GDC '08: Microsoft casually crossing over onto Live?

Microsoft's Chris Early promises tomorrow's keynote will contain "an announcement" about casual games and "asynchronous play" between Microsoft mobile platforms and Xbox 360 and PC games.


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SAN FRANCISCO--Today, Chris Early, general manager of Microsoft's casual-games program, delivered the keynote at the Casual Games Summit. In the course of doing so, he may have partially revealed a surprise that will be delivered tomorrow in his colleague John Schappert's own keynote at the concurrently running Game Developers Conference.

Chris Early
Chris Early

Toward the end of his presentation, Early talked about how excited he was at the prospect of combining casual and hardcore gameplay in "asynchronous play." "I can't wait for this bridge to happen between hardcore and casual games, especially when they're separated in time," he declared before referencing a well-know minigame. "I'd love to stand in line at the bank and play that BioShock flow game. Then come home and say, 'Ha! Take that!' I'd love to take that good casual game I played home and have that be successful there as well."

Early's comments sound reminiscent of Live Anywhere's gaming aspect, an ambitious program that would allow minigames and other aspects from Xbox 360 and Vista games to be played on Windows Mobile-enabled phones and the Zune multimedia handheld. Though Microsoft's plans for gaming via Live Anywhere were unveiled with great fanfare at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo by Bill Gates himself, little has since been heard about the crossover functionality on handhelds.

That may change tomorrow. Early heavily hinted that some sort of announcement relating to a crossover between casual games on handhelds and hardcore platform games will be made during the keynote from Schappert, who is Microsoft's corporate VP of Live software.

"If you like that sort of thing, I would strongly recommend you go to Microsoft's keynote opening GDC, where you'll see a little bit of this announced for the first time," said Early. However, he did not go into further detail. "I think I've kept it vague enough not to get into trouble," he concluded.

Early's comments came just hours after Microsoft posted--and then quickly removed--a job listing promising a totally new Live experience. The listing hinted at a new effort by Microsoft to go after the mass market, which has embraced casual games. "Join the server-backed games team, part of the Xbox LIVE team that's responsible for creating a completely new way for mainstream audiences to enjoy the Xbox and LIVE," it urged.

The potentially explosive revelation came as part of Early's keynote, which was titled "The Changing Face of Casual Games." The speech's thrust was about how things such as asynchronous cross-platform play could break down the barrier between the hardcore and casual gamer. Early feels this is important, considering the rapid growth of the casual-gaming market. "It's not just soccer moms now [that play casual games]," he declared. "It's as broad as people. Well, people who sit in front of a computer."

He also dismissed the notion that games were a new concept, saying, "Games have always been there over history--the consistent factors are people and fun. The game platforms have changed. The first platforms were sticks and stones and whatever you could grab with your hands, and then there was Pong and the advent of electronic games."

Early also discussed how the very first games that Microsoft bundled with Windows, such as Minesweeper and Solitaire, were to show people how to use the operating system's then-new graphical interface. "When Microsoft first looked at games, it wasn't about gaming, it was about training to use a mouse," he explained. "Minesweeper was about using point-and-click, and Solitaire drag-and-drop... They were spurred by education."

Early then talked about some of the games that he believes have recently offered great innovations. One of these is Webkinz, a children's game in which wannabe gamers have to buy a cuddly toy in stores to get a code to "adopt" that animal online. "That's innovative because you actually buy something physical and get digital content online along with it," he said.

He also praised Facebook and MySpace games such as Zombie that let people play whether or not their friends are online at the same time as them. However, "I have more value in the game if I invite my friends," he concluded. Puzzle Quest is another recent game that Early loved, because, "Each one of these minigames is a win for me. In fact, each time you match three is a win. There's that feeling of constantly winning, winning, winning in that gamespace."

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Avatar image for mightyfoot

The only way a portable microsoft gaming system would be any good would be if they released a portable xbox or xbox 360. and even then it would have to be amazing becasue of the already huge handheld market. being able to play actual xbox or 360 games would be immence tho. and even better if they linked to your profile at home.

