[GAMING] Shane Kim - GM of MS Game Studios (MSG)
- Korean-American Appointed General Manager of MS
Newly appointed General Manager for MS Game Studio, Korean-American
Shane Kim, is to take full charge of Microsoft's game software
A Korean-American is grabbing attention for reaching a spot
responsible for Microsoft's game software business. MS announced
Saturday, local time, that Korean-American Shane Kim was recently
appointed as the General Manager of the MS Game Studios (MSG).
It is the first time a person of Korean ancestry has reached such a
high-ranking position within MS.
MSG is a huge sector of MS that manages the development and supply
of Microsoft PC games and game software for the X-box. The head of
MSG serves directly under Senior Vice President Robbie J. Bach, and
former head Ed Fries was known to be close with the Microsoft CEO
Kim will lead 1,000 game developers and producers and lead the
development and supply of large scale games such as "Halo 2," "Jade
Empire," "Fable," and "Dungeon Siege 2."
In his mid forties, Kim's is a pure-blooded Korean born of Korean
parents. He received a master's degree in international relations
from Stanford University and an MBA degree from Harvard Business
School. Kim's connection with MS started in 1989 when he began work
as an intern. He entered the company in 1990 and joined MSG from
Kim expressed his impressions as "I am very happy to work with the
most talented people in this business and we will present the best
games for our X-box and PC customers."
Q&A: Microsoft Game Studios' GM Shane Kim
He manages the entire lineup of Microsoft's first-party games, both
PC and Xbox. What's he looking for from E3, from his staff, and from
See it » A little over four months ago, Shane Kim was thrust into
the limelight at Microsoft Corp. Not that his 14 years with the
company were without their highs and lows, but certainly the Work
Application and Back Office Groups (where he started) can't compare
with the highly visible, hardscrabble turf of the console and PC
game beat. For most of his time at Microsoft Game Studios (which he
joined in 1996), he worked side by side with Ed Fries, the high-
visibility studio head, early evangelizer of the Xbox, and signer of
checks that put some of the industry's most widely known developers
in the Microsoft camp (FASA, Bungie, Rare). However, when Fries left
Microsoft in early January 2004, Kim got the nod from chief Xbox
officer Robbie Bach to fill in for Fries--temporarily. Recently,
Bach made it clear he was anxious to hand over the general manager
reins entirely to Kim, and he did so shortly before E3.
GameSpot spoke with Kim on the second day of E3. As is typical with
high-level staff among exhibitor companies, Kim hadn't spent much
time on the show floor. Still, he knew exactly what he'd be looking
for from that first foray--just as he knows what he wants from his
Shane Kim: I believe that the best content comes from the best
artists, and so one of the key parts of our strategy is to make sure
that Microsoft Game Studios is the best home for the best talent in
GameSpot: However, the organization seems not above canceling
projects if they don't meet certain expectations.
SK: We have to be the ones who are getting customers really excited
with exclusive, breakthrough, showcase content for our platforms.
Get customers excited, which in turn gets third parties excited,
etc., etc. That bar is really, really high. The customers are
becoming much more sophisticated. But the bar for first party is
even higher. And so, you know, we're going to take chances, we're
going to place a lot of different bets, we're going to bet on the
teams and titles that we think can break through. Sometimes it
doesn't work out for whatever reason, but you have to be willing to
make those hard decisions so that the things that you really do
believe in can break through.
GS: So how do you stay in touch with users' expectations?
SK: Sales is one way. Anybody could look back at the fourth quarter
of last year, last calendar year, and see what happened. There were
a lot of great titles, really good titles, but very few that were
able to break through. And I don't think it was just because they
all hit at the same time. I think that customers really have a lot
of choice, and they chose to get behind things that really were
compelling to them.
GS: What was your reaction to those sales figures?
SK: I think a lot of people in our industry are focusing on doing
fewer, but bigger and better titles. I don't think that that's a
strategy that's unique to us. But we're really determined to execute
that well. And the second thing that we do [is] have a very
significant investment in gameplay testing. When we're developing
titles, we're obviously not only just doing quality assurance from a
software standpoint, but we bring in lots of gamers throughout the
entire development cycle who are telling us what they like and what
they don't like about the games.
GS: The process asks of them what?
SK: Is it playable, is it not playable, how deep can they go, where
are they running into problems--so that helps us tune the games. We
get a lot of real-time feedback. This is not focus groups where
we're testing concepts. People get their hands on the games and tell
us what they like and what they don't like. Generally speaking, the
talent is pretty in tune with what customers want, what they're
saying about their own franchises, and what they're saying about
titles in general.
