Microsoft may be dimming the lights on Project Spark, the free game creation tool it launched on Windows and Xbox last year.
The company will stop creating additional content, and is “moving away from ‘active’ development,” according to one of the team members. On October 5, Project Spark’s downloadable content store will disappear, and all existing releases will become free. (Anyone who purchased content on or after July 28 will get a refund in Microsoft Store credit.)
Project Spark is a free program that lets users design their own game worlds, characters, and levels without any programming knowledge. Creators have used Spark to build 2D platform shooters, tower defense games, and pinball machines. Today, roughly 200,000 people are actively building things in Project Spark, putting out 300 to 400 creations per day.
In a blog post, Microsoft put a positive spin on the news, saying that Project Spark is “transitioning to a free incubation engine.” The goal, Microsoft said, is to encourage creativity by opening up all features for free. Still, forum posts by Project Spark team members suggest that the project is entering maintenance mode, with no plans to generate revenue directly.
To be clear, Project Spark isn’t dead. Microsoft still has a backlog of content and updates that it may release eventually, and the developers are working on “new programs and activities to inspire creators.” New creations will also continue to be featured in weekly video streams. But it sounds like the long-term goal is to have the community sustain itself, as Microsoft backs out of the content creation side and slows the pace of development.
The story behind the story: As we noted when Project Spark dropped its beta tag a year ago, this isn’t the only bet Microsoft has made on user-generated content. In 2014, Microsoft acquired Mojang, the developers of Minecraft, which is a worldwide phenomenon with more than 20 million paid users creating their own worlds. Project Spark is tiny by comparison, so it’s understandable that Microsoft would have less interest in its continued active development. At the same time, the success of Minecraft may have proven that aggressive DLC schemes aren’t a great way to foster a community of creators.