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Microsoft Really, Really Is Into PC This Time, Apparently

But Probably Don't Get Your Hopes Up Yet

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RPS’ D.I.C.E. Red Carpet Mean Pants Hard Question Corner returns! Honestly, I’ve been pushing for an interview with Microsoft about PC gaming for ages, but the titanic purveyor of Xs and bones has been less than receptive. Fortunately, the red carpet is nice in that there is, for roughly five minutes, NO ESCAPING. So Microsoft partner creative director Ken Lobb approached, and I lobbed every question about Microsoft’s latest (and five millionth) re-dedication to PC gaming I could think of. His responses were vaguely promising, but I’m obviously still skeptical. Here’s what happened. 

RPS: Your messaging on PC gaming as of late has been mixed. Some of your people have put it on level with mobile and tablet games while others have professed a new commitment to it. You also recently hired Steam’s former director of business development. Where is Microsoft at with PC gaming?

Lobb: So we love PC. It’s obviously a source of huge revenue for Microsoft. The reality is that in years past we were the Xbox division. Although many of us love playing on PC, we can only make so many games. We can only do so much.

Now we’re one [unified] Microsoft. I don’t see this as pressure. I see it as an opportunity. We have more support internally to support PC more. That’s great! My only expectation would be, please let us continue to do that over a five-year period so we can have real impact. That’s how it feels right now. We’re getting very strong support internally. So we’re really going after PC.

RPS: Will launches of games Microsoft has locked down as exclusives be concurrent on both Xbox and PC from now on?

Lobb: It’s my belief that the goal of a development team should be to make the best thing for each particular platform. So I think it makes sense to take Game A, maybe it’s exclusive on one of the platforms, but maybe you do some support games on the side platforms. Like, “Hey, I’ll do a big game here, and then I’ll do a tablet game or a smaller web thing, etc.”

Ubisoft did a great job last year. I played Kenway’s fleet on an iPad and I played Assassin’s Creed IV on an Xbox.

RPS: Yikes. Are you saying you consider PC to be a “side platform,” a la tablet or mobile? Other Microsoft developers have certainly suggested as much.

Lobb: Oh, not at all! What I’m saying is, that could very much potentially go the other way. Maybe there’s a big exclusive on PC and there’s an Xbox Live Arcade game to support it. Or a mobile game. It makes perfect sense to develop that way. Same ship, same parts. Maybe you buy one and get another free.

I think it really comes down to what the developer wants to do. It’s not that we think all games should – in some way or another – be on all platforms. Being in publishing, it’s sort of my role to help developers answer the question [of where they’d like their game to end up]. So a lot of that question is answered by, “OK developer, what do you want to do? We want to be here to help you.”

RPS: Do you have any major PC games or exclusives on the horizon?

Lobb: I can’t make any announcements. But we are very dedicated to that space.

RPS: Are you looking into traditional pay upfront triple-A products, or is Microsoft largely looking into free-to-play and/or browser stuff?

Lobb: Free-to-play, to me, is not a decision to be made as a business model at the end [of development]. It really comes down to what type of game are you building, developer, and how do you want to monetize it? Do you pay upfront, do you want to have DLC, do you want to have a sustainable ongoing experience, do you want to go after free-to-play?

It’s more about the game design than support for a particular monetization style. We don’t believe that to be on PC you must be free-to-play or microtransaction-based.

RPS: In the wake of years and years of disappointment – countless ons, offs, flip-flops, Games For Windows, etc – why should people think that this time is going to be any different?

Lobb: The only way we can build trust in our community is by making great games. The PC community is more vibrant than it’s ever been before. I love it. We build a platform and other people make games on top of it. We do things to help set up the development community, and we also love to make games for you.

RPS: So this is it? You’re committed to PC, even if, say, you face some initial setbacks or things don’t quite go according to plan?

Lobb: Absolutely.

RPS: OK then. We will hold you to that. Thank you for your time.

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Nathan Grayson

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