Feb 23, 2007

Microsoft Looking for Ways to Thump Game Development Staff?

According to this article, from Gamasutra - Microsoft has recently taken on in a relatively mysterious capacity, and old stalwart from our favourite "friend" of workers in the game development industry - Electronic Arts.

Don Mattrick's job description is vague, "advisory," and temporary - which of course, is CEO-eze for "downsizer"

The timing of Mr Gates' latest HR acquisition is predictable. The production costs for his XBOX 360 and its components/software is smack in the middle of the three industry contenders. Sony's PS3 in the high end of the spectrum with software developers complaining of the expensive development costs associated with righting for the systems ground-breaking (and yet untested) "Cell Processor."

The XBOX 360 is nowhere near, however, the low costs associated with the more accesable Wii. The Wii's games are by now means revolutionary graphically, and the plus side of that factor is how familiar the technically inferior hardware is to programmers. Real eye-openers might be possible on the PS3, but with a stunted console install base, combined with higher per-unit production costs - developers are undoubtedly realizing that to turn a profit on PS3 games, they would have to sell 2 or 3 times as many as they would were the game done on the Wii instead... and that ain't easy when there's fewer people who could even play the game in the market.

This dynamic would have worked in Microsoft's favour had the Wii not been such a quick-start out of the gates... and now Gates is finding himself having to make moves to identify with the newer and expanding section of the market being generated by Nintendo.

And bottom line, that means lowering production costs to increase profitability to a level that will help shorten their losses while they attempt to increase their install base.

At least, this is what's going through the heads of Microsoft's executives, and so as all good CEO's do when they want to re-assure investors - they begin laying off workers while attacking the compensation levels of those who are allowed to remain.

And what better way to facilitate that process, than to hire the best in the biz as an advisor?

Hence the news about
Don Mattrick's hiring.

If past moves by EA are any indication, then Microsoft workers can expect efforts to eke out from them, increased unpaid overtime hours during so-called "crunch-times"

Consumers can expect a number of new creative ways extract from them, user fees on "value-added" components of the game they already paid for.

It's really too bad that they'll try to pull the savings out of the workforce instead of recognizing that the mistake has already been made - and it lies in their emphasis placed on the so-called "Graphics Arms-Race." What they fail to recognize, is that the success of Nintendo's Wii is not in how little it pays it's production staff - but how their decision to release a more competitively-priced, accessable piece of hardware, more in tune with the wallets of the market is what will eventually sell games and turn a profit. The ironic side of Nintendo's strategy is that programmers writing for the Wii, giving its comparative hardware limitations, will be forced to find more innovative ways to make games enjoyable. This means focus on gameplay, rather than using spasm-inducing eye-candy as a crutch behind which programmers can hide because their gameplay sucks.

Sony, with their PS3, in so many respects, are making the same mistakes Sega made with the Sega CD. Too much reliance on flashy visuals, and to hell with how fun the game is.

And ultimately, Sega learned that eye-candy is only nice to look at for so long, and then you want to eat it. And if it tastes like shit, then you certainly won't be taking any more bites anytime soon.

Spending even fewer resources on game development, undoubtedly to be the key recommendation from EA's Don Mattrick to Microsfot bigwhigs, will only sour the taste of their eye-candy.

February 23, 2007

Microsoft Hires Ex-EA Exec In “Advisory Role”

Microsoft Hires Ex-EA Exec In “Advisory Role” According to a news report in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft has hired ex-Electronic Arts executive Don Mattrick in an “advisory role” to work on strategy for the company’s PC and Xbox games divisions.

Mattrick was previously considered as heir apparent to current Electronic Arts CEO Larry Probst, but left the company in 2005 after expressing disdain for the idea of running a public company. Mattrick was one of the co-founders of Distinctive Software (DSI), the foundation of what is now EA Canada. His final role at the company, before leaving, was as worldwide president of studios.

Although he has experience of handling high profile franchises including The Sims, Need for Speed and SSX, Mattrick’s exact role at Microsoft is unclear. His role is not full-time, and he will be based in Vancouver rather than Microsoft’s Redmond offices.

The Wall Street Journal article quotes Microsoft’s Peter Moore as saying that Mattrick will assist with “a broad array of tasks including helping [Microsoft’s] own game studios", indicating that Mattrick's long development and production history are likely to be utilized to increase efficiencies.

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