GS: How do you manage that feedback?
SK: Well, that group is staffed by well-trained specialists in
evaluation of different ideas--psychologists, Ph.D.s--so they
understand the science of evaluating consumer response well. What
we're able to do is apply that expertise to different stages [of the
game's development]. Obviously in development, we can pick different
places there. We also can bring concepts to that group, and they can
help us understand with their feedback. We have this huge database
of people who love being able to contribute to game ideas who are
happy to come in and tell us what they think. I think the important
thing is to have a system in place and a willingness to listen to
customers. That's what we try to do.
GS: How do you judge games in progress to determine whether you
should continue funding them or not? What's that process like?
SK: We're talking about art, not science. OK? [At] Microsoft,
especially, we've got a lot of engineers who would love things to be
very, very precise. But it's very important for people to realize
that at Microsoft Game Studios, what we're doing is creating art.
And the process of creating art is an artistic process, not a
scientific process. We bring a great heritage of being very good at
program management and process management. But by the same token,
you know, we have to make sure that you're leaving the room for
creativity. So, it's very difficult. I mean, there's a lot of great
ideas that never get made into--that never get finished into--a
great game. There's so much that goes into actually producing
something, especially at the epic scale that we're talking about
these days, to be successful. And then it comes down to a lot of
times working with the dev partners too, because they've got a lot
of that expertise and experience. And we also take feedback from
customers. We just throw it all together and really try to
understand where we are on the game and its chances for success.
GS: How important is converting nongamers of Microsoft Game Studios
products into the fold?
SK: For interactive entertainment to become truly a mass market form
of entertainment, we are going to have to evolve as an industry
more, [and generate] more entertainment that's targeted at different
demographics, different customers. We have a lot of experience
actually, already in this, because again, the Zone studios, they're
the ones who created a casual content for MSN, MSN Messenger, and
now Xbox Live with Xbox Live Arcade. That's a great example of
developing that content and delivering it for that customer.
GS: But is there other content that could appeal to an even wider
SK: Absolutely. I think we've just started to scratch the surface of
what's possible. Even in core games today, things like story and
character development have become so much more important. Halo,
right? Halo is not just a run-and-gun first-person shooter, but it
has a very, very rich world behind it. We're just starting to
scratch the surface of what you're going to be able to see both in
core gaming as well as interactive entertainment for a much broader
audience. I'm not smart enough yet to figure out what that's exactly
going to look like, but I'm actually very hopeful for the future.
GS: Turning to E3, what's the message this year from the Game
SK: Speaking for Microsoft Game Studios, I think [it's]: Take a look
at our titles. I think we are executing well on the first-party
mission and responsibility, to be honest. Obviously Halo 2 is a big
blockbuster. It's the game that launched the Xbox, and it's the most
anticipated game across the entire industry. People are pretty blown
away by it. So, Halo 2 is a great example. But the rest of the
portfolio I'm really proud of. We've got Fable from Peter Molyneux,
Forza Motorsport, which is a big announcement for us which adds to
the racing heritage and family that we've already got in place with
Project Gotham Racing and Rallisport Challenge, which are two
successful franchises for us. You've got Jade Empire from BioWare,
MechAssault 2...those are all games getting a lot of buzz.
GS: Any connection between the cancellation of your sports titles
and the EA deal with the Xbox Live group?
SK: Cancel is the wrong word. We decided we're not going to release
new versions of the XSN and sport titles this year. Since I came
into the position in January, we've been taking a very hard look at
our entire portfolio of teams and titles and trying to decide which
do we really believe are going to meet that bar. Frankly, we need to
do better in the sports area. Now, as a platform, we're very, very
fortunate because we've got great partners in Electronic Arts and
Sega. So sports is an important category to Xbox. And of course
bringing Electronic Arts to Xbox Live--that helps a lot too. So
we're going to take a hard look at what we're doing in sports and
try to make sure that we're doing it well, but frankly, even if we
were doing XSN in sports, I can tell you that EA wanted to bring
their titles to Xbox Live. Xbox and Xbox Live wanted to have EA
titles on Xbox Live. At the end of the day, regardless of the
philosophical or business differences that may have been real or
imagined, people listen to the customers because the customers who
love the EA franchises believe that they play better and look better
on Xbox--they want to be able to play them on Xbox Live.
GS: If the EA/Xbox Live alliance proves to be successful, would you
be incentivized to keep the sports titles on hiatus indefinitely and
possibly allocate those resources somewhere else?
