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The Big Fries

Co-founder of the Xbox project Ed Fries talks cloud, software innovation and the potential for new hardware

Ed Fries is a man in the rare and enviable position of being able to pick his projects. His eighteen years at Microsoft, during which time he was the driving force behind Microsoft Game Studios and co-founder of the Xbox project, have left him with a unique perspective on the games industry and how it works. That experience has led to board positions with companies like Z2Live and the Pacific Science Centre, as well as advisory roles at Razer, Smoking Gun and Emotiv Systems.

In some senses, his career has come almost full circle - he recently took advantage of some of the goodwill he earned from working closely with Bungie to code Halo 2600, an Atari 2600 title set in the Halo universe - a fitting hobby for a man who once worked for Atari itself. Here, Fries talks about his forthcoming presentation at Nordic Game, his current projects and what the future may hold.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat can you tell us about your Nordic Game presentation?
Ed Fries

The speech is going to be along the lines of what I've been talking about recently, it's mostly for fun. I talk about writing Halo 2600 and use that as an excuse to talk about bigger issues in the games business. I guess if I was going to summarise, it'd be that.

GamesIndustry.bizHalo 2600 was an interesting project - you seem to have been involved in a lot of those since leaving Microsoft. How do you choose the projects you're going to work on? Is it purely a matter of personal preference?
Ed Fries

I think that's right. Maybe the project appeals to me or the people working on it. Mostly I'm just trying to stay involved in the games business, but do it in a way that fits with my life. My two boys are six and nine now, I like to be involved in helping them to grow up. Maybe some day they'll get involved in the business, that'd be fun.

So mostly what I do is try and avoid having a full time job. [laughs] But I do keep busy too. I'm on the boards of a bunch of companies, I run a little company called Figure Print. I've enjoyed getting back into programming, that's something I've always loved to do.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat's been your favourite project of the last few years?

I like being on the boards of companies, being an advisor - but after a while, it's not hands on enough for me.

Ed Fries

That's a hard question. I'm not sure I have a favourite - I kind of move from one thing to another and generally just do things that I enjoy. I like being on the boards of companies, being an advisor - but after a while, it's not hands on enough for me. I think that's what leads me to do things like Figure Print or Halo 2600 or something where I can really be in there myself, making things happen, as opposed to giving advice to other people.

I like to have a mix of those things.

GamesIndustry.bizOne of the advisory positions you hold is with Razer, so some people have speculated that you're involved with the Switchblade project - is there anything you can tell us about that?
Ed Fries

That's some good fishing right there. [laughs] I'll say a couple of things. I've been involved with Razer for over a year, they just didn't announce it until recently. The announcement was relatively coincidental with the announcement of Switchblade - the releases were close to each other. Also they showed Switchblade running World of Warcraft so people kind of put those things together and decided I was working on Switchblade, which isn't necessarily true.

Like most of the companies I'm an advisor to, I help them out in a lot of different ways, usually with connections or maybe I'll hear about a person who's available that they'll want to hire or some new technology. For example, I just had some Razer people in town and I took them to the University of Washington to look at some new technology that was being developed in the labs there, which I thought might be useful for Razer for a future product.

That's the kind of thing that I do - the thing about Switchblade was speculation in the media.

GamesIndustry.bizYour freedom to pick and choose projects and stay on the move seems like a big factor in choosing what it is you're going to be doing next. Would you ever consider another full-time position at a platform holder or a publisher?
Ed Fries

I don't think so! [laughs] Honestly, I kind of like my life the way it is. I've built the life I want to have. I enjoy working with a lot of different people on a lot of different projects and I have the freedom to dive in a little more deeply if I want to.

To me it would be a little bit like going backwards. I enjoyed my time doing that job, there's definitely some big pluses and minuses to doing it. Right now I like travelling less, having more time for my family and having more time to work on projects that interest me personally.