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Rare Breeds

Studio head Scott Henson on Kinect, Avatars and the future of motion sports

For many years, Rare was synonymous with Nintendo, producing a number of defining titles for N64 including Donkey Kong Country and the classic FPS Goldeneye. In 2002 that all changed when Microsoft paid a record $375 million to acquire a controlling stake in the company. Since then the UK studio has played an important role in the publisher's gameplan, designing both Microsoft Avatars and the continuing dashboard updates.

More recently, the company's attentions have turned to Kinect, producing top-selling Kinect title Kinect Sports. Brought in to oversee that new direction is Microsoft veteran Scott Henson, who has been invovled in the development of Xbox Live since day one. Below, GamesIndustry.biz quizzes him on what's next for Rare.

GamesIndustry.bizCongratulations on winning the BAFTA with Kinect Sports. Especially good to break into what is perhaps not really traditionally Microsoft home ground.
Scott Henson

We are very honoured to win it. Thank you very much for that.

GamesIndustry.bizHow has it fared, in terms of sales units? I know it appears in the top ten and I believe it was the best selling Kinect game in the opening week. It's hung around a bit longer than a lot of the others. Without going into specific numbers and details, how do the sales of it hold up compared to another flagship Microsoft product?
Scott Henson

What I would say, we are the number one Kinect title. I think you also know the sales of Kinect, right? We have sold more than 10 million units of Kinect. We are very pleased with the progress so far. I'm also someone, who's not only a big fan of video games, but also a big fan of sports. I'm optimistic about the category, in general, being a very evergreen category and continuing to invite people in. In terms of first party products, it's exactly I think, what you would consider a hallmark. It leads in innovation. It's doing very well in the market place. It's showing what's possible with this rich canvas, that I would call Kinect, doing great.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you think this success is going to turn into an IP rather than just a title? I would presume there are at the very least thoughts about a sequel or DLC, if those things aren't already happening?
Scott Henson

You know, the first thing I would say is we are very pleased with the success. You've seen DLC that we did in December to extend the life of it. Obviously, Xbox Live is a key part of what we do, both multiplayer and adding on to the experience. Without getting into specific details of things that we haven't announced yet what I would expect is that we will continue to investigate and explore and innovate with Xbox Live experiences, with Kinect experiences. As I said, the category of sports in general, gives us an opportunity to explore those areas.

GamesIndustry.bizAnd how are things going with Avatar Chat? I understand that is your big project at the moment.
Scott Henson

I can't comment on that. Because, we are actually not leading the development for Avatar Chat. We obviously did lead the development for Avatars - and it's exciting to see all the different experiences that have been created with Avatars. I think there are some really exciting things that team is doing.

 
GamesIndustry.bizDo you see more applications using Avatars? Is it something you are trying to integrate more fully with the gaming experience? I know you did it to a certain extent with things like Keflings and a couple of other games. Is that something you want to see involved in more games and projects?
Scott Henson

Before I came to Rare a few months ago, I was working on Xbox Live, the new dashboard, the hardware, software, industrial design. A big part of that partnership from the top down perspective of avatars was to enable all different kinds of experiences for avatars. And so, from my old job, if I put my old hat on, it's very gratifying to see all these different experiences. Whether they're on the phones, whether they're on the PC, whether they're on the Xbox, whether they're games. Whether they are, what you might call, an application. Yeah, it's exciting. It's exciting from a Rare perspective. Thirty million members are all connected into this avatar universe of experiences.

GamesIndustry.bizWe talked about the sales of Kinect earlier. It's probably fair to say that they exceeded the expectations of a lot of analysts. Was that in line with Microsoft and Rare's projections for sales? Or were you kind of pleasantly surprised with those as well?
Scott Henson

Well, I don't remember a conversation about a Guinness Book of World Records. That's what I would say [laughs]. It's an honour to be able to say after 60 days we've sold 10 million units. That's pretty fantastic. You never know, I've been on Xbox for ten years. Before the original Xbox, before Xbox Live, before Xbox 360. We are always cautiously optimistic. We think we've got something. We think we are building something for the future. We think it's got great legs and a great future. And Kinect was very much that same way. We're pleased, that's what I'd say.

GamesIndustry.bizThe stuff that's currently going at Rare, I presume there's general Kinect focus at the studio now, as well as the dashboard. Is that set to become the main studio focus, or will you perhaps start moving back into what are more traditional or historical Rare properties?
 
Scott Henson

What I'd say is that Kinect is in it's early days, even still. It's a huge, rich canvas. We are going to continue to explore that. In the months and years ahead, are we going to be limited? No, we're not going to be limited. We are going to continue to innovate. We are going to continue to look at new areas to explore. Kinect will be a key part of that.

 

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