SK: Well, I'm actually not thinking about it that way. I'm looking
at sports and trying to determine, is there something unique and
compelling that we can do that's exclusive to the Xbox and Xbox Live
platform. That's something that we're really spending a lot of time
trying to figure out. We're going to continue to invest in it
because we believe that sports is a huge category.
GS: I presume the sports group has been depleted some in the area of
SK: No, the sports studio still exists, absolutely.
GS: Will you be tracking PSP sales to see if--to judge if entering
the handheld space might be appropriate?
SK: Only from a casual interest standpoint. We're very focused on
Xbox and making Xbox win. You look at the things that we're doing,
we're furthering the leadership that we have in online with Xbox
Live, with XNA, and with the first-party titles that we're
delivering. So it'll be interesting to see Sony and Nintendo slug it
out there, but frankly we're focused on Xbox.
GS: Given the costs associated with a sophisticated E3 presence, how
do you measure the return on that investment? What do you look for
from these three days in LA?
SK: [It's] probably best to have the marketing guys talk about that.
GS: Then as a game guy? What do you look for from the show?
SK: This is our stage, right? To showcase our titles and get people
excited. Whether it's customers or the press or retailers, it's an
opportunity for them to see what our lineup looks like and also talk
to people about our commitment and the different things that we're
doing across the entire program. It's not just about the titles;
it's about XNA and Xbox Live for us too. It's a great stage for us
to talk about all those things and hear people's feedback in a forum
where they get to compare us directly against everybody else. And so
far the feedback's been really positive.
GS: Is there any debate in terms of there being a commitment to
Japan? And what about the Chinese market? Everyone seems to be very
curious about China.
SK: There's absolutely no debate about our long-term commitment to
the Japanese market. We made that investment and commitment a long
time ago. And we're certainly learning a lot from this generation
about how we can be more successful in the future. If you know
anything about Microsoft you know we tend to take a very long-term
view on these things. It's an important market to us. We're going to
be there, and we're going to be successful.
Another part of Microsoft's heritage--one of the key factors for our
success as a company--is its rapid and aggressive expansion
internationally. I think you've seen us do that with Xbox as well,
where we move very aggressively into the Asian territory, bringing
Xbox Live to multiple markets in Asia. That demonstrates a real
commitment and an interest to being successful in Asian markets,
perhaps where other competitors have not been successful. I don't
have anything to announce about any additional territories, but you
can...I'm sure you can understand that market's very interesting.
GS: Microsoft has huge cash reserves. Does that allow you to be
especially creative, especially daring?
SK: Look at the entire Xbox program. That's a significant investment
that very, very few companies can undertake successfully. You not
only have to have the resources, but you have to have the
willingness to invest those resources, and I think we've clearly
demonstrated that we've got that willingness.
Everything from the console itself to Xbox Live to the investments
we made in ramping up Microsoft Game Studios...all of that taken
together is a tremendous investment.
GS: Deep pockets are good.
SK: I think it's a great competitive advantage for us to have
Microsoft's resources behind us. We're not a Wall Street-driven
company. So we don't have the same pressure to release a game to
make quarters...to make a quarter's earnings. So we can afford to be
patient, take our time, give the creators the time that they need to
make sure that they deliver the best title possible. [But] we're
responsible as well. The company didn't become as successful as it
has been by being stupid, so I would say we're intelligent about the
risks that we take, and we're intelligent about the patience that we
GS: When you walk the show floor, what are you looking for?
SK: I'm going to go see where the crowds are and what people seem to
be lining up to see and are getting excited about. [After the show,]
we'll be doing a group debrief with people who have had more
opportunity to walk around.
GS: What do you see as the most significant impediment to getting
people to play games on an Xbox or their PC? What vies for
SK: Well, entertainment's been around forever.
GS: But games haven't.
SK: There's already lots of existing forms of entertainment, and
people entertain themselves in all sorts of different ways, so in a
way, we're competing with that. But in order to compete effectively,
at least with the broader audience, you've got to create interactive
entertainment that's compelling to them enough so that they won't
watch Sex in the City. Or they won't curl up with a book. Or at
least they'll take some time the way that they used to do something
like that and apply it toward interactive entertainment. The key we
have is interactivity
GS: Thanks, Shane.
By Curt Feldman -- GameSpot
Microsoft chief's all business on gaming
VIDEO GAME GROUP'S NEW LEADER VOWS TO THINK `BROADLY,' IMPROVE
By Dean Takahashi
Shane Kim gets nauseated when he plays fast-moving 3-D video games.
