In the early days of the rumors of a Steam client on Linux, Gabe Newell once spoke off the record to Michael Larabel of Phoronix and noted how Microsoft’s treading over the PC industry was hurting the gamers and Valve’s presence in what was, at the time, a free market. Over the last year Newell has been outspoken against Microsoft’s addition of a built-in Store to Windows 8/8.1 and has mused often in public about how the store and the adjacent Games app hurt the chances of vendors like Valve, GOG, uPlay and Origin to attract gamers to their libraries on the Windows platform.
Now it looks like Microsoft may finally be moving in to capitalise on the opportunity that Windows 8 provided them by targeting mobile and desktop gamers through the Games app store and a shared code base with the Xbox One.
Speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Microsoft Partner Creative Director for Xbox Ken Lobb was quizzed on a number of things relating to the company’s push into entertainment-orientated markets using gaming as the entry point. Lobb is every bit a veteran in the industry as giants like Mark Cerny and Cliff Blezinski and has worked in the past for Namco, Nintendo, was on the team for GoldenEye 007 (yes, thatGoldenEye 007) and is now heading up Microsoft Game Studios managing the various smaller brands publishing their titles on the platform.
He’s also terribly, terribly good at Killer Instinct, being the main designer of the game’s combo system and probably one of the few people in the world who knows exactly how it all works.
On Microsoft’s dedication to PC gamers, Lobb reiterated that Microsoft (at least the one now revamped and headed up by Satya Nadella) is moving towards operating as a single unit rather than a bunch of separate departments which hold wars a few times a year to see who will be fired or shuffled around the firm.
“We love PC. It’s obviously a source of huge revenue for Microsoft,” says Lobb. “The reality is that in years past we were the Xbox division. Although many of us love playing on PC, we can only make so many games. Now that we’re one Microsoft… we have more support internally to support the PC more. That’s great!”
“My only expectation would be [to] let us continue to do that over a five-year period so we can have real impact. That’s how it feels right now.”
Later on in the interview Lobb is asked whether Microsoft will, as with Titanfall, launch platform exclusives on both PC and Xbox One, given that they have the same underlying technology. Lobb admitted that it is on the cards to have game developers look into drawing in other platforms to Xbox One through complimentary applications or separate games that complete the experience. He was then asked if the Xbox division now saw the PC merely as a side platform to compliment Xbox One.
“Oh, not at all! What I’m saying is, that could very much potentially go the other way,” Lobb responded. “Maybe there’s a big exclusive on PC and there’s an Xbox Live Arcade game to support it. Or a mobile game. It makes perfect sense to develop that way. Same ship, same parts. Maybe you buy one and get another free.”
This would mean that someone in the Redmond headquarters has finally taken their head out of the sand and realised what a huge advantage they have over Sony if they decide to use the platform integration that Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox One offer. Cross-buying on the Windows ecosystem is a very real possibility and it boggles the mind that so few developers, especially the ones inside Microsoft’s studios, have made moves to use this capability.
The interview ended off on a more serious tone, discussing microtransactions inside AAA products and whether this was the plan going forward for Microsoft. Famously, the launch for the Xbox One was mired by Microsoft’s biggest titles, namely Forza 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome, both supporting microtransactions inside the game and allowing players to spend money to buy upgrades to allow them to get the edge over opponents in multiplayer matches.
“Free-to-play, to me, is not a decision to be made as a business model at the end [of development]. It really comes down to what type of game are you building, developer, and how do you want to monetize it,” Lobb replied.
“Do you pay upfront, do you want to have DLC, do you want to have a sustainable ongoing experience, do you want to go after free-to-play? It’s more about the game design than support for a particular monetization style. We don’t believe that to be on PC you must be free-to-play or microtransaction-based.”