The organizers of the Independent Games Festival -- the longest-running and highest profile showcase and awards for independent video games -- are announcing a new multi-year partnership with Microsoft Studios and its Xbox LIVE Arcade publishing team, providing notable new prize opportunities for IGF entrants.

A standalone jury of independent game creators will work with Microsoft to identify a shortlist for the new 'XBLA Prize'. The prize will consist of a guaranteed first-party publishing deal to release the selected title on Microsoft's LIVE-enabled platforms, including the Xbox LIVE Arcade service, Windows Phone, and Windows. The sponsor-supported prize includes full game funding to complete the title, if desired.

The first honoree for the award, picked from one of the 2012 Independent Games Festival entrants from either Main Competition or Student Showcase, will be announced on stage at the IGF Awards during Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 7th, 2012.

If the creator of the selected game opts to accept the prize and associated contract, they will also get access to IGF Platinum Sponsor Microsoft's extensive suite of first-party publishing services.

This includes best in class usability, testing, and production aid to help complete their game, as well as the game gaining a sought-after 'slot' to officially release the title on Xbox LIVE Arcade and other platforms.

As part of the announcement, in a related weblog post at Gamasutra, Microsoft's head of first-party publishing for Xbox LIVE Arcade, Ted Woolsey revealed a previously unreleased statistic - that "Microsoft Studios invests more than $20 million dollars per year to fund Xbox LIVE Arcade games", not including this incremental opportunity.

This much prized first party funding and publishing contract adds to the already impressive prize roster at IGF 2012, which has nearly $60,000 in cash prizes, including the $30,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize and will showcase over 30 of its finalists on the GDC 2012 show floor next March.

The 2012 Independent Games Festival and associated Independent Games Summit (part of the UBM TechWeb Game Network, as is this website) takes place from March 5th-9th 2012 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. More information on the contest, including lists of entrants and upcoming announcement dates, please visit the official IGF website.