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Microsoft wants its indie cred back: Partnership announced with Unity at Build 2013

Microsoft and Unity announce a new partnership to bring the esteemed independent game engine to Xbox One developers for free.

Microsoft really wants to change its Xbox One messaging.

Following last week's reversal on DRM and used games on the Xbox One, Microsoft and Unity Thursday announced a new partnership deal--a move that could potentially bring independent game developers back to the Xbox platform.

Unity is, by far, one of the most popular engines for independents. The basic version makes it easy for developers to publish games on desktop PCs, Android, and iOS devices all at once, and it's completely free.

Upgrading to the Pro version adds more features, but Unity's low barrier to entry has turned it into a fan favorite, used to create many of this year's best indie games, including Thomas Was Alone and Kentucky Route Zero.

"We want to provide the best engine in the world, and an important dimension to that is opening up as many avenues as possible for our developer community to find success," wrote Unity CEO David Helgason on the company's website.

Unity free to game developers working with Microsoft

Earlier this year Unity added platform support for current-gen consoles, but now any developer creating a game published by Microsoft (on either the 360 or the Xbox One) receives access to the full Unity engine free of charge. Unity also promises implementation of Microsoft's unique features, such as SmartGlass and Kinect support.

This could be a big play for Microsoft, which came out of E3 in June looking ambivalent towards independent developers. Making it easy for independent developers with few resources to port games to the Xbox One can't hurt.

On the other hand, Microsoft took a lot of flak from developers for not opening up its platform and allowing indies to self-publish (the way Sony does with the PS4). This announcement certainly reinforces Microsoft's stance, as developers only receive the tools if Microsoft gets to publish the game and take that cut of the proceeds. Plus, Nintendo includes a free Unity license with every Wii U development kit, and we haven't seen a ton of big names flocking to that system.

We'll have to wait and see whether the Unity announcement counters some of the bad blood between Microsoft and independent developers, and if Sony follows suit with a similar program.


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