Scott Henson, director for platform strategy for Microsoft's game developer group, claims that XNA Game Studio Express will make it much easier to develop games than it is today. The company is due to demonstrate the new software at Gamefest later this week.
Microsoft already has a professional version of XNA Game Studio available, but with this free version, the company is hoping to encourage a whole new generation of games programmers to flourish.
In the first incarnation, games developed using the free tools will be available only to like-minded hobbyists, not the Xbox community as a whole. Those who want to develop games will have to pay a $99 fee to be part of a "Creators' Club," a name that is likely to change. Games developed using XNA Game Studio Express will be playable only by others who are part of the club.
In the future, Microsoft will hopefully release a broader set of tools that will allow games programmers to create titles that can be sold online, via Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade. The company will, of course, retain control as to which games actually can be sold and which can't.