Gaming Platforms: Zune, Wii, Nokia, Xbox Live, DS Lite

Yesterday the XNA team announced that anyone — not just large, high-paying game publishers – could produce games for the XBox 360 platform, Windows, and the Zune. Of course you’ve always been able to produce games for Windows, but this move opens two previously closed platforms: Zune (which didn’t have apps before) and the XBox 360.

What does this mean:

– You’ll be able to deploy a game to Windows, XBox 360, and the Zune with the same tools

– Zunes can support multi-player games if all the Zunes have the game and wireless is turned on

– You can self-publish these games to Xbox LIVE Community Games. There will be rev-share and the opportunity to self-rate.

– All games are peer-reviewed via the XNA Creators Club site before they are released to Xbox LIVE Community Games. Though MS can remove games for TOS violations, you don’t need their approval or permission to create a game.

– The announcement states: “Achievements, Gamerscore, and Leaderboard features will not be available. Those features are reserved for games published on Xbox LIVE Arcade.” This is disappointing, but not surprising. MS doesn’t want to cannibalize its games-publisher business and needs to reserve some functionality for “real” games.

– Though it takes a small fee to get your games on the Xbox (you need a subscription to the Creators Club) anyone can prototype on Windows with the free tools.

This is big. It offers developers and smaller companies a way to test the waters for an idea or simple app without spending big bucks or getting the backing of a games publisher. N. Evan Van Zelfden expands on this point in his essay the DNA of XNA.

Of course what every new game (and gaming company) really needs is distribution. Important secondary features are account management, payment systems simple certification system and a great platform, but if your game won’t reach people It doesn’t matter how good it will look. Where else can indie game publishers turn? Here are several platforms that have opened up in the past couple of weeks.

Wii – Who wouldn’t want to have a game on the hotter-than-hot Wii? WiiWare, a download game service open to all developers, will be launching May 12th. Games will have to go through a certification process. It sounds like there will be rev-share with Nintendo.

Nokia’s N-Gage – Nokia is swiftly rolling out their software services arm and a large part of it is the N-Gage gaming platform. Open to developers of all stripes the platform will provide access to Nokia’s newer phones (no word that I could find on certification or rev-share, but I would assume yes to both). A Nokia keynote at GDC talks about providing access to sensors, letting games share meta-data (for a pervasive feel), and use real-world elements (as many of their phones are including GPSs and they now have access to NAVTEQ’s massive real world data stores this could be really powerful). This has the potential to be the home of some very cutting-edge games.

Valve’s Steamworks – From the makers of Half-Life 2 and Portal comes Steamworks (Radar post). They provide gaming stats, account management and social networking for game discovery. Windows-only, but a strong distribution platform for the PC as many Valve users have it installed.

Apple – You can already make games for later generation iPods. Soon you’ll be able to make any type of app for the iPhone and the iPod Touch (in theory we’ll know by February 28th). I think rev-sahre is a definite, but it also sounds like there will be a certification process. The market, of course, is huge.

Here is an unofficial platform that has some traction:

Nintendo DS – Your best option is R4DS (Radar post). Hailed as a piracy scourge, this homebrew development kit also allows for the creation of games and new apps. No certification, no rev-share, but there isn’t a very strong distribution angle either.

It’ll be great to see the apps that come from these newly opened platforms. I expect in a couple of years the indies will be the majors.

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