We caught up with Shane Kim at the recent DICE summit to talk about the various issues surrounding first and third party Xbox 360 development. Not surprisingly, we wanted to talk about Halo 3, but Kim points out there's a whole lot more going on at Microsoft than that game...
Next Generation: Let's talk about Halo 3. What are we up to?
Shane Kim: I call it The Mythical Halo 3 we haven't announced any such game yet! Obviously the Halo franchise is very important to us. When you have Bill Gates being quoted fairly constantly, talking about a game, you know it's important to the company. But his recent comments reflect the position accurately. Which is that, if there were a Halo 3 we would be careful about how we announce and introduce it.
It's exactly the same way we talked about Halo 2, where people wanted it a year after Halo. That would not have accomplished anything.
Is it coming out this year?
It depends. If it's the game that everyone is expecting then, yes. For us it's about making a proper impact on the platform. It has to be something with huge significance, so we won't be rushed.
We don't want all the hype and speculation to overshadow some of the great titles that do have coming this holiday and thereafter. Gears of War has an incredible level of anticipation. I think it has more anticipation than Halo did before Halo came out.
If you remember the E3 before the launch [of Xbox] a lot of people were not sure that Halo would be so great. We learned a lot of lessons at that E3. We chose not to show a lot of titles at this past E3. For people in the industry, their first assessment of a title is based on the visual impact.
PlayStation 3 announcements are coming. When they do, will you guys be making amendments to your plans?
I don't think anything is going to change. We've had our plans in place for some years now. The development of titles, of hardware and of Xbox Live takes many years. Our portfolio for the next few years is well on the way.
Those guys [SCEA] tend not to share their plans with us, so we pretty much develop our own strategy based on our vision and where we want to go. Leaders can't afford to be reactors. We have a very good plan and we will execute that.
What have you learned in the last few months since the launch of Xbox 360?
Some of the innovations on the platform have created new opportunities for us that were not available in the first generation of games. Xbox Arcade is an example of that where we are learning new ways to extend our relationship with customers.
We are starting to stretch the way we imagine what the platform is really capable of delivering as are developers who have spent more time with the hardware for the next wave of titles. They are really showing the power of the platform and the power of Xbox Live.
What are the big bets coming up?
We made some pretty significant announcements at X05, but the attention then was focused on the [hardware] launch. We talked about the Crackdowns and the Too Humans or the Mass Effects, and you'll be able to see more from those titles soon, as well as Gears of War.
How much of an improvement will we see in the second wave?
Our general strategy has been to focus on quality rather than quantity. Those four titles you'll hear a lot more at E3. We have a few other things that we are working on that we'll announce between now and E3, so we haven't told the world about everything.
The hardware shortages must have had an effect on third parties' desire to release games at this time. Surely, there'll be a gap until the installed base is bigger?
There's always a trade-off when you are the first to go out on a platform. The overall portfolio is smaller so there is less competition at the start of the platform life cycle and that leads some publishers to want to be there. But they understand that the installed base is smaller.
Some people also have this desire to lead from a creative standpoint and to show their ability to harness the power of a new platform, so they want to jump in earlier. Other people have a business model that is predicated on selling to a larger installed base and for these people, I think, who maybe had plans to be out in the second quarter, they would like to see more units out there.
We're working hard to produce as many units as possible. I'm pretty confident we'll catch up with demand in the next few weeks and we'll be able to supply all the demand. Of course we are gratified by the overwhelming demand for Xbox 360 but we would have liked to have sold more units, had they been available. I don't see it as lost sales though, only as a timeshift.
Looking back at the launch, and leaving shortages aside, any regrets?
Any game developer will tell you they wish they had more time with the hardware. That's always the case. If you look at the complexity of this console and you add Live...
With the first generation of Xbox we waited a year before launching Live; this year everything went out together. It would have been better to have more time with the development hardware. But this is not a trivial undertaking. It's very challenging to create this hardware and a network like this.
But I look at the quality of the launch games that came out and that is how to analyse the platform's success. Call of Duty is a great game, and Perfect Dark, Gotham, Kameo, Need For Speed are all great games. The launch portfolio was full of good games. There wasn't anything quirky that might hurt the platform or anything that really rose to the top. It was a level playing field for everybody.
Could it be argued that you had too many titles at launch?
If we had gone with half of the titles, you would have more people criticizing us for having too small a portfolio. The breadth and quality of the portfolio offered something for everyone both from the first and third parties. It appealed to a broad audience, not just the hardcore.
Choice is never a bad thing, unless there is a degradation in quality and I don't think we had that situation. It was the strongest launch portfolio in history.
Some have said that the launch lacked a single killer game.
I don't think that's fair. Everyone is looking for a Halo and a GTA, but we have to realize there are only two of those titles in history, and they weren't those big legends before they launched.
It is easy to look back and say 'nothing the size of Halo came out', but the launch titles were all solid good games and there was some amazing work.
I would put this portfolio up against the original Xbox launch portfolio any day. I don't see the fact that there wasn't one game that everyone wanted to buy as a criticism. The strength was in the variety.
If you look at the attach rate that speaks to the quality of the portfolio of the highest attach rate in history which is an indication of real quality.