xbox will support a very similar programming model. If this is the case, we finally are at a point where apps that you write for one of the platforms in the Microsoft stack will easily port to the others."

[Update: A spokesperson for Microsoft at the PR firm Waggener Edstrom has insisted that Microsoft will continue to invest in Direct X, and claims that the corporation's move away from XNA will not affect games built with the development framework.

"DirectX is the world's leading low-level interface for gaming and graphic. Microsoft is actively investing in DirectX as the unified graphics foundation for all of our platforms, including Windows, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone. DirectX is evolving and will continue to evolve. We have absolutely no intention of stopping innovation with DirectX."

It added: "XNA Game Studio remains a supported toolset for developing games for Xbox 360, Windows and Windows Phone. There are hundreds of XNA games available on Windows Phone and thousands of XNA titles available on Xbox 360. Games built with XNA run without changes on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8."]