How did Xbox Kinect shift 6 million units? How did a plastic add-on become the fastest-selling tech gadget of all time? Microsoft Game Studios creative director and general manager Kudo Tsunoda puts it all down to a unique moment of bonding between those traditional warring parties -- developers and marketers.
Speaking to game industry marketers at the MI6 conference in San Francisco today, Tsunoda's keynote focused on how Kinect's designers relied heavily on the input of marketers in order to think outside the confines of their own skills and experiences. He said, "From the beginning, the design and marketing teams fused."
"When we sat in meetings, it wasn't about competing ideas and agendas. The designers weren't pitching their ideas and waiting for marketing's response," he said. "We were all on the same page. Everybody was feeding into each other. We were genuinely synched."
Using a slide picture of a cat and dog, Tsunoda joked that game designers and marketers are often at loggerheads over creative direction.
In the game industry, it's taken as read that developers and marketers have different priorities and see the world differently. But he said the Kinect project was unique, in that everyone had so much to learn, they needed as much collaboration as they could get.
"Marketing was a very big part in creating the whole experience," he explained. "As developers, we had spent years creating core games, making awesome blood come out of someone's face. We knew how to design stuff, figure stuff out and make it awesome."
He showed a spoof video of how the core designers viewed Kinect in the early days, as an extension of competitive, male gaming values. "Yeah. Let's have an evil red eye watching you all the time from the screen and getting mad if you don't play your Xbox," he joked.
"We soon realized we would not figure this out in the usual way, by sitting in a room and coming up with ideas out of our heads. Marketing people helped us understand that there is a big difference between design-by-brainstorming and design-by-research.
"We got outside our heads and our meetings and got out there to see how people played and what they wanted. Suddenly, design wasn't about the designers. It was about the data. And when you're all looking at the very clear results that the data brings in, really, what is the difference between a designer and a marketer?"
He added, "We became a lot more inclusive about how we figured out design. We worked with marketing to figure out, first, who the customers are and what they want. We learned the core principles of Kinect would be about physical play, something that was approachable and intuitive. This could not be about an hour long tutorial in which you learned how to walk about and shoot things."
"And I give props to marketing. They didn't just give us the data and move on. They worked with us to generate ideas about what the customers wanted."
The Kinect team understood that they could not design games based on what they wanted the players to do, but based on how they believed the players would want to behave, once confronted with the game. This ethic continued through the design process into the marketing for Kinect, which was based on themes of exploration, social fun and relationships.
"The designers were super pumped to be getting this level of collaboration. It was such an invigorating time, to have everyone on the same page," said Tsunoda. "We did everything we could to keep the collaboration going all the way through the project."
"We were joined at the hip, and so the platform, the games and the marketing we all consistent. You get to a place where everyone is fused and it all happens naturally. The marketing people and the designers did this amazing thing together."