Xbox Reborn: Shane Kim Interview 2009
Corp VP talks future of Xbox: Revealing chat looks at his new role, the reshuffled Game Studios, why Natal could only have come from Microsoft and swiping Sony's exclusives.
Since our last meeting with Shane Kim well over a year ago, the Xbox exec has switched gears from boss of Microsoft Game Studios to a new a strategy and business development role for the entire Xbox business, probably meaning he's got clearance to a few extra floors at the Redmond Mothership these days.
Shane's a great Xbox exec to interview: he always seems to give you something. He knows how this whole interview thing works - he might not confirm the next Xbox (that's old news!), but he usually gives you the snippet you hope for after spending thousands of dollars going all over the world to pester him.
Our new interview with Shane was no exception; it covers everything you'd expect - his new role, Natal and the challenges it faces, the changing perception of the Xbox brand, completing the third-party IP collection, what next for Halo and... handhelds.
Kikizo: So you've been in a new role for about a year now. Can you tell me how it's been working out for you?
Kim: Yeah, well you know I ran Microsoft Game Studios which is of course an important part of the overall Xbox programme. And I moved to a strategy and business development role for the entire Xbox business. So my purview is a little bit broader. Of course, most of what we do in Xbox really is about taking a programmatic approach to what we do - hardware, software, content, marketing, sales etc. And so this job gives me that opportunity really, to take that higher level view, to work with Don and the other executives and make sure that everything's aligned behind the same strategy. Makes sense in theory, but it's actually sometimes difficult to put into reality! I think Project Natal's a great example of something like that. Natal's going to touch everything that we do - there's an awful lot of system-level software that goes into that. Hardware, obviously - and we need the content to light that up. And it's just making sure all out resources are aligned behind our top priorities, and that's what you're seeing now!
Kikizo: Business development must be fragmented in a company like this. We heard a lot of announcements recently like Facebook, can you give examples of things you've made happen?
Kim: To your point, I think business development happens at all levels. I was not involved in the Facebook deal, or the Netflix deal, or Sky. I know about them, but I'm not taking an active role in those - we've got great people who are those things. I'm probably working on... well, I know I'm working on some things you haven't heard about yet, but will hopefully hear about soon, that I think will be equally exciting and impactful as some of the other recent things we've done. When I took the job a year ago, it was a good point in time for the Xbox business. Don and I agreed that we really needed to take a step back and think harder about our longer term strategy. What do we want to be when we grow up? Natal was under development, and has obviously come a long way. How do we weave Live and Natal all together? And I think we've actually made great strides there, and we've had to make some hard decisions in terms of resources and getting the organisation aligned behind our priorities, but I think we've made great progress as well. And now, I get to turn a little bit more attention towards some of the strategic partnerships that can have a very big impact on our business, that align with the strategy that we've put in place.
Kikizo: I am sure you still keep an eye on Game Studios though as it's your baby those last few years, Phil Spencer is running that now, what do you think makes him the man for that job?
Kim: We worked together for a long time, and when I took over in 2004, Phil immediately became my right hand man. And so Phil has a tremendous amount of experience, not only at Microsoft Game Studios but also at Microsoft in general. So he's one of those guys who can take that broader Microsoft perspective, which is very useful to have in a company like ours. We worked together for a long time, but he's his own man and comes at it from a different perspective, but is well respected internally within the organisation; I think more people externally need to get to know Phil more and more, and that's happening. But Phil is a great guy to run Game Studios and take it to the next level.
Kikizo: The gamers have not seen much of him either though, whereas you and Ed Fries were both very visible.
Kim: To me, it's great to hear you say that because I actually think we need to improve that. Because Phil should be the guy who speaks for Microsoft Game Studios - he's much closer to it, he knows the organisation, he knows what he wants from it - it really is his...
Kikizo: Is he just scared to get up on stage at E3?
Kim: It's not just the stage stuff! And Phil could speak for the Xbox program in general just like anybody else could as a senior guy in the organisation. But Phil is doing a tonne of press as well - it'll take some time. For me actually it was interesting because I took over from Ed, and Ed's departure was relatively abrupt, and he was so visible, that I just got thrust into it immediately! Ours was a little bit more of a natural transition. But Phil's doing all the press relating to Microsoft Game Studios.
PR Guy: I would just add onto that, that Phil for the last six months the team has reall been focusing down looking at, what's the long term strategy and the future of the business, and making some organisation decisions around that. And so it really wasn't the right time for Phil to come out and say hey, here's my vision for MGS and where it's going, but I can't tell you about all the projects that I'm redeploying people towards, such as Natal, and some of the Live-enabled games that we're working on. We're in a different place now that the cat's out of the bag and Phil can stand up and say, here's where we're going.