Many judged Microsoft's press conference to be the triumph of E3 -- with a slick television-oriented presentation that showcased promising games and appealing new tech. Of course, the most talked-about part of the conference was the public debut of the company's Project Natal, its wand-free, camera-based motion control peripheral.
Shane Kim, Microsoft's corporate VP of strategy and business development for its interactive entertainment business, spoke with Gamasutra at the show on how he sees Project Natal as a relaunch for the Xbox 360 console -- and the challenges of attracting new consumers to the fold is not lost on him. After all, the company called its New Xbox Experience, which drastically changed the system's interface, a relaunch too.
But it's not just about Natal, of course. Microsoft's strategy also, much more quietly, grows in the form of Joy Ride, the first free-to-play, pay-for-items console game to be launched in the West.
Navigating from its current market -- where success is built upon a sea of hardcore gamers -- toward a future of growth for the platform is difficult. It's hinged on opening it up with software approaches and peripherals both, and here Kim offers his take on how Microsoft will handle that change.
Brandon Sheffield: What do you think of the Sony motion control offering? What's your opinion?
SK: Well, you know, obviously they haven't shared too much information with us yet, but Project Natal isn't about Sony or Nintendo. It goes well beyond anything either of them is doing. If we had created a physical motion controller, I think it would have been easy to question our approach and say, "Okay, are you guys just being derivative of what Nintendo's doing with Wii."
Project Natal goes well beyond that. It's full body gesture, full scale tracking, 3D depth sensors so you move around in space, facial recognition, voice recognition -- I mean, it's much more complex hardware and software behind it.
So, you know, it's really not about what those guys are doing, but for us, we really focus on, "How do we break down the barriers that prevent people from enjoying all the great stuff that we have to offer?" Not only on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, but from the industry as a whole. So, this isn't about how do we get more casual players; it's how do we get more people just to participate in everything we do.
BS: One thing about Natal that's been interesting to hear people talk about is -- some people, mostly perhaps enthusiast press, are saying things like, "Well, how would you do a first-person shooter on it? It would just look stupid." But maybe the point is that you're not supposed to make a first-person shooter for that; you can just use a controller for that.
SK: Yeah. I don't want to rule anything out, Brandon, because I think there are people out there who will figure out, I mean, much the same way that people said, "Hey, there will never be great first-person shooters on the console period," right?
SK: That's not the case anymore. So, I always believe in the power of creators to adapt and adopt new technology in creative experiences we haven't thought about. I do think they will be able to enhance core game functionality, and there will be people who figure out how to create great core games with Natal, but I do think we're going to create experiences and games that haven't been imagined before, that haven't been possible before.
BS: I'm definitely curious to know how much of what was shown in the video of Natal before the actual live demo, what percentage of that is real, and what percentage of that is concepts of things you would like to happen.
SK: Well, you know, I actually don't know the specific answer. I think a lot of it conceptual, what we hope to be real, right, at launch?
SK: It was all not about gaming either, right?
SK: You've got your friends there, and you're dressing your avatar... that's a completely plausible scenario, right? Will that be real, actually -- will someone do that when we launch? We'll see. But the ability to digitize objects? That's the kind of stuff that we absolutely expect to be real.
BS: It seems like with this skateboard-scanning scenario, that's some hardcore technology to be able to do that and extract a background and actually make skateboard scanning. That was one that stuck out for me, like, "That one would be tough."
SK: It's like Milo -- I mean, the piece of paper with the drawing.
BS: Right, that's true.
SK: That would be scanned in, too. So, look, I agree that those are the tough challenges that we have to solve, but that's why the power of Natal is not about the hardware. The power is actually in the software. That's where the magic happens.
BS: Yeah, I'm really curious to see how that Milo thing goes, considering -- I mean, you obviously can't have thousands of different ways of saying every name that exists.
SK: It will take time to build the vocabulary, you know, right? And so forth. But the promise is there, absolutely. The promise is there.