Microsoft Game Studios head Shane Kim was on the receiving end of a barrage of questions from the New York Times' Seth Schiesel today at DICE. He probed the VP on a number of topics ranging from Bungie's decision to go independent to who's winning the console war to Microsoft's potential entry into the portable gaming market.
Schiesel began his line of questioning by addressing some of the Microsoft's talent losses over the past year, specifically inquiring into the departure of star developer Bungie. "I think that was a case of a creative team really wanting to just be independent," he said, brushing off rumours that the team felt creatively stifled, saying "No studio had more creative freedom within Microsoft than Bungie."
On the rest of the departures, Kim called those acquisitions "the nature of the industry", explaining that the company doesn't dictate what other publishers do.
Kim responded to questions that the Xbox 360 line-up for 2008 appeared to be a bit thinner than that of 2007, "I think the pipeline is very stacked. You just don't know about it yet." The Microsoft exec was quiet on currently unannounced titles, but did point to a trio of top-tier games the publisher will focus on in Halo Wars, Alan Wake and Fable 2.
He pointed to Microsoft's first-party studios need to shoulder the burden for creating exclusive content for both the Xbox 360 and Windows platform, saying that they're watching competitors like Sony and Nintendo's first party offerings closely. "I don't think anyone should underestimate Sony," he said, calling both "formidable" competitors. "To count them out would be a foolish mistake."
While he praised the Wii's casual market acceptance, calling it "great for the entire industry", he questioned how financially successful it was when compared against Microsoft's box. He pointed to 40% of the game-buying public's dollars going toward Xbox 360 games, hardware and accessories. "How are they using the console?" he asked of the Wii consumer "Are they buying a lot of games?"
When asked if Microsoft being outsold by Nintendo worldwide represented a failure, when compared to the company's goal to be number one in any space it's in, Kim said that "No one should be surprised by Nintendo." Kim tempered that praise, telling Schiesel "I think it's way too early to declare a winner here."
Kim said not to expect a lifespan for the Xbox 360 on par with its predecessor, pointing to the strategic benefit of launching a year before a pair of current-gen competitors.
But what about new video game ventures for the company? Microsoft's Zune, Scheisel added, was behind the curve in the gaming space when compared to its biggest competitor, the iPod. While Kim left the door open, saying "Never say never", he was realistic about the investment required. "Clearly it's a big business, but launching a portable device, it's just like launching an Xbox 360. You have to step back and ask devoting whatever resources you would have to make the Zune a multifunction device, is that really the best way to go from a company standpoint?"