At this year's Microsoft keynote, the focus was on establishing cred. John Schappert, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft's game and Live group (Peter Moore's replacement) spent most of his stage time reminding us he'd come from Tiburon, then EA Tiburon, where he'd developed Desert Strike and kick-started the venerable Madden franchise. One wonders if this note of insecurity was reflective of Microsoft's mood or his. Or both.
"As the new guy there's an expectation I'll come out with a new tattoo," said Schappert, referring to Peter Moore's habit of showing off his guns on stage at Microsoft keynotes. "Sadly, I have no tats."
Schappert got his start as a "hobbyist programmer," hanging out in the computer lab, playing with Apple IIs and such. He said his proudest achievement was releasing Madden '94, an achievement, he says jokingly, he relived "many times over."
Tying into the major theme from this year's DICE, Schappert said "For all of the hardware innovations, it's the developers who are the true pioneers in this industry ... the industry has continued to grow, thanks to you, the content creator, game developer. You guys drive this industry." The applause was surprisingly forced. It was almost as if he hadn't planned for any.
"What you might not know," Schappert added, touching on the game industry's $18 billion milestone in 2007, "according to Jupiter Research, the games industry is bigger than the music industry on a global basis." Naturally, his thoughts then turned to Microsoft. "By every measure, 2007 was a blowout year [for Microsoft]."
Such a great year, according to Schappert, they struggled to keep 360s in stock. "More Xbox 360s are on the way," he said, and that was the last anyone had to say on the subject.
"You, the developer," Schappert said, "are developing first for the Xbox 360 ... because you can do more on our platform." He pointed to achievements, and Microsoft's past excitement about having unlocked over a million achievements. "This morning," he said, "I'm happy to announce the 360 community has unlocked over 1 billion achievements."
And if that wasn't enough of an indicator of Xbox Live's success, Schappert pointed to Halo 3, and the innovative feature allowing users to upload gameplay movies to Xbox Live. According to Schappert, the Halo 3 community is uploading 100,000 pieces of content every day. "Every day," he said, "the Halo community is uploading 30% more content than all of the daily uploads on YouTube. ... A busy little community."
Microsoft seemed intent on selling the 360 to the assembled crowd. From testimonials to usage statistics. The entire scene reminded me of sitting in the driver's seat of the dealer's second or third most selling car. They want you to want it. And if you ask to test drive the Ferrari, they're going to tell you why the Camry is better.
This year, again, Microsoft's focus was less on games and more on the console. In fact, Schappert's opening remarks reminded us of the great selling games from last year. As if we'd already forgotten. Perhaps we had. But what we really want to know about is the games for next year. Or this year, even. We got a look at a few, but, naturally, the news came late in the program, and told us less than we wanted to hear.