Avatar image for Skiggy80

Now that I have looked down the forum and seen comments, I must voice my opinion. For starters, XBL is the BEST online service! Next, PC gamers can stay in their PC world because PC online gaming is a CHEAT fest! Every person I know that plays online with a PC knows a way to cheat. Plus, I rather sit in my Lazyboy and relax while I am playing on my 57 in Plasma. Then this portable thing. If Microsoft wants to get into this market, they are going to have to come out with a handheld xbox. Mobile phone games suck and I can't imagine the Zune being that great either. Screw the casual games, bring Halo to a handheld. I bet if Microsoft released a handheld that played real games, they would blow at least the PSP out of the water. Imagine a 360 controller with a screen where the xbox dashboard button is. Of course it would need to be bigger, but that would be sick!!!

Avatar image for Skiggy80

Does this mean the Zune is going to be sort of like a PSP? I hope Microsoft comes out with a portable system. Nothing would be better than to play Halo 3 in line at the bank. Or on my lunch break at work. Now that Microsoft has the best games and goes after the best devlopers, I could only imagine how good the games would be on a handheld. Not like the PSP. The only good game for it is God of War and thats not even out yet. I dont particularly care for playing games on my phone. Hopefully the Zune will play games and hopefully a hnadheld will come out someday.

Avatar image for zfarooq

strange my post is removed and no one is reporting what BBC reported for XBOX360 failure at GDC08

Avatar image for Merl57

As long as quality goes on I'm happy

Avatar image for EvanDonald

As long as they don't get a million microgames and turn into Nintendo I'm okay with "casual" games.

Avatar image for xmg0

i want to see this new LIVE

Avatar image for Kraige

Sounds awesome hope this comes to the UK around the same time as USA and the handsets aren't too expensive.

Avatar image for laitheybaby

I just want to play Gears of War

Avatar image for guppieface

i would only want to play any game if it was fun. just because theres minesweeper and solitaire on a work station does not mean theyre fun to play. only if these handheld games are as good as ds or psp games will it be worth anything. if that guy was talking about a bioshock mini game where you do the hack minigame thats in the console version, i dont want it.

Avatar image for jimmulvaney

While alot of you bring up a number of valid points, i am a hardcore gamer and when i hv a sudden bout of boredom for whatever reason, i pull out my treo 680 and game it up! What would be nice to see is if you do have a chance to play casually for a few minutes and you solve a puzzle of the Bioshock flow game, then later on when your in front of your console, your account already recognizes that you unlocked that safe. Ya know? Like, let the casual game actually have an effect on the console/ live version?

Avatar image for hovanPS3

It's all downhill from here for the Xbox brand

Avatar image for nappan

I'm not usually one to jump on a fanboyish bandwagon, and I love my 360... but really, Living_wmd_888 is dead on... if I want that kind of content I'll get a DS Lite or a PSP.

Avatar image for living_wmd_888

These would be novel ideas... if Nintendo hadn't already been doing them, and doing them much better, on the Game Boy and DS, for the past two decades. Sorry, I would rather play on a real handheld than on a stupid, overpriced mobile phone.

Avatar image for the_real_VIP

As if PC gamers love Games for Windows - Live...

Avatar image for UmbrellaMaster

How about just securing a solid game lineup for next year? I'll take that over any kind of new mini / casual / quasi / wtf game you want to put on my phone / car / ipod / boxer shorts any day. Oh, and pressure Harmonix to release stand alone kick pedals for Rock Band so I dont have to create an entirely new one out of pizza boxes and uncooked Ramen noodles. (if only)

Avatar image for Maslowo

These Microsoft guys have lost it...Who cares....Zune?...Ipod!! SO this guys like to play the Bioshock flow game. How often does he sit there & play games that are meant to played when there is nothing else to do?

Avatar image for gww101

by the way great news i guess don't really care, only really look at games and the like, but why are people coming onto xbox news and saying "Sony delivers and Microsoft is a monster and thief" like go read PS3 news if it has any stop rippin on us for the love of god don't you have anything better to do than rip on other peoples interests. Like GHOST867 writing 3 bloody paragraphs on an xbox forum about how it sucks. Go do something better with your time holy crap man.

Avatar image for peoplekiller1

if they did ports of original x box games to a hand held system it would be cool

Avatar image for gww101

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for nichjehl

zfar - does it really matter? who cares?

Avatar image for Coolvetica

I can understand their business model behind all of this. Ever since the Wii launched, it did what Sony and Microsoft didn't expect or know. Show us all that there are still plenty of ppl out that don't play video games and that they can still be brought into the world of gaming through "casual" play. So don't be surprised to see a lot of talk and development on casual games for the next 12 months.

Avatar image for guyver23

zfarooq - negative

Avatar image for guyver23

jalapeno ricky... the j is silent.

