Xbox 720 is more than likely to hit the market before PS4 - Microsoft has been talking with key developers - and yesterday's hiring of former Sony Computer Entertainment executive Phil Harrison could spell very good things for the platform holder.
Harrison was an inspirational force at Sony, unifying global product strategy, spearheading the user-generated content movement with LittleBigPlanet, and pushing for more openness on PSN for developers. Furthermore, at London Venture Partners he showed huge interest in emerging mobile, social and cloud technologies.
We believe that Harrison's background will be a huge asset to Microsoft, as he will likely help solidify the company's entire strategy around Xbox, Windows and mobile (Windows Phone). This will be especially important as Microsoft prepares its next console.
GamesIndustry International spoke with several leading analysts to get their respective takes on Harrison's impact.
Lewis Ward, IDC Research Manager
I suspect this means a combo of 3 things:
MS has a significantly smaller X360 installed base in WE than it does in NA and that Phil H may be able to help drive additional sales there partly through ramping up more 3rd party game and content/video partnerships.
Secondly, MS is viewed as being somewhat tougher to work with in the developer community so bringing on a former Sony/SCEE exec may be read as a sign that IEB is seeking to soften some of its sharp edges.
Thirdly, I now suspect the next-gen Xbox will launch toward the end of 2013. The fact that Phil H was on the board of Gaikai is interesting since I think the next-gen Xbox will have a strong cloud focus and so his arrival may also be about laying the groundwork for next-gen connected console services in Europe.
Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities
I do think he will have an impact. My understanding is that he and Don Mattrick go way back, and I think Don values Phil's contribution. Peter Molyneux was nominally in charge of European development, but I think Peter was very much focused on his own studio, and think that Microsoft may have missed opportunities.
Phil has managed at the highest level, is extremely well-connected and knowledgeable about the industry, and he has Mattrick's respect. Phil Spencer (Harrison's boss) is a great guy, very much the kind of manager who empowers his employees, and I think that the three of them will work well together to accomplish great things. You're right that Microsoft is interested in evolving its strategy to be more all-encompassing, and I think Phil H. brings an interesting perspective.
Billy Pidgeon, M2 Research
Phil Harrison could be very effective in that role. Phil can not only help Microsoft improve the position of Xbox 360 in Europe, but he could also help Microsoft provide games and interactive entertainment for mobile devices that will boost take-up of Windows Mobile.
I think Phil will bring strong ideas and execution to Microsoft's efforts in building out better experiences across devices on Xbox Live. His strong connections with European developers may lead to some acquisitions and will help Microsoft to prepare content for the next generation hardware launch.
Colin Sebastian, RW Baird
I think it's a smart hire by Microsoft, as you say, with some of the online and mobile initiatives. In particular, as Xbox becomes more of a multimedia platform for the home, he is probably the right person at the right time in Europe. It also tells me that Microsoft is still dedicated to producing top tier games in Europe.
David Cole, DFC Intelligence
I think the biggest impact of Phil Harrison will be increasing the European business. MS has been very strong in North America, not so strong in Europe. I think there is a huge opportunity for MS to expand its core Europe business and that is where Phil may have the strongest impact. That is a huge potential growth opportunity for the Xbox platform.