A trio of veteran industry executives gathered at San Francisco's Web 2.0 Summit -- co-organized by Gamasutra parent UBM TechWeb -- on Tuesday, reflecting on the changing gaming landscape and new launches of headline-grabbing entertainment products and services.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business president Don Mattrick joined moderator Bing Gordon of venture capital firm KPCB to talk Kinect, World of Warcraft and the importance of listening to your customers in a dynamic online business.
"I think [listening to customers] matters more now than ever before..." said Kotick in remarks listened in on by Gamasutra, "because you have incredibly passionate and vocal consumers, and they are really thoughtful and articulate about what they would like to see in a game, how you can enhance the experience."
"So if you take the time and actually listen to what your customers have to say, you are going to create much better experiences," he added. Kotick said that World of Warcraft has a customer support team of around 2,000 workers.
Currently in beta is World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the third expansion to the MMORPG, which currently has 12 million players worldwide. Gordon commented on beta periods for online products like MMOs, which these days can take an extended period of time as game companies make tweaks. Cataclysm is set for launch December 7.
Kotick said that these long periods of testing are a result of a more comfortable financial position for the game maker, which this month raised calendar year forecasts to $4.28 billion in revenues following a successful launch of Blizzard's StarCraft II.
"I would say that one of the great benefits of the merger of Activision and Blizzard is the elevation of patience," Kotick said. "Partly because we have the financial resources to do it, but we're now in a place where we can really take the time to make sure that we're going to deliver the best games. And that's an incredible luxury."
He continued, "You have to instill that value into the culture. Blizzard has that as a unique value of the culture, and it's now been very well-instilled across all of Activision Blizzard. Patience is rewarded."
Microsoft's Kinect is another product that took its time getting to market. Just released this month, the sensor for Xbox 360 was originally unveiled to the public in June 2009, as Microsoft and developers were still experimenting with the device.
Now with 1 million units already sold following its November 4 release, Microsoft expects Kinect to beat calendar 2010 sales targets of 5 million units. "The first time that I saw a mom with an eight-year-old child get up, start using it, start figuring it out in 47 seconds and leaving the focus group to come find someone from Microsoft to say 'when can I buy one,' I felt encouraged," said Mattrick.
Gordon asked Kotick about the rather improbable situation of World of Warcraft coming to Kinect. "That's something you'd have to ask Mike Morhaime [Blizzard CEO]," Kotick said.
Kotick also commented on the possibility of the evolution of the living room-based video game system, as Gordon asked about new televisions that could have gaming capabilities built in.
"I think that one of the things that's happening today, there are more displays, more microprocessors than ever before," said Kotick. "I don't know who's going to be the first to build that big, enormous installed base beyond what Don [Mattrick] has done and what Sony has already accomplished, because they have the biggest installed base of internet-connected TVs today, and providing a lot of essential internet services beyond games."
He said that in five to seven years he expects there to be connected displays that "offer better gaming experiences than what we could've envisioned. I can't think of anyone who'll win other than the gamer, because they'll have a lot of options."