Despite its popularity with millions of gamers, much has been made about Microsoft potentially spinning off its Xbox business. An exec from Vulcan Capital, the investment arm of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, supports the idea. Heck, even Stephen Elop — the Nokia executive who is rejoining Microsoft to head up the devices and services business — has even considered selling off Xbox.
But the man who helped create the Xbox more than a decade ago thinks that would be a very bad idea.
Ed Fries, who was the head of Microsoft’s games business during the development and rollout of the original Xbox and beyond, spent some time answering user-submitted questions over on Yabbly, a Seattle startup that recently pivoted and now runs AMA-style sessions.
“It’s the biggest, most successful new brand they have created in the last 15 years,” he wrote. “They should learn from the success of Xbox and create more things like it, not sell it off.”
For what it’s worth, new Xbox head Phil Spencer said last month on Twitter that Microsoft is “very committed” to Xbox for the long haul, and that new CEO Satya Nadella has been a “good supporter” of Microsoft’s Game Studios and Xbox team.
Fries, who now spends his time advising a flurry of startups and helps run a 3D-printing company, also touched on a few other interesting topics and shared his thoughts on what he thinks Microsoft needs to do to get ahead of Sony in the console war.
“They need better exclusive games than PS4,” Fries wrote. “They need to be more open to indie developers. They need to adopt free to play gaming more aggressively. They need to continue to move Xbox Live forward as the leading online service. They need to show people why they included the new Kinect on every machine by demonstrating a compelling use for it.”
Fries also said he’s “skeptical” of new virtual-reality technology like the Oculus Rift, saying that he doesn’t think general users will be “strapping this thing onto their face any time soon.” He shared a few tidbits on his experience working with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, too. Here’s what Fries said about why the Xbox didn’t run on Windows:
We didn’t run Windows on the original Xbox because it would have affected performance of the games. It was a controversial decision that was made early in the project and Bill Gates was not happy about it. In the end though it was the right decision and the Xbox 360 also didn’t run Windows. Now the Xbox One is running a variant of Windows (it actually has 3 operating systems according to what I’ve been told) and is running into some problems because of it.
The fact that we didn’t run Windows didn’t prevent PC gamers and Xbox gamers from mixing online. That had to do with security concerns around the Xbox Live servers. I wasn’t happy about that either and tried to get it changed.
And finally, what it was like working with BillG himself
Bill was an amazing person to work with but I don’t remember him handing out much advice. It was more what I learned by watching him work. You might think that games was kind of an obscure part of Microsoft that he wouldn’t care that much about but in fact I always felt that he cared about it and understood it quite well. He would ask penetrating questions that got to the core of what we were doing and why. That set a great example for me and other leaders in the company, to try to really understand what was happening within our groups and to dig in deeply when necessary to solve problems.
Check out the full AMA on Yabbly.