Microsoft is giving aspiring independent software developers the tools to build and distribute their own games or applications for the Xbox 360 game console.

The Redmond Wash.-based firm released the XNA Game Studio Express software package on Monday, giving Windows XP users resources to foster game development for the PC and Xbox 360. Students, hobbyists, and developers will be able to create Windows games free of charge. However users must have a subscription to the newly launched XNA Creators Club to develop games on the firm’s console.

The XNA Creators Club is really the first of its kind — an opportunity to join a community of other developers who are empowered to bring their game ideas to life on a next-generation console system, said Chris Satchell, general manager of the Game Developer Group at Microsoft.

Subscriptions provide aspiring game developers with access selected game assets from Microsoft and key partners, the software company said. White papers, specialized starter kits, samples and technical product support will also be included.

The XNA Creators Club is available on Xbox Live Marketplace for $49 for a four-month subscription, or $99 for an annual subscription.

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