With confirmation that Don Mattrick has left his position as president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division to assume the role of CEO for popular social game services provider Zynga, there are concerns about who exactly will take over his previous position. There has been no confirmation thus far as to who will be assume Mattrick’s role but Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer has stepped in, to cover for Mattrick. Mattrick’s departure raises many questions as to whether all this has anything to do with the Xbox One debacle and his perceived mis-handling of the announcement of the next generation console. A more important question however, is who will take over the position at such a critical moment for Microsoft and its Entertainment Division? Whilst we do not know the answer to the question, we know who SHOULD take over.
For those that don’t know who James Allard is, he quite simply helped the Xbox brand become what it is today and is quite rightly regarded by many as ‘the Father of the Xbox’. He assumed control of the reins that steered the original Xbox in the direction that it assumed and lead the charge with some bold decisions such as convincing Bill Gates not to have the Xbox feature a Windows operating system as this would haemorrhage the machine’s ability to run video games. Allard was also responsible for the decision to only allow broadband only-ethernet connections on the Xbox, which, whilst controversial at the time, helped Xbox Live become the formidable service it is today.
There are many concerns about the direction (or should we say misdirection) in which Microsoft is heading with the Xbox One gaming platform. A curosry glance at Steve Ballmer’s e-mail sent to employees, proves why so many are worried;
“The consoles are incredible all-in-one devices with built-in services that consumers love, including Bing, Xbox Live, Internet Explorer, SkyDrive and Skype.”- Steve Ballmer, CEO at Microsoft
This ‘scattered’ focus is precisely what causes core gamers, the very people that helped make the Xbox brand the success it is today, so much concern and the manner in which Don Mattrick handled the Xbox One reveal proved just how disconnected he was with gamers. J Allard however, appears to be a complete antithesis to the likes Mattrick and Ballmer (and this might be one of the reasons for his departure from Microsoft in May 2010) and Allard always did a far better job of connecting with his audience with his down-to-earth demeanour and sincerety. James Allard for example, once agreed to be interviewed by OPM- the Official PlayStation magazine. He had this to say about the ‘fanboy-mentality’ that pervades the industry:
“one thing that bums me out about the videogame industry is that we’ve developed these camps or factions when we’re all gamers. Whether you’re making games, talking about games, or anything else, the factions we create can be a little unhealthy.” – James Allard
James Allard was always sincere but never afraid to speak his mind. For example, when asked by OPM to give his opinion on Sony’s approach to online gaming with regard to the PS3, he had this to say:
“It feels like they’re forced to talk about it more reactively. Phil Harrison seems to have stated on a few occasions in interviews that Sony is going to be more committed to it next round.”
But whilst he was critical, he was a gentleman about it:
“[SCE President Ken Kutaragi] has my number and I’d be happy to talk [with him] about it.” It’s damaging for the industry to have three different companies pursue three different theories of online [gaming]. If one company thought voice wasn’t important, or another company thought that voice was paramount, while a third company thought it was all about text-that’s tough for gamers.”
However, we should remember that this is all business after all, for Microsoft and being the good guy doesn’t always help. J Allard however, did show that he had the propensity to be ruthless when he needed to be.
“What gets me out of bed and into the office every day is the thought of Ken Kutaragi’s resignation letter, framed, hanging next to my desk”
Microsoft’s entertainment division needs someone who isn’t just another faceless suit (no dispresect intended) but someone who who can reinforce the original vision that helped propel Xbox into the video games industry. It needs someone who is a leader and a gamer. It needs someone who’s voice can resonate with the core and one that can reinforce confidence in the Xbox brand, which has suffered from tremendous negative PR. What Microsoft needs is James Allard, regardless of whether Steve Ballmer like this or not.