XNA Boss Comments on Zune Progress

In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Chris Satchell, head of the XNA platform at Microsoft, commented on the progress of Zune as a gaming device (it’s going well).

“That touchpad is great,” said Satchell, who demonstrated a basic Zune shoot-’em-up called Zauri at GDC in February. “I’m used to mobile games and it’s always terrible. Not the games, but the input. And so this sort of blew me away.”

I’ve been curious about Microsoft’s handheld gaming plans for the past couple of years.  Since the original Xbox launched in 2001, rumors have consistently popped up hinting that Microsoft was planning on giving Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP some competition.  Those rumors have yet to materialize, and with Microsoft’s new focus on Zune as a gaming platform, I’d bet that any plans for a more traditional handheld have been shelved for the time being.  And that’s the right call.

Nintendo has taken the world by storm with DS – they’ve seemingly captured the Game Boy’s audience while enticing new gamers of all kinds (most notably women).  And they’ve done it by positioning DS as a games first handheld. 

That leaves an opening for Microsoft to make some headway with Zune as a more media centric product (where they’d be competing with things like cell phones).  Sony tried to take a similar angle with the PSP, but their marketing has been confusing – they’ve positioned PSP as both a games device and a media device, but the software library was initially lacking and its media functions are basic at best.  Ultimately, PSP’s mindshare is muddled among consumers, as no one knows exactly what to make of it.

The Zune brand has made some great strides in the market since the release of Zune 2 last November, and an added emphasis on gaming could really give it some differentiation compared to Apple’s iPod. Of course, iPod already has gaming capabilities, but with their XNA initiative, Microsoft could really make some noise with community created games.  It looks like that’s the avenue they’re taking, and I think it’s going to really pay off for them.

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