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Monday, August 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft to offer tool to video gamers

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft is announcing new tools today that it says will allow people with little technical background to create video games for Windows and the Xbox 360 gaming system.

A test version of the tools, called XNA Game Studio Express, will be available for free and is to debut by the end of this month.

The final version is expected by the end of the year.

The idea is to bring new blood into the video-game business, which has struggled to retain talent and recruit new developers, said Scott Henson, director of platform strategy for Microsoft's game-developer group.

"Some of the stuff we're going to do will help spark more excitement," he said. "You don't see a lot of fresh, new ideas. There aren't enough of those."

Microsoft is giving more details about the tools today at its annual Gamefest conference for developers in Seattle. The company is expecting at least 1,000 people at the conference, which offers developers tips on making games for Windows, the Xbox 360 and the online Xbox Live Arcade.

XNA Game Studio Express will be free and focus on developing games for the Windows operating system.

By the end of the year, Microsoft will debut a $99 annual subscription service that allows developers to target their games to the Xbox 360.

A more advanced, paid version of the tools is expected to go on sale next spring.

Eventually, Henson said, Microsoft wants to host a community-powered arcade that features homegrown games developed by its users.

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Microsoft hopes that by making the tools broadly available, it can increase the number of games and even game ideas in development.

It could decide to publish those games and take a cut of sales revenue, but is not demanding an exclusive first look at the titles.

Henson said he expects technology enthusiasts will test out the tools, even if they don't have much knowledge about writing computer code.

"You should not have to be able to write any lines of code to be able to do this," he said.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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