Microsoft: Natal is huge investment "fraught with risk"
New tech has presented challenges but Spencer predicts it will be as important as XBLA
Microsoft VP of games Phil Spencer has said the company's decision to launch motion control hardware is "a huge investment" and one that's fraught with risk.
"If there isn't risk in Natal then I don't know what's keeping me up at night," said the exec, in an interview with Eurogamer. "We're trying something completely new where there's no device in your hand. We're trying to build a set of new games, new experiences that will have the same quality metrics of our past games, but really entice both existing 360 customers and new people. It's a huge challenge, a huge investment and it's fraught with risk."
Responding to accusations that Microsoft has historically taken fewer risks than Sony when it comes to first-party development, Spencer pointed to both Natal and Xbox Live as examples of the company pushing forward new ideas.
"When I look at Live and I think about the innovations in the XBLA space and the games that we've pushed forward, I actually would have agreed that a couple of years ago I thought some of the things we were doing online were not differentiated enough," he admitted.
"But when I look at the last year and the set of games that has come out from us in the Live space - we brought that XBLA focus into the first-party studios about a year ago, and I think the change in the quality of games that have come out is remarkable."
The studio currently has a number of creative people working on Natal titles, he said, adding that it was not being "overly-prescriptive" in the kinds of experiences that were being built, instead letting key creative talent experiment with the technology.
Resulting games would not naturally end up being casual ones, he said - instead he expects the Natal experience to feature in almost all games in the future.
"In terms of segmenting by genre or hardcore vs. non-hardcore, you should expect that over the years you'll see Natal experiences show up on almost all of the games - similar to the way you do with Live today. At the beginning of Live it was all about sports, racing and shooting games. Now if you found a game that didn't have some kind of Live functionality it would seem like it wasn't a complete game. I think Natal is likely to get there as well."
Earlier this month, it was revealed an internal chip had been dropped from Natal's final spec - predicted to be a result of cost-cutting.
Spencer refused to be drawn on how exactly that had affected the games in development for the platform, but did say Microsoft was nothing but positive about the current technology.
"As you can imagine, there have been hundreds of decisions made on the technology," he said. "The goal is always to make the games better and the experiences better. In no way have we had to cut back on the development of the games we're doing - they're more feature-rich today than when we started them a year ago."
He also couldn't confirm whether Natal would retail at the rumoured price of below £50. But he pointed out how aware Microsoft was of the importance of pricing.
"We know that price is important. Xbox 360 has shown that we're conscious of price points, and I think the price drops we've done have resonated very well. The momentum we've had in '08 and '09 is a combination of the value of our platform and the content we have.
"We understand, going into Natal, it's the same equation - we have to offer experiences and hit price points which really resonate with consumers. This is a broad consumer product. It's for the entire audience which has 360s today and the millions of people who will buy 360s because of Natal. We understand that only works if we hit consumer price points."