There have always been two groups of people that console companies are beholden to. The first is the paying customer, the other is the game creator.
One cannot overestimate the importance of that second faction. Busy and prosperous developer ecosystems have legitimised the App Store as a serious games hub, have boosted the fortunes of the Xbox 360, and have stretched the lifespan of all three PlayStation systems.
Conversely, the graveyard of the games industry is filled with the headstones of systems and platforms that were starved of dev support: N-Gage, Dreamcast, WiiWare, Mega-CD, Atari Jaguar, etcetera.
Right now, as this article is published, the doors have swung open at GDC - easily the most important event of the year for the games development community. But 2013 is a special year in particular for the industry, with the next generation of core systems announced, produced and sold during a frenzied and fascinating twelve months.
But the Xbox team will not be attending. They have for some reason decided against exhibiting at the most important GDC of the past ten years. While Microsoft will be there in some capacity to flaunt the virtues of Windows Phone and Windows 8, there will be no public console discussions. Microsoft's UK team, I'm told, will not be flying over. They will instead be heads-down working hard on something else entirely.
This is a disastrous mistake. While there is of course the chance that some Xbox representatives will be securing deals behind closed doors, the fact that Microsoft still can't spread the word about Next Xbox development will certainly be frustrating to the more astute executives who work at the company.
Last year, when Microsoft announced it had secured the services of Phil Harrison as one of its key executives, my immediate reaction was "well, that's GDC sorted". Phil may have to wear many hats these days, but his skills and experience in working with developers is nearly unmatched.
Can we say that the likes of Heavy Rain and LittleBigPlanet would exist without Harrison's guiding hand? I doubt it. Phil has been working with developers since the early nineties, securing deals for the first PlayStation, and he has a tremendous eye for potential hits as well as platform-defining projects.
If Microsoft really has kept him and his team at home, just so it can hold off announcing its new console, then the normally sharp-minded console manufacturer has had a red-ring moment.
Sony, on the other hand, has booked a room at GDC and will publicly flaunt the virtues of developing for PS4.
It's one of the many highlights of the week ahead. CVG will be covering GDC from the UK as well as on the ground in San Francisco, with the team out in force to bring you the news as it unfolds. We're also there to speak to a number of executives and developers for exclusive interviews.
Here are just some personal highlights of this week's upcoming GDC sessions.
- ZombiU: Creating an Undead Cult
- Balancing Act: Narrative and Mission Design in Assassin's Creed III
- Warren Spector: Narrative in Games - Role, Forms, Problems, and Potential
- Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Postmortem
- Overview of PS4 for Developers
- Photorealism Through the Eyes of a FOX: The Core of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes
- Epic Games press briefing
- Miiverse Support from Your Games
- Into the Crucible: Forging a Triple-A Game and a Triple-A Studio Simultaneously
- The Reinvention of Tomb Raider
- Simulating a City, One Page at a Time