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Reflections on XNA

February 5, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Market Influence

The Xbox 360 marketplace launched in 2005, with PlayStation 3's store following in 2006. Nintendo's WiiWare didn't launch until 2008, the same year the iPhone's App Store and Xbox Live Community Games launched. Microsoft was clearly influenced by these different ecosystems, but went a step further with a nearly-completely community driven process. Microsoft pioneered open console development and continues to lead the way with XBLIG. Though quality output and management of XBLG may be sore subjects, I believe XNA and XBLIG pushed other big-platform decision-makers to consider making more room for independent developers.

XBLIG launched many a successful game studio, starting with Ska Studios, creators of The Dishwasher series, also Zeboyd Games, creators of Cthulu Saves the World, Radiangames with its popular twin-stick series, and Magical Time Bean, creators of Escape Goat, in addition to our own work.

The XNA game forums have more than 500,000 registered users. There are over 2,800 games made with XNA Game Studio for XBLIG.

Games released on XBLIG have cracked millions of downloads, millions of dollars in revenue, and some have even topped a million sales. Dozens of Xbox LIVE Arcade and Steam games such as Bastion, Fez, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Terraria have used XNA Game Studio in part or in full.


Nick Gravelyn, long-time XNA developer and supporter started a hashtag a few days ago, which quickly exploded into hundreds of developers responding with what the platform meant to them. Some remarks centered on business, some on artistic inspiration, and many mentioned having made their first game because of the platform.

The most amazing pair of posts had to be from Ska Studios:

And the simplest but probably most important, echoed by others:

Where Do We Go From Here

Skulls of The Shogun was originally built in XNA and was just released on XBLA. My own Serious Sam Double D XXL was created in XNA and releases to XBLA in mid February. Charlie Murder and Terraria (the XBLA version) are just down the road. While "abandoned", it's still in heavy use. For those that wish to continue using XNA, MonoGame looks to be a solid choice on PC. While there's no spoken commitment yet to bringing XBLIG back to the next Xbox I'm still hopeful Microsoft will have some open-develop option available.

As always, there are options for PC, such as Unity and GameMaker, but for many gamers, PC development doesn't hold the same mystique. Will Android consoles such as the Ouya and the GameStick fill in the gap? Clearly, the issue there is user base. If those consoles fail to sell, it won't be the same opportunity as it is with XBLIG -- having millions of potential gamers being able to play your creations.

Regardless of where the future leads, XNA came at a time when indie games were growing and it helped them grow. Despite being created by a multibillion-dollar corporation, XNA still managed to facilitate volumes of honest game creation and foster new careers in development. XNA will be missed. Let's remember the high notes of open console development and well-designed game libraries as we move forward...

Thank you. It will be missed. It has made its mark in history, and has made indie development what it is today.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Kevin Strickland
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I'm so glad this article exists! XNA was my first time messing around with code and really getting to know how to make software and games. If it weren't for XNA, I don't really think I would know as much about games or be writing about them as much as I do now. Even though XNA was tucked away in a sad little corner, I thank Microsoft for allowing so may people like me to use it freely, even if it was just for learning.

Thanks, Nathan, for taking the time to write this! It really brings back memories!

Matthew Mouras
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Here here! XNA was my first foray into serious games development. I guess it's time to check out MonoGame or Unity, but I will miss the idea of XNA.

Thanks so much for the article. It was a great read.

I've purchased all of "Mommy's Best Games" on XBLIG. What's next for you, Nathan?

Nathan Fouts
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Thanks all, I'm really glad you enjoyed the article. It felt good to look back on how influential the open console platform was for many developers, ourselves included, and how quickly things have changed.

We're still working in XNA, but also Java as we're looking at the Ouya. Obviously our next big game is in XNA and will be on XBLA, which is thrilling. After that, a smaller, strange party game for Ouya, then maybe something bigger. I plan to look at MonoGame as well down the road. Seems like it's still maybe a touch rough, but is shaping up nicely.

Obviously, I really, really hope Microsoft offers some way as open as XBLIG for their next console, and that Sony considers it as well.

Matt Spaulding
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I really hope the next XBOX has an indie section. :(

Bryson Whiteman
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Great read, it really puts things into perspective.

Benjamin Quintero
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Now if only someone with the power to make things happen at Microsoft could actually read this. I'm sure that there are plenty of people on the old XNA team with ideas for XNA 5.0. DirectX 11 support would be a good start, but a good portion of XNA is pretty future-proof.

Tom Spilman
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The core problem is that an official XNA5 would likely be limited to just Microsoft platforms.

IMO i'd rather see Microsoft offer the same open development environment and marketplace on the next Xbox as they do today on Windows 8.