Avatar image for spidey223

Wow, M$ is really giving people what they want!!! Now i can finally challenge somebody using a cell-phone to a game of Tetris on my 360!!! LAME.

Avatar image for PowerOker


Avatar image for wakerider73

I have enjoyed my Zune. It would be amazing if they add games, even "casual" games, to it.

Avatar image for Tremblay343

The market doesn't need any more mini-games platforms. There's already a ton of them on xbox live, PSN and the Wii. A lot of these news articles lately have been talking about the ramp up of casual games. This is whats known as a trend. Once the Wii has reached its peak, and sales slow down, we will finally see and end to the trend that is casual video games. But don't get me wrong, i tihnk some of these games are good, but to have the insane amout of garbage that exsists today, is just ridiculous Also im not bashing the Wii, for all you nintendrones ready to flame me. I own one, and enjoy Zelda, metriod, Mario and no more heroes. But you cannot deny that since the success of the Wii and the DS, we have seen a flood of terrible "casual" games. Once people get over the fact that the controller has motion controls, all this non-sense will end.

Avatar image for MJ8404

This sounds crappy if you ask me; people who play "hardcore" games could careless about crappy "casual" games that bloooow

Avatar image for pyrobrand

I actually hope that it works on the Zune, because I'm buying one this summer, they really fixed up the hardware and I'm sure by then they'll have patched up the software, making it a viable way to listen to music and watch videos (the 80g), and what's more, I don't buy music from programs with DRM's, so I don't have any fear of that either.

Avatar image for NailX

Steam is still a better online server :P

Avatar image for ThisIsntLeonard

There's no way it'll compete with the DS or the PSP. Honestly, who owns a Zune? And for people who do own them, do you seriously see games that are remotely the level of games on the DS or PSP.

Avatar image for prioritymail

I love xbox live, and with Microsoft's corner on the tech market, its good to see it crossing over.

Avatar image for Shaljir117

There breaking into the handheld market i bet you it going tob be the xrectangle 180 portable gaming device

Avatar image for jvonrader

What's up with all the negativity? "Fix the RRoD first"...they did. The newer consoles are equipped with better chips and a larger heat sink. I don't know why one guy LOL'd at someone's comment that XBL was the #1 online is. Honestly, I don't see an Xbox handheld here. I see Zune games, or mobile games that work over Live Mobile. If the Netflix thing is true on top of all this, this could be a great GDC.

Avatar image for Maxor127

Either I'm out of touch, or this sounds really dumb and pointless.

Avatar image for Sumotaii

There hasnt been hardcore gaming since the Dreamcast, and the 32/64 bit gen. Ahh good times.

Avatar image for BoobyUnger

any shooters like this pc guys will never lose its dumb

Avatar image for JSharpe_187

I could see MS making a $100-$150 console for casual games and XBLonly (different than the Xbox360 Arcade) It would be about the size of the now-obsolete HD-DVD add-on. Afer all, casual gamers who are a growing part of this industry don't necessarily want something big and powerful (just look at the Wii and PS2). IMO something like that could sell really well for MS.

Avatar image for REVENGEotSITH


Avatar image for MetalContra

Xbox live needs to be free. PC gamers will never pay for it.

Avatar image for Brambler

@grognard- It was actually Fall which they said last year, but yeah delays do suck.

Avatar image for imortiferus

Make the handheld system platform agnostic. there is no way I'm buying a last-gen HD based zune or windows mobile phone based zune. IPhone, iPod Touch, Zune and Zune Phone period.

Avatar image for TMontana1004

They seem to be hyping whatever they have under wraps very high. Hope it turns out to be mind-blowing.

Avatar image for grognard

@ghost867 - Sony also said HOME would be out in Spring at last years GDC. Things get delayed for all these companies. MS has delivered far more on the promise of online than Sony has.

Avatar image for GrimBee

They will probably merge PC and 360 interface alot more. I suppose they released the chatboard peripheral for more than just using the messenger.. A "home" type interface will be highly unlikely, but I reckon they will probably push the boat out to developers to include more demanding online features in their games, and a more varied choice of communicating and sharing with friends. Walking around a sony-sponsored mall is not really communicating with friends..

Avatar image for CodyTG

The more features, the better.

Avatar image for ocdog45

lets see what they have up there sleaves. handeld will bow since DS owns that. a rip off of home, lets see what the reaction is.....casual games are NOT the furture people. its just one way to cash in