Most gaming fans know of Microsoft as the home of Xbox – a console developer not too dissimilar from Nintendo and Sony. But behind the scenes Microsoft is widening its mission, aiming to support developers large and small – even if they’re developing for other platforms.
Microsoft announced today that it will be releasing a new development program aimed at smaller developers. Called ID@Azure – a nod toward the ID@Xbox program that is designed to get independent games on the platform – Microsoft hopes the new program will do its part to make game development accessible even to creators with limited resources.
ID@Azure has been available in a closed preview since last year, offering participating creators access to a virtual machine – a cloud-connected computer preloaded with critical programs that can also serve as a development environment – as well as educational resources and support teams from Microsoft. Microsoft says this will save creators the time and hassle of acquiring the necessary programs and equipment, allowing them to get started making games faster. What’s more, the tools work across all platforms, which is in line with Microsoft’s vision of a console-agnostic future.
Xbox’s Vice President of Gaming Ecosystem Sarah Bond is one of the program’s chief architects. Bond points to the games industry’s exponential growth over the past decade, which she says is at odds with game development’s lack of accessibility.
“Every other form of media has gone to a place where anyone can make a YouTube video. You could make your own TikTok, right? Gaming isn’t there yet. It’s getting there, you’re seeing aspects of it, but it’s not there yet,” Bond says. “So we’re investing in the tools, the services, the training, and the access to make it possible for anyone who does want to create a gaming experience.”
Bond sees it as imperative for Microsoft to support smaller developers wherever possible, providing expertise in managing cloud tools while also aiding in the shift toward remote work. A passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, she sees it as an opportunity to empower creators who might otherwise be excluded from the games industry due to the historically high barrier to entry.
“One of the things that I came to understand when I joined the gaming industry was how so much of game development was actually located largely in Western Europe, North America and East Asia. Not all of it, but the vast majority of it,” Bond says. “And what that ultimately means is that the nature of the stories and the perspectives shared is going to represent its creators. They might pull in other perspectives, but it’s always easiest to tell your own story from your own perspective.
“So to me one of the powers of the ID@Azure program is it continues to build on multiple investments that we’ve made to make it easier for anyone to access a set of tools and make a game. If anyone can do it, you’re just going to bring in more developers. And I love that. It specifically addresses the needs of people who are more likely to be starting out because they’re the ones that are most likely to need that help.”
Microsoft has invested heavily in cloud technology in recent years, which has driven everything from Rainbow Six Siege to Fall Guys. Xbox Cloud Gaming is one of the most visible results of Microsoft’s investment, but the cloud drives many other backend elements as well. While Bond wasn’t able to quantify its growth with a hard number, she said its rise is one reason that she feels it’s important to provide developers with an understanding of the technology at hand.
Every other form of media has gone to a place where anyone can make a YouTube video. You could make your own TikTok, right? Gaming isn’t there yet.
“ID@Azure is a great way for indies to get started with cloud services and the team has been very helpful and responsive to my questions. Using Azure has allowed me to write server code that scales as needed, and the costs scale as well so I only pay for what I’m using,” Super Retro Maker developer Dan Ericson says.
ID@Azure speaks to the influence that Microsoft exercises on the game industry even beyond traditional consoles. Microsoft’s cloud technology impacts everything from matchmaking to in-game economies, and Microsoft’s development tools mean that many creators are part of the company’s ecosystem from the very beginning, even if they never release a game on an Xbox platform.
It also addresses some of the pressing problems facing developers of all sizes in 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a greater emphasis on remote work, which Azure’s virtual machine attempts to address, and ready access to development tools makes it easier for potentially talented developers to break into the games industry. Most importantly, it’s one big more step toward what Microsoft sees as a future where games can be played on virtually any device, which Bond says is “closer than we think.”
“What we’ve really been seeing over the past five years in particular is that the idea of a gaming experience with the devices at the center of the experience… it’s really going away, and it’s really about the player being at the center of the experience,” Bond says. “And it shows Xbox’s dedication, what it’s really about: ‘How do we bring the joy of gaming to everyone, everywhere?’”
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.
Author: Kat Bailey. [Source Link (*), IGN All]