Rabid Lion Games


Its been some time since I wrote here, and hopefully I’ll soon have time to fill you all in on what I’ve been up to the last couple of months, but before I do that, I want to comment on the current state of XNA, and my opinion as to it’s future.


Earlier this week, Microsoft kicked off it’s BUILD conference, looking at Windows 8, the new Metro UI, and all of the new technologies that sit underneath it. As the keynotes and session videos started to appear online, there was one technology conspicuous by it’s abscence: XNA. Naturally Twitter started to get worried.

On the second day of the conference, in a session on developing DirectX games for Metro UI, some brave attendee asked the question: What about XNA?

The response was essentially: You can’t use XNA with Metro UI.

Later on Giant Bomb posted with an official statement from Mircosoft: http://www.giantbomb.com/news/the-future-of-xna-game-studio-and-windows-8/3667/

The statement said (reprinted from Giant Bomb):

“XNA Game Studio remains the premier tool for developing compelling games for both Xbox LIVE Indie Games and Windows Phone 7; more than 70 Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone and more than 2000 published Xbox LIVE Indie Games have used this technology. While the XNA Game Studio framework will not be compatible with Metro style games, Windows 8 offers game developers the choice to develop games in the language they are most comfortable with and at the complexity level they desire. If you want to program in managed C#, you can. If you want to write directly to DirectX in C++, you can. Or if you want the ease of use, flexibility, and broad reach of HTML and Javascript, you can use that as well. Additionally, the Windows 8 Store offers the same experience as the current App Hub marketplace for XNA Game Studio, providing a large distribution base for independent and community game developers around the world.”

Why people are worried

The upshot of all of this is the following – XNA games can still be made for Windows 8, but only as Desktop apps, not Metro apps.

This also means that XNA games can be listed in the Windows 8 app store, but won’t be sold through it, instead the listing will link to an external website of the developer’s choice to allow users to buy the game.

This is an obvious barrier to people buying XNA games, especially when you consider that both casual games built with HTML5/ Javascript and high performance games built with DirectX 11 will have access to the Metro UI, and so can be sold directly in the app store. Why would someone click through to a site they might not have heard of, and fill out their credit card details, when the app store already knows their details and they can buy safely with a single click?

The final blow for XNA devs is that Microsoft have announced that the ARM version Windows 8 will only support Metro UI apps, not Desktop apps. So if you were hoping to bring your XNA game to a Windows-powered tablet audience, you’re out of luck.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this clearly shows Microsoft is abandoning XNA as a future technology for gaming on it’s Windows platform. It also calls into doubt whether XNA will be supported on future versions of Windows Phone, and on the next version of the XBOX.

So that brings us to our next question:

Why isn’t XNA supported with Metro Apps?

It seems to many that if Microsoft was serious about XNA as a technology then this was a prime opportunity to make XNA a first class citizen in their Windows eco system. Both large and small studios have been using XNA for their games on Windows Phone 7, and more and more successful indie titles on Steam are using XNA as well (Terarria, Magicka, and most recently Bastion, to name only a few). Surely allowing XNA developers to build games for a new generation of Windows powered tablets is a no brainer?

Turns out, it’s not as simple as you might think. The reason? I think it comes down to one thing: DirectX 9.

XNA is build on top of DirectX 9. DirectX 9 is now a pretty old technology, and Microsoft has decided that DirectX 9 will not work with Metro UI. Personally I agree with this decision, DirectX 9 games are still built in order to reach Windows XP users, and more importantly, because it allows code sharing with Xbox 360 builds. However, the speculation in the gaming press is that the Xbox vNext is in development, and that we’ll probably see an announcement at some point next year.

So if DirectX 9 doesn’t work with Metro UI, then by extension neither does XNA. And let’s face it, Microsoft was never going to spend time and effort supporting DirectX 9 with Metro UI just for XNA games. It would mean including a DX9 runtime in the ARM version exclusively for XNA games, and probably a million other headaches I’ve not even thought of.

Why I’m not worried (yet)…

Strangely, since finding out why XNA isn’t supported in Metro UI, most of my fears that XNA was dead have faded away. I’m going to try and explain why.

Let’s think about this another way. What would Microsoft have needed to do in order to support XNA with Metro Apps out of the box? The way I see it they had 2 options:

They could have supported DirectX 9, but there are plenty of reasons they wouldn’t want to do that (see above).

Or they could have re-written XNA to run on DirectX 11 under the hood.

Lets unpack that second option for a second. The Xbox 360, and probably Windows Phone 7, use some form of DirectX 9. That means that either a DirectX 11 version of XNA would be Windows only, and we’d still need to use the current XNA version for developing on Xbox and the phone, or else the API would need to be static and a DirectX 11 code path would need to be put in place for Windows.

That would be a fair amount of work, but you might think that it’s worth it if Microsoft is serious about XNA. Unless you consider the Xbox vNext.

Most likely the Xbox vNext will run on DX11 or some form of it. If Microsoft plans to put XNA on Xbox vNext (as I hope they do if they’re serious about it), then it would make sense to do a full DX11 rewrite of XNA at that point. They can’t do it now, because I doubt the software stack for the new Xbox is anywhere near being nailed down yet.

So in conclusion, I believe the lack of Metro support for XNA means one of two things. Either our worries are justified, and Microsoft plans to cut XNA loose OR Microsoft is actually really serious about XNA as a future technology, and is waiting until it can be rewritten for the Xbox vNext and Windows 8 at the same time.

Until we know if XNA is going to be on the Xbox vNext, I haven’t given up hope.

One Response to “Opinion: Why XNA isn’t dead (yet).”

  1. tg

    really nice blog. had a very nice reading following your progress. love that kind of blogs that are written for humans not coders only 🙂 is exiting to read what the steps and basic terms are. is there any way to get in contact? i can not find a message form. i have come here after reading your comment on catalinzima.com regarding the 2d soft shadow technique. i am just at beginning to learn shader stuff (not for XNA though) and would love to find out more on your onepass reduction technique you mentioned. i am not educated enough to understand your description of it, so a code snippet to learn from would be really helpful for me. thanks

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