Microsoft Announces Xbox One Dev Kit Program

Turn Your Xbox One Into a Dev Kit! (You Probably Shouldn't Do This ...)

Xbox One logo

Originally promised back in 2013, Microsoft has finally made good on its promise to allow users to turn any Xbox One console into a dev kit.  We cover what this means for developers as well as what it means for normal folks right here.

Turn Any Xbox One Into a Dev Kit

The ability to turn your Xbox One into a dev console is available to anyone who wants to try it, but it is currently still in a preview state and isn’t final yet.  The final version will launch this summer.  The current preview version only allows access to a small portion of the Xbox One’s RAM, while the full version will offer access to 1GB (which is still far below the 8GB the system actually has, which should tell you what to expect from games produced in this program …).  Turning on Dev Mode is as easy as downloading the Dev Mode activation app from the Xbox Games Store on your system. 

Not a Developer?  Move Along

It has to be noted that for most people, this news shouldn’t really mean anything.  Unless you are planning on developing either an app or game for Windows 10 or Xbox One, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) turn on dev mode.  All this is doing is giving developers a fast track to start Xbox One development without having to wait on Microsoft to give them a dev kit.  It is also not recommended for non-developers to turn on Dev Mode because doing so can create issues running normal retail games.  In other words, don’t turn on Dev Mode unless you’re actually a developer.

Requirements to Make UWP Games or Apps

It is also important to note that switching your Xbox One to dev mode isn’t the only requirement for making games.  You don’t just turn on dev mode and magically start producing stuff.  You still have to actually build your game or app on a Windows 10 PC, you have to have a wired connection between your XONE and PC, and you have to pay $19 to create a Microsoft Dev Center account to get access to all of the features, among other requirements.  The Xbox One dev mode is just for testing to make sure your program actually works on the Xbox.

Any apps or games you produce are done with the Universal Windows Program, which means anything you make will run on both Windows 10 and Xbox One.  I’m not a programming expert (or know anything at all, actually) so for help on actually making anything you’ll have to look elsewhere. 

Games made in UWP that want to come to Xbox One still have to be approved by Microsoft.  Approved concepts will then enter the ID@Xbox program, and developers will have to sign a contract with Microsoft.  The benefits of ID@Xbox are numerous, including help getting through certification before release, as well as promotion of your title by Microsoft at events.  It does create a sort of walled garden where Microsoft still curates what goes on the system and it isn’t really open like a lot of folks wanted / initially expected, but we don’t consider that a bad thing (most indie games suck … just look at Xbox Indie Games on Xbox 360).  Games made in UWP for Xbox One will have access to all of the standard features - achievements, Xbox Live access, and everything else.

If a game is not approved for release on Xbox One for whatever reason, that game can still be released on Windows 10 with no restrictions.  Also, apps will not have to pass any sort of approval process, so any app (within reason, of course) could potentially be added to both Xbox One and Windows 10. 

Bottom Line

All in all, this is an interesting step from Microsoft.  It isn’t going to replace “real” game development (which isn’t hampered by UWP restrictions like only using a portion of the system RAM) but it does open the way for indie devs with less experience or manpower to get their foot in the door and start producing games on Xbox One.  I do have some concerns that opening the floodgates to game development like this is going to result in a lot of really, really awful garbage getting released on Xbox One.  There’s already a lot of garbage through the current ID@Xbox program, and this is going to multiply it 100x.  On the other hand, it also creates the possibility for apps such as classic game emulators to appear, which would be amazing.  Let’s just say I’m cautiously pessimistic about the whole thing.  We’ll see how things turn out when things start actually coming out later in 2016.