This leaves room for projects like MonoGame ( to support it as well as a bunch of other non-Microsoft platforms.

Chris Oates
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All I want is an officially supported way to make DX games with C# as the primary language and targeting Win8, Xbox and WinPhone. I don't care about other platforms. Whether that's XNA, a new MDX, or something different entirely. SharpDX and MonoGame still seem to be too far away from being fully baked...

R. Hunter Gough
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Great article, Nathan!

Karsten Wysk
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We hope that some XNA developers will like our Delta Engine which is basically the same as XNA plus the ability to develop for all platforms at once (currently Win 8 & WP .. soon Android & iOS etc.)

Brian Anderson
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I moved from DirectX to XNA, and fell in love, guess I'm going back to DirectX :(

Camilo R
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Same thing happened to me but from OpenGL. I learned computer graphics in OpenGL but finished my first small game in XNA and loved it. Back to OpenGL for me, never did like DX syntax.

Jaco Gerber
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XNA was always a bad idea. Don't limit yourself to developing for one company's platforms. Use Monogame, use Unity, use a lower level language - anything but platform-locked solutions.

Adam Bishop
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XNA was a fantastic idea. I had never made a video game in my life (aside from some brief experiments in high school in the 90s) when XBLIG first launched. Several months after learning about XNA I had finished and released a game on the Xbox 360 that was played by thousands of people. That was thrilling for me as an enthusiast and budding developer, it was a great learning experience, it helped me land my current job, and it provided me with an unusual experience that I would never have had anywhere else.

That it was platform locked to Windows systems was irrelevant as I was never interested in releasing games for smartphones and there was no viable path onto any other console. Being able to release games on the 360 and Windows PC with a very low barrier to entry, not to mention the great tools, is a tremendous boon.

Chris Oates
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The problem with Unity is that it is terrible for programmers. Only supporting Y-up, limited ability to actually write code (as opposed to scriipts) and the list goes on. XNA was much much better for game programmers, as opposed to game designers.

Wasin Thonkaew
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Thanks for this.
To be honest, I feel glad that I already moved to another platform creating game around 1 year before it announces. But after reading this article, it takes me back to think about the old day making a game with my old team at University, and opens a whole bunch of opportunities.
Yes, you will be missed.

Kenneth Baird
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I love XNA, and I feel the same way as the author about tinkering on the 360. That mystical magical and horribly expensive world of devkits and derpy debuggers is ours for a hundred bucks!

The reality was not quite so enticing, but the PC builds are no slouch. Garbage collection is rarely a problem for a pc, so you can just be sloppy and get things done quick. Need a fast tool? Fire up a winform next to the xna window. Ludum Dare? No problem.

I suppose ending support means killing the xna redist download link at some point? That will be a sad day, but surely by then Monogame will have the 3D side sorted. (go go monogame!)

Axel Cholewa
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Great article!

Although I haven't finished the game I started with XNA, just making things appear on screen and respond to a controller was a fantastic feeling! Plus, I worked in particle physics and had to use code libraries written by physicists having taking a few C++ introductory courses only. Tens of thousands of classes. After using XNA for the first time, I knew that bad documentation and obscure variable names where not necessary :)

Ignatus Zuk
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Good read, I a specially liked the twitter posts, it feels like someone really close to us died. :)

Thomas Happ
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Like Nathan I'm a professional developer who uses C++ and DirectX for AAA games, but, without question, it's a pain in the butt, whereas XNA cuts through the bull and lets you get to the stuff that matters. It's mind boggling that Microsoft is cutting off their indie support while they're in the midst of being clobbered by platforms that thrive on it.

Nathan Fouts
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Still really excited about playing your game Axiom Verge. Lookin' great!

Daniel Dobson
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Great article Nathan. Well said.

Alexander Jhin
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Moving from DX to MDX to XNA felt like discovering fire and the lever. And now, back to the stone age of DX...

Lars Kokemohr
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XNA being discontinued is just as sad as there not being anything else like it.
The defining aspect of XNA for me was the whole mid-level-concept. You can prototype so easily in XNA, because you get a set of tools (for programmers that is) but not a set of hurdles unlike in full-grown engines like Unity where you get a set of "here-let-me-do-that-for-you-buttons".
I have to admit, I don't have nearly enough experience with Unity to judge that specific engine, but in all my projects with engines I sooner or later encountered the situation where you get stuck because you did not build your project from the ground level but jumped onto a construct that you couldn't know in the beginning and that might or might not fit perfectly.

If you ask me, the number one risk in game developlment is using a toolset that does not really fit your needs. 99% of your tasks will be easier than without a toolset but the last percent might eat up that saved time or even break your back.
XNA offeres less help (no built-in culling, no built-in animations etc.) but on the good side you do not have to rely on black-box code.