Microsoft's Gamefest 2007 in Seattle, attended by Gamasutra, opened with a keynote by Microsoft's general manager of the XNA group Chris Satchell, who gave an enthusiastic and impassioned speech to the developers in attendence on Microsoft's tech and strategy.
Powerpoint slides were the order of the day, as Satchel promoted a three-pronged presentation: delight the core, expand the market and change the game.
The focus of first part, of course, is continuing to serve the core audience of hardcore gamers that form the bread and butter of Microsoft's gaming audience: Xbox 360 and PC. But the talk launched immediately into a discussion of how to move beyond that large but limited audience.
Satchell first asked the question "How do you move beyond our core customers -- to still delight them -- but to expand the market?" The answer he posited was this: "We need new ideas... maybe we need new business models, new ways to get creativity into the game industry." The end result? "Increasing our audience and bringing our games to more people."
Without mentioning the Nintendo Wii by name (except to point out that the Xbox 360, which debuted a year before it, had 10 million more software sales than it) Satchell focused on appealing to new gamers a great deal while still appealing to Microsoft's (and publishers') core audience. "If we don't delight core gamers we kind of erode the foundation of the industry," was Satchell's thrust.
He moved on to a presentation of the successes of Microsoft's varied platforms. The Xbox 360, currently the crown jewel of the lineup, was trumpeted first.
Satchell gave out new statistics - with 11.6 million consoles "shipped in", 7.1 million Xbox Live users spending a total "seven million hours a day on the service" with "...six or seven games downloaded per person online. That's a great attach rate. That has doubled in the last four months."
He also discussed Xbox 360 retail game software sales, with, at the end of May, the Xbox 360 showing 18.1 million lifetime sales for all games, compared to 4 million for PlayStation 3, and 8.8 million for Nintendo's Wii - albeit with a year's headstart to the Xbox 360.
Satchell added that 70% of Xbox 360 gamers are "dual gamers", also playing games on Windows, compared to 50% for console users in general.
The Microsoft exec also outlined XNA's educational reach thus far, with more than 200 universities using the system. He commented: "We need more talent to come into this industry if we're going to keep making these great games for core gamers."
One particularly notable announcement was that, for holiday 2007, Microsoft will be launching XNA Game Studio 2.0 - one game studio, no longer splitting between the Express and Professional versions as before. The initial version has already been downloaded more than 400,000 times, according to Satchell.
Satchell claimed that "there should be no friction" switching between the versions, also revealing: "We're going to add networking to the Xbox version of XNA", with an extra set of libraries for licensed developers who want to set up their game to play across Xbox Live.
He also announced the Dream-Build-Play competition winners
on stage, with two titles, including Blazing Birds
and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai
having tied for first place, followed by runners up Gravitron Ultra
and Yo Ho Kablammo!
. The developers of all four titles received Xbox Live Arcade publishing contracts and cash.
Other major announcements include the fact that, starting immediately, some game content published by Microsoft Game Studios and owned by Microsoft is now available for noncommercial use by consumers.
Under a license similar to the Creative Commons license, consumers may now use gameplay footage, screen shots and other gameplay elements from popular Microsoft Game Studios titles such as the Halo
and Age Of Empires
franchises can be used in XNA content - more information
is available on Microsoft's website.
In addition, the keynote announced the Softimage XSI 6 Mod Tool, a new, free 3-D modeling and animation software for the creation of noncommercial game content. Based on the same toolset as the professional XSI 3D software, XSI 6 Mod Tool enables aspiring game developers to create compelling 3-D characters, levels and content designed for use with XNA Game Studio.
The Microsoft exec's conclusion was simple: "How do we take interactivity and what we know is fun to a broad audience?" He believes that "...we have an opportunity to expand the market" through games and XNA, and Gamasutra will be reporting on multiple other Gamefest lectures that discuss Microsoft's efforts in this arena.