Why Phil Harrison joined Microsoft
In March, when Microsoft hired Phil Harrison, it was widely assumed that it was his time at Sony that got him the job. Harrison, however, tells us that while that was no doubt a factor, it was what he did in the years following his departure from Sony that were key.
Speaking to us at E3 last week, Harrison, once president of Sony's Worldwide Studios and now corporate vice-president of Microsoft's IEB division, bemoaned the "lazy" headlines – "Sony bloke joins Microsoft," as he puts it – that followed his appointment. Lazy, perhaps, but understandable; Harrison was a core member of the team that launched every console in the PlayStation family, and was widely perceived as the public face of PS3 in its early days.
Following his departure from Sony in 2007, Harrison joined Infogrames as president, and in 2010 he co-founded London Venture Partners, which invested in and advised UK mobile, social and cloud videogame companies. That made him the ideal man for Microsoft, whose E3 conference made it abundantly clear that the company's plans extend far beyond console gaming.
"[That experience] is incredibly relevant, and I believe it's one of the reasons why they wanted me to be part of the team," he told us. "I think there's been some lazy headline writing … [but] that's not really what it is.
"It's the four years I've spent in the middle, working with mobile companies, with social and cloud companies, investing in businesses, understanding new business and audience engagement models. That, I think, is giving me a toolbox to play with which is very relevant to the future of Microsoft and Xbox."
That future, of course, remains shrouded in secrecy, but Harrison admits that what drew him to Microsoft was "the strength of the vision. I signed an NDA, and was exposed to the future roadmap of the company going many years into the future and that, combined with the talent in the senior leadership team, was what convinced me to join."
That Microsoft has the financial means to do pretty much as it pleases, of course, was also a factor, and Harrison praises the "amazing resources" at his disposal. The immediate focus is on SmartGlass, the cross-platform, second-screen technology that will launch later this year. That, Harrison says, neatly encapsulates what drew him to Microsoft, and vice versa.
"It's a really complicated technical problem to solve – to get the integration seamlessly play and resume on different devices and move content from the screen to the touch device, and vice versa, via the cloud," he said. "I think Microsoft is one of a small handful of companies on the planet that has the capability to do it."