As such, the Harvard business school graduate might seem like an odd
choice to be the top creative person in charge of Microsoft's Game
Nevertheless, Kim is the point man in Microsoft's ongoing battle
with Sony and Nintendo for control of the $25 billion worldwide
video games business. In April, the 41-year-old Microsoft veteran
was appointed general manager of the software giant's game studios,
which makes games for the Xbox console and personal computers. He
replaced longtime chief Ed Fries, who enjoyed a good rapport with
Kim's appointment comes at a time when Microsoft is pruning its game
development staff. By putting a business guy in charge of the games
unit, Microsoft risks creating the impression that bottom line
matters more than creativity. That would be a bad message to send to
the industry's creative geniuses that Microsoft needs to win against
its rivals, according to some industry insiders.
But Kim is out to prove that Microsoft is still serious about
investing heavily in its Xbox and PC games as it wages its game war.
``It's dangerous to stereotype us,'' Kim said in an interview. ``I'm
thinking about the business broadly. It isn't just me talking about
Microsoft has always had a mixed reputation in games, even after
introducing the Xbox in 2001.
Observers admire the company's cash hoard but wonder about its
attention span and ability to stomach enormous losses in the Xbox
division over the long term.
Some of Kim's first acts have been to ax or delay several projects.
Since the fall, Microsoft has scaled back its staff of internal game
developers from 1,200 employees to about 1,000. Some game developers
are privately grumbling that Microsoft has lost its way.
But Kim insists the cutbacks at Microsoft shouldn't be interpreted
as a retreat.
He says Microsoft had to develop a broad array of titles when it
first introduced its Xbox console in 2001. It grabbed the No. 2
position behind Sony in North America and Europe, enabling the
company to attract a large stable of outside game publishers to the
Because there are now so many others making games for the Xbox,
Microsoft needs to make fewer titles, Kim said. And Microsoft now
also knows which of its in-house titles were hits, like ``Project
Gotham Racing'' and ``Halo.'' That means the company will produce
fewer titles, but pour more resources into each one so that they
make the Xbox stand out from the other consoles. This shift toward a
conservative investing style mirrors the larger shift within the
video game industry, where development budgets and marketing costs
are reaching Hollywood proportions.
``This is about us growing up,'' Kim says. ``At the end of the day
we'll have more quality.''
For instance, Kim gave his football game team a pass and allowed
them to skip this season. They had been beaten in years past by
Electronic Arts and Sega. Now they are reportedly working on a game
for the next-generation Xbox.
Chief Xbox Officer Robbie Bach and his lieutenant, Peter Moore, say
they believe Kim is not so different from other veterans in the game
group, despite his business background. Kim spent eight years in
various positions in the group, and in the last year he was the de
facto No. 2 executive reporting to Fries. Fries himself says he
taught Kim a lot about games and Kim taught Fries a lot about
For sure, Kim isn't all about counting beans. He grew up playing
arcade games in Southern California and played volleyball at
Stanford. He helped pay for Harvard by getting on the ``Scrabble''
TV game show and winning $14,000. He joined Microsoft in 1990 as a
summer intern and worked in marketing. But he switched into games in
1995 because he ``had a high propensity for goofing off'' and didn't
want to be chained to enterprise software.
Kim helped Fries grow the business and even spearheaded some big
hits. He struck a deal with Waltham, Mass.-based Blue Fang, hiring
them to create a game called ``Zoo Tycoon.'' The children's zoo
management game and its sequels have sold more than 5 million copies.
That isn't necessarily a good credential for dealing with the rock
stars of gaming, who like making hard-core violent games. But Kim
knows he has to maintain good relationships with the industry's
elite developers and, now and then, cut them big checks to finance
ambitious new games so they are willing to stay in Microsoft's camp.
He says he won't make convenient financial decisions if it means
Microsoft falls short on its broader goal of putting out the coolest
Developers who know Kim are giving him a fair shake. Tony Goodman,
president of Dallas-based Ensemble Studios, met Kim in 1997. The two
negotiated Microsoft's contracts with Ensemble -- which made
Microsoft's blockbuster ``Age of Empires'' series of PC games -- for
three years before Microsoft finally bought Ensemble outright.
Goodman said he felt like they were ``two boxers who had gone the
distance.'' But he says now that he respects Kim and his straight-
``You are never left guessing about Shane's motives,'' Goodman said.
Hank Howie, president of Blue Fang, says he likes the fact that
Microsoft is putting more resources behind big games. But he wants
to make sure that Microsoft keeps an eye open to spotting the best
new creative ideas in the industry.
``I wonder how innovative new ideas are going to get funded if
everyone is being cautious and funding sequels,'' Howie said.
``Start-up developers won't get the kind of shots that we did.''