Interview: Phil Spencer

Interview: Phil Spencer

In his keynote at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Microsoft Game Studios corporate vice president, Phil Spencer, revealed five new Japanese developed Xbox 360 titles and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to Japan. Despite the Xbox 360′s lukewarm reception in the region, it remains an important part of Microsoft’s strategy.

Kinect represents an opportunity to shake off the western ‘shooter-box’ image and appeal to a wider domestic audience, and to that end Spencer is keen to foster lasting relationships with Japanese studios. We caught up with him at the show to discuss working with Japanese developers, their influence on Kinect’s design and its relevance to the territory.

To what extent has the design of Kinect been influenced by Japan?

Phil Spencer: It’s a good question. The way these platforms start is we incubate ideas about the future inside the company then when we feel like we have something that might be great, our internal studios and platforms reach out to our third party partners and share early technology ideas with them. In Japan, we’ve been lucky enough to have some great partner support across the whole ecosystem – from platform, console, Live and Kinect – and Last year at TGS we had the creators’ panel with Inafune-san and Kojima-san. It’s been well over a year that we’ve been engaged – Japanese creators are playing a really important role in shaping what Kinect is.

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Given that living spaces in Japan are typically small, how viable is Kinect in the territory?
PS: Well, this is why we’re here, why we have teams in Japan and why we build games in Japan. Europe is very different, going from France, to the UK, to Italy, to southern Europe – all very different tastes, all very different interests. Having developers and a developer platform around the world so that we get regional interest and content is really, really important to us. So having a team here in Japan, based in Tokyo, and working with Japanese developers from the beginning is fundamental to our platform.

Microsoft PR: We’ve done extensive playtest environments looking at different types of living rooms – flats in Europe, apartments in Tokyo etc. We feel very good about what the play-space environment looks like and we don’t have any concerns about that.

But Kinect seems to work best when stood around two metres from the sensor – many Japanese players will need to move the sofa out of the way to play…
PS: This is where David’s point is exactly right. We’ve done extensive testing here, and our play-space requirements are no different from the play-space environments of the Wii, for example. Now, living spaces are very different so I can’t promise there will be no furniture moved to make Kinect work [laughs], but I probably couldn’t  promise the same for the Wii or other experiences like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. We went through an internal beta phase, now we’re in external with real families using the product and gathering feedback.

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Wii has a significant installed userbase in Japan, how will Kinect attract those players?
PS: I’m not going to focus so much on getting the Wii out of the way. For us, it’s about getting people to experience Kinect and make a decision on whether they want to purchase it, and make it part of their entertainment life. I’m going to say this because I’m the game guy: I think it’s about the experiences. Nobody longs for this piece of plastic next to their TV, right?

That simply enables the experiences that they see on screen that will delight them, inspire them and cause somebody to go buy the content. So for us, it’s been about making sure we have great content there for a broad set of people, from very casual gamers to core gamers, and letting those experiences be the things that drive people’s decisions. With the fifteen launch games, and the continued first party and third party support that we’re going to have on a global basis, we’ll have the content line-up that will convince people that Kinect is for them.

A lot of companies are talking up Kinect’s arcade potential. Do you have any plans to create arcade titles which use the technology?
PS: That’s the first time I’ve had that question. We have no plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, right? We start with what we think is core to us, which is ‘entertaining in the home’ – that’s why we’re in this space. But as the technology and experiences evolve, it will be an interesting area to keep an eye on. I would hope that we would have the level of success that Kinect would be perceived as a natural addition to their in home and out of home experiences.