Alternative Access

Alternative Access
The War Continues

Tom Endo | 28 Jul 2009 12:29
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Microsoft might also be interested in a broad-reaching influence over all consumer electronics, but one wonders to what extent it's a priority for the company. When asked about the non-gaming features in Xbox Live, Microsoft's Austin is more interested in speaking about the company's recent deals with Facebook and Twitter, in spite of the connection between the Zune HD device currently in development and the upcoming Xbox Live dashboard update. But for Austin, there's a simpler force that drove the development of Live. "The purpose behind Live is to allow gaming to get back to its original roots," he says. "Gaming was meant to bring people together." That message is in line with the primary concern of most Xbox Live users: the games.

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The future ambitions for both services may be broad in scope, but for the moment, gamers seem mainly concerned about the kinds of games Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network will offer. Xbox Live's catalogue is more focused on bringing an arcade-style experience to players. "There are a lot of completely remade and redone games. We try to bring that joy of bumping into an old friend," Austin says. "At the very same time we are trying to come up with innovative games. Look at Castle Crashers last year."

The PlayStation Network publishes its share of arcade-style games, but Sony has also invested heavily in finding games that, to twist Austin's metaphor, are like meeting a new friend. "We wanted to give people an alternative look at games," Lempel says. "There were all these developers that Sony was interested in working with but it just wasn't feasible to give their games a full retail release until PSN was available." The fruits of these labors have resulted in games like Everyday Shooter, the PixelJunk series and Flower.

Lempel paints Sony as an advocate for the cause of indie developers. He says of Sony's strategy, "We have key members of our team that go out and seek these developers." He also explains that Sony provides financial and technical assistance to get these games into commercial form. "We have what we call a pub fund set up to help these small developers create their game," Lempel says. "For example, Burn Zombie Burn is a product of that fund, and it's been very successful for us."

The Digitally Distributed Future

As far as when - if ever - all games will be delivered digitally, both Austin and Lempel are reluctant to offer any predictions. "Retail experience is still very strong for us and [a] major part of the strategy," Lempel says. "We still support physical media until consumers do otherwise. It's going to be a matter of tracking where consumers are in their habits." Austin echoed Lempel's sentiments. "The industry will get there when the consumers indicate a willingness for it," he says. In other words: It's up to you.

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