Gaming at CES belongs to Microsoft. Bill Gates talked far more about games in his Sunday keynote than many expected, and announcements that Xbox Live will be launched on Vista this summer and that IPTV will be hitting Xbox 360 before the end of the year in the US have only added to a rising sense of confidence in the Microsoft camp.
While Sony only has a small showing of PlayStation 3 and PSP games at the huge Las Vegas electronics show, Microsoft is showing a full set of PC and Xbox 360 titles - including first-party action title Shadowrun as a multiplayer game between the two platforms.
When GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Microsoft games boss Peter Moore for an exclusive chat at CES, it quickly became clear that the "Mr Nice Guy" attitude has well and truly evaporated. He had some strong words for Sony, but also took the opportunity to congratulate fellow rival Nintendo on the launch of the Wii - showing the precipitation of a much-predicted alignment by Microsoft in the current console generation.
Q: GamesIndustry.biz: How does it feel to finally fully integrate gaming into Windows?
Peter Moore: It's been a lot of work running the Games for Windows group. We've been working on this for two years. It really started to pick up speed when a number of people came over to work in the gaming team because they were previously part of the Windows Group, kind of lost souls [laughs].
We've taken a lot of learning we had with Xbox and Xbox 360 and we're finally building a category, we're building a segment, and if you go to retail here in the US you'll see that we're building a brand. Our partners are with us.
Vista is so fortuitous and is a great operating system for games. As you saw in Bill's keynote, we now have the ability to pull both the console and the PC together. It's exciting times for us.
Regarding the moving of Live to Vista, is the blurring between PC and Xbox platforms all part of the grand gaming scheme?
I don't think there's a blurring. I think the consumer said, "We'd love to access our Live community features no matter where we are or what we're on." At E3 we showed Xbox 360 to PC to mobile phone, so step one in that is linking the Xbox 360 and the PC.
But the blurring of the lines comes at a community level, not necessarily at a gaming level, and we're responding to the community saying, "I want presence, I want to be able to see when my friends are online, and I don't want to have to wait until I get home to do it on my Xbox 360. I got my laptop, I'm at work, I want to be able to send a message to my friends because I can see they're coming online." We're just facilitating a community involvement.
Yeah, you can play games as well, and I think that's going to be very important, but there are not exactly going to be 300 games that are cross platform. There are going to be selective games. Shadowrun's one of the games we're focussing on. It's more about having access to the community and that's really what people want.
Live is now is a formidable position when it comes to online gaming. Chris Satchell [general manager of Microsoft's game development group] this morning described the PS3 online offering as a "disaster". Care to comment on that?
Those wacky Brits [laughs]. I think like anything else, when you're building a rich online experience, forget the back-end issues that took us two years. You've got to scale, you've got to load balance, you've got to build out in 32 countries, you've got to localise the dash.
It's taken a company like Microsoft four solid years to get where we are today - the richness of the experience, the consistency of the experience, constantly updating features and making it feel fresh - and we're a software company, and this is a software plane.
It is not in Sony's DNA to be able to get that up and running from zero. We learned from the get go that you want single gamer profiles, you want consistent presence. I want to know where you are and what you're playing.
It's going to take them a couple of years to get up to speed on this. And I'm not sure that they necessarily have the talent, or that it's built into who they are as a company.
They're struggling with some of their hardware issues, and apparently they're going to deliver another five million in the next 90 days. But this business is about hardware, software and services now. And the consumer expects that.
Sony announced earlier this week that they'd shipped 1 million units of PS3 into the US. When I spoke to them yesterday, they claimed this gave them an advantage over Xbox 360, that they're further ahead than Xbox 360 was at this stage in its lifecycle in the States. Would you agree with that?
I'll defer my comments. "Shipped," for the purpose of what they're talking about, is irrelevant. "Shipped" means it's left the factory. What we're talking about is "sold." "Sold" means that we're a wholesaler of hardware and we sell it to a retailer, and that's the important criteria.
From there you follow your sell-through data, but that data's less than perfect. I'll wait for NPD numbers and then maybe we'll compare NPD numbers.
Sony was very fond of saying a year ago that the first few months don't mean anything, anyway. So now they seem to me they've reversed that stance and they're saying, "In the first few months we're the winner."
They should also keep a focus on their friends to the north in Kyoto, who I think have done a very good job in getting inventory in, and who've created a lot of buzz in the consumer media. More power to them. They're expanding our industry and I have to applaud Nintendo for doing that.
I'll defer until I see real numbers, and NPD are the real numbers. I think we're a week away.
Peter Moore is vice president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business, entertainment and devices division. Interview by Patrick Garratt.