Interview with Microsoft Casual Games
On October 27 at the Austin Game Conference, GameDev.net's own John Hattan interviewed Microsoft Casual Games' own Chris Early and Shawn McMichael.
First off, I see you've got the Xbox 360 out there. And when I think of the Xbox, I don't think of casual games. I think of going to Electronics Boutique or whatever game-shop and buying the most 3D testosterone-laden shooter and playing it on a 60-inch television. I don't think of playing a Tetris knockoff or Collapse or something akin to that. Can you tell us about Microsoft Casual Games and that perception?
Not really. I'm familiar with Microsoft Game Zone.
How hard are you stressing community? When I think of casual gaming, I don't often think of community. Usually I think of games like Bejeweled, where I pop up the game, I drag the jewels around for a bit, and then either the game ends or I get bored and I shut it down. I haven't really interacted with anyone. With the online games, I often think of a more community-type thing.
So I'm not competing against some kid in Burundi with five million points.
Yeah, there's not much point playing pool against a computer.
Yeah, I understand. My wife had to uninstall spades from her computer because it was such a huge time sponge. It was like crack, only worse. She would stay up until 3:00 in the morning and I'd have to come over to the computer to see if she was okay.
I notice we have a lot of cell phones here. I see three people and four cell phones, so I know there's something you want to show me.
Oh, don't give that to me. If you give that to me, I'll start playing it and the interview will be over.
No, I saw it out on the booth.
Yeah I see.
That brings up a question. How tough is it to design for that paradigm? For example, we have a Nokia series 60 phone here which has about as much computing power as my watch versus an Xbox 360 which has more computing power than the entire planet had in 1975. And you have to come out with a game on both without it being completely hideous to play on one.
[announcer voice over expo floor] We now have free beer available in the lounge.
Okay, interview over!
[announcer voice over expo floor] Beer will be available until 6:00 PM.
Well, we've got about four hours worth of free beer. I guess we can continue.
It seems like you're working with a lot of non-Microsoft technologies here. For example, you've got a non-SmartPhone here. I presume if you're playing a game on the web you're using some kind of non-Microsoft technology to script the game. Whatever is filling up that box on the web page, unless it's an ActiveX control, is some kind of Flash or Java or Shockwave or something.
Yeah, it seems like not normal Microsoft behavior.
How closely are you working with other game developers? For example, the big success you guys had early on was Bejeweled, which was developed by PopCap. In fact, I think they even had their own name for it.
I remember playing it on the Microsoft site, then playing what was obviously the same game over on the PopCap site and saying "what gives here? This is obviously the same game. Who started this?" What relationship do you have with other game publishers or content creators?
Tell me a little bit about how that works. Let's say I message my wife and I say "Shelly do you want to play chess?" What happens then?
What's the technology behind that fly-out window? Is that an executable program somebody writes?
So basically the higher-level infrastructure is there. For example that Spades game that I talked about. They had to write their own chat program. Somebody had to write a complete chat program, but since Messenger is a chat program, so there's no need to write that.
Yeah, I don't want to write a chat program.
"How would a person get Microsoft's attention" would be my next question. If I'm a PopCap and I come up with a great new game, then you guys are going to play it. If I'm Joe Somebody and I come up with a cute little casual Flash game, how would I get your attention?
Did I miss anything? Any questions I should have asked?
Just one more quick question about logistics. Let's say I get my Xbox 360 and I hook up to Xbox Live Arcade, what kind of download times am I looking at? What is the package that gets sent to my machine?
For the little spinning hexagons game out there, that's downright luxurious.
Thanks much for your time. Enjoy the rest of the conference!
Interview conducted by John Hattan