XNA Game Studio is a programming suite created by Microsoft, allowing developers to easily make multi-platform games for Windows, Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7. Built upon Microsoft’s Visual Studio suite its aim is to streamline the creation of games through pre-made libraries of code.
Microsoft provides XNA for free through AppHub. You will require Visual Studio 2010, but there is also a free version of that too. XNA leans more onto the programming side of game design than some of the other game making tools we’ll be looking at. While programming can be off-putting for some, XNA has extensive documentation, tutorials, and community support so you’ll be making your first simple game within a week.
XNA is rather community orientated, allowing you to see what games other people are making and get feedback on your own projects. To get a game released onto Xbox you actually need to have your game peer approved too. One small issue with XNA is that the change to become part of AppHub has meant that some of the resources for XNA users are now cluttered and not as easy to locate as it used to be.
Once your game is made, XNA has several options for releasing it to the public. You can compile and release your game for Windows at no additional costs. For Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 you need to get a $99/year subscription*, and you need Xbox Live Gold if you wish to debug on a 360 console. This will let you release your game onto Xbox Live Indie Games, and sell it for up to 400MS Points. While Xbox does open you up to an audience of fifty million gamers, it’s not always a guaranteed gold mine. So make sure your game idea is a good one if you’re planning to release through 360.
A word of warning: While it is theoretically possible, don’t expect to be churning out anything close to the next Halo using XNA. You’ll mostly be making 2D titles; platformers, shmups, pong etc.
For people interested in making games for Android and iOS there is a community-made tool called MonoGame that aims to port XNA produced code to OpenGL, compatible with those devices.
*Check if your school is a MSDNAA member (ask in the IT dept), this could mean you get a free subscription.