"It makes sense to me that they want early warnings of issues rather than big unpleasant surprises way down the road. If we are slipping, they try to find ways to help us get back on track. I want to emphasize that these are positive relationships. We all have the same goals. We want very much to succeed, and they want us to also."
"Microsoft is an engineering organization." says Jordan Weisman. "It's not an entertainment organization. And they were ... applying all the same standard engineering techniques that they'd used for Office and operating systems to entertainment. And it doesn't work.
"Entertainment is about a central vision. And everything has to be built to focus on that vision and make that vision come to life. ... And the vision has to be, we call it 'big ego and little ego.' You have to have a big enough ego to put that vision out there and keep it alive, but you have to have a small enough ego that as people contribute to it, you're able to encompass that and unify that and keep it with the larger vision."
"I don't recall a single concept that came down to us from MGS," says Bruce Shelley, regarding Microsoft's reputation for being control-oriented. "I can recall how they suggested in a few cases we change the topic for a concept. Even in that case, it was our decision to change or not. They left the creative process largely to us. I remember they asked us to include Asian civilizations in [Age of Empires] because they thought there was a good market there.
"It seems the more successful a studio's games, ... the better the transition looks. When things are going well, there is less desire to fix anything. [Although] being a first-party developer within Microsoft [does preclude] us from developing games for the PlayStation."
Jordan Weisman, however, still has regrets. "At the time we joined the Games group," he says, "it was about 300 people. And we represented about 10 percent of it. ... I think everybody was a little scared and excited. In retrospect, the integration did not go well. ... Let's say, part of what they wanted from us was our development culture, because we'd worked very hard to have this collaborative, effective team, and they wanted to kind of build those kinds of teams and kind of capture that. In reality, ... the machine of Microsoft, unintentionally, I believe, and inadvertently, ripped that apart. Rather than model itself around what we had done, our [culture] got forced into their model. ... We lost that special sauce that we had built.
"What Microsoft wanted was a culture, and what it ended up with was 40 very talented people, which are two different things."
"Resistance is Futile"
Today, it's hard to consider the story of Microsoft Game Studios as anything other than a sterling success. The studio's banner flies high over both the PC game space and Microsoft's own Xbox console, and now claims ownership of some of the industry's most innovative developers, including Rare (Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark Zero), Lionhead Studios (Black & White, Fable) and Bungie (Halo).
Yet for Jordan Weisman, the process of turning a successful business software company into a successful entertainment software company took its toll. "When I joined the organization," he says, "the game design was something the producer, or what they call the program manager, [would] be doing at night. It wasn't a discipline unto itself. And the same was kind of true at art. The organization didn't really have an art ladder or a design ladder. And so ... it was a lot of education on their part.