Xbox One independent developers will not need to pay for a Unity engine license, as Microsoft will make copies of the software free to all members of the self-publishing ID@Xbox program. Program head Chris Charla announced the news today on the Xbox Wire, confirming also that special Xbox One-only Unity Pro seat licenses will also be free.
"Of course, middleware isn't cheap. One of the cool things about working at Microsoft is that we have access to pretty amazing resources. For independent developers though, tools like Unity on console can cost quite a bit," Charla said.
"We thought about paying for some developers' Unity licenses but the more we talked about it, the more we felt paying for some developers' licenses and not others just didn't feel right," he added. "To us, ID@Xbox is about providing a level playing field for all developers."
Charla said Microsoft will devote marketing a promotion to "promising-looking" Xbox One independent games, but made clear that the goal of making Unity free is to level out the playing field as much as possible.
"We want to make sure the dev who's working away in Omaha, or Coventry, or Chiba will have the same shot to realize their vision on Xbox One as one of my developer friends we hang out with in Seattle or at a trade show like GDC or Gamescom," Charla said. "Because at the end of the day, we want gamers to pick the hits. That's what Xbox One is all about: One games store, the best discovery tools on console, and a powerful, equal playing field for all games, from developers big and small."
The Unity add-on for Xbox One supports "every element of Xbox One," including Kinect, SmartGlass, and the impulse triggers of the Xbox One's new controller. Unity is already available for Windows and Windows Phone at no cost.
"So from one base game, developers can ship their games across all Microsoft platforms," Charla said.
Charla teased that Microsoft is also working with "other middleware and service providers," though no specifics were announced. Microsoft formally announced the ID@Xbox program during Gamescom 2013, naming Charla the leader of the new effort.
On Xbox One, all games will be housed together. Gone is the "Indie" section from Xbox 360. Microsoft claims, though, that games won't get lost in a sea of content thanks to greater discoverability through "rich search programs." Editor's Picks and Trending sections will highlight certain games.
"All games are treated equally [on Xbox One]," Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten said in August. "It's not like 'Oh, I have to go to the Indie section.'"
Every developer accepted into the program will receive two development kits at no cost, while additional kits can be purchased. Eventually, all Xbox One systems will be able to act as a development kit, though it is unclear when this will happen.
No application or membership fees will be charged for ID@Xbox members and there will be no extra costs for game certification or title updates. Microsoft stopped charging fees for patches and updates on the Xbox 360 earlier this year.