Microsoft has long claimed that one of the things that is going to separate Xbox from the competition is that it is being put together by a group of gamers, and not by a bunch of marketing suits. Although Bill Gates is often the face associated with the new console, the fact is Gates has little to do with the direction and philosophy behind the Xbox.
One of the most interesting features of the Xbox is not a chip, tray or game. Instead, it is the Independent Developer Program (IDP) where smaller developers, or even a few individuals, could get a hand in making games for the Xbox. The IDP actually consists of two parts: an Xbox Prototyping Kit (XPK) and an Incubator Program designed to nurture smaller developers.
The XPKs are basically the documents and a few tools that are shipped with the full-priced Xbox Development Kits. The XPKs allow developers who could not otherwise afford the the dev kits to begin working on the germ of a game. Once they have an early prototype ready, they can take it either to Microsoft or shop it on the open market at the GDC or other industry conventions.
The Incubator Program is for better funded developers who do not yet have a publisher for their game. Microsoft sells them an XDK for six months, and provides technical support, effectively acting as a publisher. At the end of the six months, Microsoft then will make a decision to continue working with the developer or, to put it diplomatically, “go in other directions.”
So why should Xbox fans care about WildTangent? Well, be sure to check out our feature to get the full story, but one interesting thing about WildTangent is that it provides free SDKs to anyone with the talent and gumption to make a game. A couple of CS majors who are dying to finally make that great idea into reality can have a go with the suite of development tools that WildTangent will be giving away.
This provides another way for freshmen developers to try to make a game without burning their credit cards at the cash register’s stake. And given that many of WildTangent’s development tools are very similar to the Intel/nVidia-based architecture in the Xbox, this could be yet another entry route for new artists to make great games for the Xbox.
There are, however, significant questions surrounding WildTangent and whether they will be able to make a go of their ambitious strategy. But given that the PC has always been the home of home-brew games, some of the from-the-roots innovation may one day flower on the Xbox.