One of the most public faces of the Xbox project, Microsoft Game Studios boss Ed Fries, has left the company in order to pursue new opportunities, with COO Shane Kim taking over his role in an interim capacity.
The news was announced by Chief Xbox Officer Robbie Bach, who stated in a letter that "it is with regret that I inform you that I have reluctantly accepted Ed's resignation," going on to announce that a permanent successor is expected to be chosen before E3.
Fries' resignation comes after 18 years at the company, which he joined in 1985 as in intern at the Applications group. In his role as head of the game software division, he was responsible for assembling some of the best talent in PC and console game development to work for the publisher.
Tributes to his work at the company - which has secured hit titles including Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, Project Gotham Racing and Halo, as well as forthcoming games such as Fable, Halo 2, Sudeki and True Fantasy Live Online - were led by Bach himself, who commented that "Because of Ed's efforts, Microsoft Game Studios has never been stronger."
"Although we'll miss Ed, we hope he takes this opportunity to sit back, relax, and allow himself a moment to relish the contribution he's made to the company and the industry," he continued. "We wish him the very best, and look forward to Shane carrying forth the sceptre of excellence and innovation."
There's no doubt that Fries' work at Microsoft Game Studios was largely successful, not least since he was instrumental in making many of the highest profile names in development into advocates of the Xbox, and Microsoft's first party line-up for its console is certainly moving towards a footing where it can rival Nintendo's in terms of quality.
However, Fries has also come in for his fair share of criticism over the past few years, and the regular slippage of key Xbox titles has been particularly noted by his detractors - with last Christmas being a significant blot on the copybook of the studio. The fourth quarter of 2003 saw Nintendo shooting ahead of Microsoft in market share terms, with multiple project slippages meaning that the only truly major first party Xbox title was Project Gotham Racing 2.
However, a trait Fries had in common with many of his senior colleagues at Microsoft was a strong talent for survival - and he certainly confounded the expectations of most of his critics in this department. After two years of regular predictions that his head would roll as a scapegoat for poor Xbox sales, Fries has resigned from the company to the tune of high praise from Robbie Bach and tributes from many within the industry.
As for the man himself: "For me, I'm looking for a situation where I have a lot of freedom around the development of our products and the way those products come to market," he told CNN/Money. "I've had some of that to date, but not as much as I would like."
"I'm very grateful to everything Microsoft has done for me," he continued. "The closest thing I can relate this to is graduation. It's exciting to go on to something new but it's sad to leave at the same time."