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MS ships 'free' Xbox 360 coding kit for amateurs

To share your toys you'll need to pay up

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Microsoft has released its anticipated PC-hosted Xbox 360 games development package, XNA Game Studio Express, in the hope it can turn game players into game makers. And make some money out of them: it's charging would-be coders $99 a year for access to sample software, support and such.

The software giant announced XNA Game Studio Express back in August this year. The software development tool - based on Visual C# 2005 Express Edition and Microsoft.s .NET Compact Framework - is free to download. It runs on any Windows XP PC.

The cash cow is XNA Creators Club, an Xbox Live-hosted service that Microsoft hopes budding developers will turn to for help, white papers, game assets offered not only by Microsoft but also by third-parties, forums and the like. More to the point, coders won't be able to deliver games to Xbox 360 owners without coughing up to Microsoft.

In addition to the $99 annual subscription, purchased through Xbox Live Marketplace, Microsoft is also offering a $49 four-month sub. Membership will allow developers to offer finished games through Xbox Live Arcade.

Downloaders will require a console fitted with a hard drive and likewise be an XNA Creators Club member, Microsoft's XNA FAQ reveals. That's because creators don't share the game but the assets and source code, which the recipient must then compile into an Xbox 360-friendly format. Xbox 360 games must be offered on non-commercial terms, Microsoft added, though XNA can be used to develop commercial titles for Windows.

"Games developed using XNA Game Studio Express cannot be shared through a memory card or CD/DVD at this time," the software giant warned. ®

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