In response to criticism that Microsoft takes fewer risks than Sony when it comes to first-party development, MS rep Phil Spencer pointed to Project Natal, saying that the launch was a huge risk that kept him up at night.
It’s been a bitter war between Microsoft and Sony this console generation, and while each platform has its strengths it also has its weaknesses. While Sony had identity crises early on, shuffled awkwardly into online networking, and suffered in the price point at first, the company has managed a turnaround in the eyes of many gamers, leaving Microsoft flatfooted. The Redmond-based giant has been criticized for playing things entirely too safe and not supporting relatively risky, first-party titles as Sony has done with games like InFamous and The Last Guardian, instead relying on, well, Halo and multiplatforms.
In an interview with Eurogamer, Microsoft Game Studios VP Phil Spencer said that he didn’t think the company took less risks at all, pointing to the very existence of Project Natal:
This picks up the discussion about Natal very well, because if there isn’t risk in Natal then I don’t know what’s keeping me up at night. We’re trying something completely new where there’s no device in your hand. We’re trying to build a set of new games, new experiences that will have the same quality metrics of our past games, but really entice both existing 360 customers and new people. It’s a huge challenge, a huge investment and it’s fraught with risk.
Spencer also pointed to the company’s focus on XBLA, saying that while he “would have agreed that a couple of years ago [he] thought some of the things we were doing online were not differentiated enough,” the push for quality on Arcade games has made a remarkable difference in his eyes since then. But again, he came back to Natal, saying that the company was hoping Natal would end up being like Xbox Live – initially a risky venture, but one that would become seamlessly integrated with modern gaming.
“So in terms of segmenting by genre or hardcore vs. non-hardcore, you should expect that over the years you’ll see Natal experiences show up on almost all of the games – similar to the way you do with Live today. At the beginning of Live it was all about sports, racing and shooting games. Now if you found a game that didn’t have some kind of Live functionality it would seem like it wasn’t a complete game. I think Natal is likely to get there as well.”
You know what, Phil? It’s true, you’re not wrong – Live was a risky venture, and Natal is certainly a risk. But I don’t think that’s what people really mean when they criticize Microsoft for lack of first-party exclusives. Sure, by all means, work on Natal, but then give us your own equivalent of The Last Guardian and God of War III and we’ll call it even, okay?
Then again, Spencer is the boss of Peter Molyneux, and he compared the experience of working with the man to “riding a bull with no saddle” (or reading a good novel). Molyneux certainly knows how to dream big, even if he doesn’t always hit his mark – so maybe there’s hope just yet.