Yes Virginia, XNA is Really Dead

If you’re not up on the latest XNA news, Microsoft has confirmed (though via leaked email) that XNA and the XNA Game Studio is no longer in active development.  You can read the email at (soon to be former) XNA MVP Promit’s Ventspace:

The XNA/DirectX expertise was created to recognize community leaders who focused on XNA Game Studio and/or DirectX development. Presently the XNA Game Studio is not in active development and DirectX is no longer evolving as a technology. Given the status within each technology, further value and engagement cannot be offered to the MVP community. As a result, effective April 1, 2014 XNA/DirectX will be fully retired from the MVP Award Program.

I’m just going to address one point, something I think gets lost at times on twitter – does this mean XNA is "dead"?  Microsoft is not going to deactivate XNA games with a mothership kill signal.  The MonoGame project continues to work on an XNA-compatible implementation, and looks very promising.  XNA will still run on Windows 8 PC in Desktop Mode and you can still download XNA Game Studio and create a game (though you need to use Visual Studio 2010 and not 2012).

XNA however is dead.  To understand why, you need to understand what it is that makes software live.  Many years ago (more than I’d like to admit) I read Eric Raymond’s book The Cathedral and The Bazaar, and I think much of it holds true still today.  Here is an excerpt from his essay Homesteading the Noosphere:

Second, the theory that the sale value of software is coupled to its development or replacement costs is even more easily demolished by examining the actual behavior of consumers. There are many goods for which a proportion of this kind actually holds (before depreciation)—food, cars, machine tools. There are even many intangible goods for which sale value couples strongly to development and replacement cost—rights to reproduce music or maps or databases, for example. Such goods may retain or even increase their sale value after their original vendor is gone.

By contrast, when a software product’s vendor goes out of business (or if the product is merely discontinued), the maximum price consumers will pay for it rapidly falls to near zero regardless of its theoretical use value or the development cost of a functional equivalent. (To check this assertion, examine the remainder bins at any software store near you.)

The behavior of retailers when a vendor folds is very revealing. It tells us that they know something the vendors don’t. What they know is this: the price a consumer will pay is effectively capped by the expected future value of vendor service (where `service’ is here construed broadly to include enhancements, upgrades, and follow-on projects).

In other words, software is largely a service industry operating under the persistent but unfounded delusion that it is a manufacturing industry.

What I have taken from this is that the value of software is the support behind it, not the bits on your hard drive.  I can add a more examples, such as when a new version of software is released, the prior version becomes worthless and goes to the bargain bin.  Some companies like AutoDesk actively remove from circulation old copies from sale when a new version is released to protect the (debatably) inflated prices they charge and keep their software out of bins.   This can also explain why so many software vendors are claiming you only own a non-transferable license, and not a copy of the software.

Another example is the case we have with XNA, when "no new updates" will be provided and there is no longer a support team behind the software.  Its value is falling to zero, and it is dead.  XNA is known to have issues with performance on certain PC configurations and fullscreen mode can sometimes slow down a game for no real reason.  These issues will not be addressed.  At some point new hardware and standards will emerge that XNA will not take advantage of.  I would hope that in the worst case – a security exploit is found – Microsoft would at issue a patch, but there is no guarantee.  The patch could just disable whatever feature cause the problem and leave developers with no workaround.

On a related note, I think this same logic demonstrates games are art.  The value and enjoyment of a game is irrelevant to the status of the support behind it.  (Well, MMOs may be an exception – I’ll have to think on them more.)  Games are still played and loved even though the companies behind them no longer exist.

So XNA is dead, MonoGame is alive, and games are art.  Glad we settled this.

  • Shelly

    XNA is not dead. Indie Games are not dead.

  • SteveO

    Shelly, you don’t know what you are talking about.
    You can’t develop XNA in VS2012 or use it for Windows 8 Apps.
    The only (Microsoft) way to do game dev for Win8 is C++/DirectX.

    From a gamer’s perspective – good riddance to XBLIG. Most of them were junk and a rip-off. Bedroom game devs should remain just that.

    From MSFT perspective – see above and understand why MSFT will not support XNA anymore. It was a collosal waste of time and money for MSFT.