by Nick Wingfield
Microsoft Corp. has shown its Xbox360 console can win with
serious gamers. Now it has to show it can out-play market leader Nin-
tendo Co. in the battle for casual players.
Don Mattrick, the head of Microsoft's videogames group, on Mon-
day unveiled a plan to expand the audience for the company's Xbox
360 console with a new 3D video camera that will let people play
games with the movement of their bodies.
The product, expected to be released next year, is a big gamble
that Microsoft can outdo the Nitendo Wii's motion-sensing
wand, which has won new gaming converts intimidated by traditional
button-heavy game controllers.
The new Microsoft camera, codenamed Project Natal, eliminates
the need to hold any hardware at all.
Mr. Mattrick showed the camera for the first time onstage at the E3
games conference in Los Angeles Monday. Microsoft demonstrated
how a person can use the camera to paint virtual canvases and head
in-game soccer balls. The camera will also recognize voice com-
mands, and be able to identify from facial features which person is play-
Microsoft executives declined to say how much the camera will cost.
In a recent interview on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus,
Mr. Mattrick said a top priority is to make the Xbox more accessible
to people who aren't hardcore gamers. "How do we make it work for
the family?" says the 45-year-old.
"That's aspirationally what we want to do."
Mr. Mattrick, a veteran of games publisher Electronic Arts Inc., has
had a hand in some huge game hits, helping game designer Will Wright
shape what ultimately become The Sims. EA's blockbuster Need for
Speed racing game franchise came out of a fantasy that Mr. Mattrick,
a car aficionado, had about stealing fancy vehicles like Ferraris and
running from the police.
Microsoft needs to attract a bigger audience to its console as the com-
pany seeks to keep up profits from a games business that has lost it more
than $5 billion since the original Xbox was introduced in 2001.
Globally, Microsoft says it has sold more than 30 million of its Xbox
360 machines. While that's ahead of Sony Corp., which says it has sold
more than 23 million PlayStation 3 consoles, it lags Nintendo, which says
it has sold more than 50 million Wii machines.
Mr. Mattrick joined Microsoft in July 2007, shortly after the company
was forced to reveal a humiliating misstep: widespread malfunctions
with the Xbox 360 that caused it to take a $1.1 billion charge to cover the
cost of repairs for customers.
But since then, Mr. Mattrick has helped guide the Xbox business to
solid growth, in part by cutting prices on its console in Europe and improv-
ing management in that region. He also led an overhaul of its Xbox Live
online service, which helped win customers with new offerings like a Net-
flix Inc. service for renting movies.
Mr. Attrick faces skepticism he 'll stay on the job for the long haul.
The executive hasn't moved near Microsoft's campus in the Seattle
suburbs from his home in Vancouver.
Instead, he conducts much of his work through video conferences and
email. One person who works with Mr. Mattrick says he isn't in the office
at Microsoft more than a few days a month.
"I think most people are a bit surprised at how long he's been there,"
says Larry Probst, chairman of EA, where Mr. Mattrick worked for 14
years after it bought his star-up.
Mr. Mattrick says he's committed to Microsoft and doesn't feel that
living in Vancouver hurts his performance. He also has the support of his
boss, Robert J. Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices
"The challenge is to find a guy who can run a business... and help foster
a highly creative environment," Mr. Bach says. He calls Mr. Mattrick "a
wonderful balance of both of those."
- Jun 09 Tue 2009 16:06
by Nick Wingfield