XNA Game Studio Express may sound dull, but it promises to make Xbox 360 developers of us all

Now we can all become Xbox 360 (and PC) developers. Microsoft has unveiled a software suite called XNA Game Studio Express - which will be available free to all Windows XP users - that is designed to let individuals and impecunious indie studios develop Xbox 360 and PC games.

Actually, XNA Game Studio Express isn't quite free - those wishing to use it to create Xbox 360 games will have to pay an annual $99 "Creators' Club" subscription - and you won't be able to sell games made using the software, although they could appear on Xbox Live Arcade. For the commercially minded, who do want to sell the games they make, Microsoft is readying another toolkit entitled XNA Game Studio Professional.

Microsoft's Peter Moore, in typically bombastic style, said: "It's our first step to creating a YouTube for videogames". Chris Satchell, general manager of Microsoft's Game Developer Group, added: "We are looking forward to the day when all the resulting talent-sharing and creativity transforms into a thriving community of user-created games on Xbox 360." An admirable idea that harks back to the days when a generation of schoolkids discovered the joys of programming for the ZX Spectrum - although Moore added that Microsoft would regulate resulting games for appropriateness and intellectual property issues, although creators would own the rights to their efforts.

The beta version of XNA Game Studio Express is imminent - it's due on August 30 - although the full version is not likely to arrive until around Christmas. XNA Game Studio Professional is due for a spring 2007 release. The whole exercise makes eminently good sense, given the success of Xbox Live Arcade - now is the time for you budding Peter Molyneuxs and Will Wrights to turn your game ideas into reality.