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Chris Lewis - Part Three

Microsoft's Euro chief talks Windows 7, Metacritic, second-hand games and the Byron Review consultation results

In the first two parts of the wide-ranging GamesIndustry.biz interview with Microsoft's VP for the Interactive Entertainment Business in the EMEA region, Chris Lewis, he talked on the subjects of the New Xbox Experience, the power of marketing and the success of the Xbox 360 platform in the past year.

Here he gives his thoughts on the Games For Windows campaign, as well as touching on Windows 7, the Metacritic debate, and why second-hand game sales are an important part of the ecosystem.

GamesIndustry.biz PC gaming is still pretty popular for certain genres, so how do you feel that the Games For Windows campaign has progressed - is there more development planned there?
Chris Lewis

We're happy there, and we're very mindful that there's a strong and vibrant PC gaming community out there. Not all console games lend themselves to the PC - when it is appropriate we bring games to both platforms, when it's not we don't, and that will continue to be the case.

Ultimately we're a Windows and PC company at heart, and that's not going to change, and the development on both platforms will remain central and important. The business ebbs and flows, and there will be times when we do more on one platform than the other, but they do co-exist very nicely, and as a company we're in a pretty unique position that we have a strong legacy on PC.

We now have a similarly robust position on console, but we're excited about all screen sizes, whether they be phones, consoles via the television, or PC. We're uniquely placed to offer a very rich experience on all of those screen types to consumers, and we'll continue to invest across all platforms.

We remain focused on it, you'll see more from us there in the future, and long may that continue.

GamesIndustry.biz Are you aware of any changes in the next Windows platform that are specifically aimed at the gaming community?
Chris Lewis

Windows 7 will be great for games, undoubtedly. It's all good news - it's even more robust, it's quicker relatively, and the early testing cycles are proving very promising overall. I think it'll be nothing but good news for PC gamers, but we'll have more to say on that later on this year.

GamesIndustry.biz The subject of Metacritic has been discussed a lot recently as a basis for building developer deals - what are your thoughts on the service? Clearly it's always helpful to have a metric for success, but is it taken too seriously sometimes?
Chris Lewis

I think you touched on it there - it's only one measure, but it's a very important measure, and one we do focus on. We talk about our Metacritic as regards games that are our own, and others, and we focus on that as you'd expect.

And actually we enjoy a very good experience, because our games score probably higher than anybody's - so in that regard, hey, it's a great measure. Is it the only metric? No, of course not. It's one that can be very effectively used in combination with a number of other factors that you'd consider in terms of the success, or likely success of a game.

But it's hard for me to comment on whether we'd further legitimise it in a central way to the way we work with publishers or not - I'm not sure I have a strong view on that, other than to say it's one thing we look at. It's industry-wide, and therefore a relatively generic measure that's quite important and attractive for that reason. It's something that invariably comes up when we review games.

It'll probably be an ongoing topic of conversation, and it may well come up in the coming weeks and months. I'm not sure I'd make it particularly central or pivotal to the way you work with a third party, or somebody who's developing a game, but I think it's one factor that you would bring in.

GamesIndustry.biz Even though it's not really comparing apples with apples, when you factor in that the same score from one outlet isn't necessarily comparable to the same score from a different outlet?
Chris Lewis

Not always, I agree, and there are certain factors that can influence the outcome that make it perhaps not truly generic in the way that we inside the industry think about it. So I agree, it does carry some risk in that regard, which I think is another reason why we generally want to be cautious before we make it truly central to the way that we operate with games developers. It's not 100 per cent consistently applied across everything.

But it's still a very tangible and credible metric to use, as long as it's used in concert with other things. There is some subjectivity involved, because people are involved, and it's not a binary or mechanical process - but there's a high level of expertise in terms of those people that are involved in it.

I tend to think, and we have this discussion often internally with our own tools and systems. People can say that something isn't accurate, because it doesn't include this, that or the other, but my feeling is that if it's consistently inaccurate, at least I can still use it for trajectory as a bellwether - but I know it should carry a health warning on it, in my mind at for other people here at Microsoft.

I'm not talking about Metacritic necessarily, but any measurement system. As long as you know, and you're going to check and balance that metric with other things, that's fine.

GamesIndustry.biz Sega's Mike Hayes recently told GamesIndustry.biz that while he didn't like the retail practice of selling second-hand games, he acknowledged that it was a part of the business - what is your stance on that?
Chris Lewis

Well, I'm a fan of the ecosystem overall. I can see the positive in it, because I can see that what you then get is more and more people touching, playing, experiencing a game that they may not otherwise have access to.

I think you've got to try and extract some positive from it, and that's undoubtedly a good factor - a positive swirl of ecosystem that results. Clearly it's a reality, and certain retailers are very focused and spend a lot of time on it. It's good business for them.

But I think things like premium downloadable content, and that kind of thing, will ultimately play a part in used games - and that's not me saying that it's a great way for us to try and minimise that. I think it will be a great enhancement to the way that people experience games. If some additionally content is available via the Xbox Live service, for instance, that further enriches the game experience and might encourage folks to hang on their games for a bit longer.

I think all of those things can co-exist, so I have a pretty balanced view on it frankly. It is what it is, and from the ecosystem point of view it's a positive thing. I think you will see more premium downloadable content, from us and out partners, which may start to play a part on whether second-hand games sales grow or don't grow.

GamesIndustry.biz Just finally, the results of the public consultation on age ratings, off the back of the Byron Review, are expected at some point soon - what are your feelings there?
Chris Lewis

We're big Pegi fans here, and a good, strong European standard is precisely what we'd espouse. I know that the proposal went in from the industry just before Christmas, so we're sitting here with baited breath waiting for the outcome of that... but from our point of view we're very much supporters of the pan-European standard.

Chris Lewis is EMEA VP for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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