Not only was Microsoft the exclusive sponsor of the festival’s Expo Night, but Jeff Bell, Global VP of Interactive Marketing at Microsoft, kicked off the evening with the announcement of the Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge, a competition beginning this August that challenges university students around the world to design a game around the theme of global warming.
Students will design their entries using Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio Express, and the winners, announced next August in Paris, will receive cash prizes and the opportunity to present their games to Microsoft’s games management team for possible inclusion as a download on Xbox Live Arcade. The team or individual that places first will also receive an internship with Microsoft’s Interactive Games business group.
Bell knows a thing or two about games—he’s a Level 14 Master Chief in the Halo 3 Beta, and just crossed 100,000 points in the new championship version of Pac-Man. Formerly involved with “adver-gaming” — games as advertisement—a little over a year ago at Daimler-Chrysler, he’s also got experience with the versatile concept of serious games, and the potential of games as informative tools.
Coincidentally, Bell and Games for Change president Suzanne Seggerman are former classmates, who were able to reconnect and collaborate on this joint initiative. Following Expo Night, we sat down with Bell for an interview about Microsoft’s involvement with Games for Change:
How did you become involved with the Games for Change project?
The Xbox 360 had a different strategy than the first Xbox; you could see from the marketing tagline, “Jump In”—it’s invitational. It’s trying to increase its approachability.
One of the things in the back of my mind was, ‘what can we do around social gaming and education?’ Because I could see the power of it. We think that the power of Microsoft is beyond the purse; that it’s very deeply ingrained in the fact that we’re a technology company, and we make software that improves people’s lives. So we wanted to use the XNA express, which is a free download, as a slow but steady move towards democratization of our gaming industry. We wanted to focus with Games for Change on something that was dealing with an issue or challenge of the real world, and we chose the environment, because it’s such a large issue in popular culture right now.
You have kids ages 10, 14 and 18—do you use them as a barometer?
Absolutely. And they’re very different; it’s very interesting to me. In fact, I’d say my 18-year-old, in some ways, is starting to move away from playing games as he’s become more engaged in reading, debate and social issues.
So, that tells you that to continue to engage that demographic, you need to make the graduation with him into social issues.
Exactly. My 14-year-old plays quite a bit of World of Warcraft; he’s a level 70 dwarf tank warrior, or something like that. And there, again, the thing that I found very enlightening is that he uses it as a way to communicate for free with his friends back in Detroit. So they all play together, and communicate in their text messaging—and there, again, they’re looking for something a little bit more interesting than just learning how to beat the big boss in each level.