Scott Henson is from the famed original team of 20 that helped make Xbox what it is today. From Xbox Live to Xbox 360, Henson has had a hand in crafting some of the defining gaming experiences of the last 10 years. Now, he is crossing the pond and setting up shop as the new leader of famed developer Rare.
Here, in an interview with Eurogamer, Henson goes deep on his vision for the Kinect Sports creator, reveals his passion for Kameo (he's finished it four times) and discusses what all this means for Rare's loyal followers.
Eurogamer: What does your appointment mean for Rare's fans, the gamers who know and love the studio and look out for the games it makes?
Scott Henson: First of all, just look at Kinect. Forget the conversation about Rare and Scott Henson for a second. Kinect in its own right is a game changer. It changes how you interact with games. It puts you literally in the experience.
And so, I think what's going to change for gamers is they're going to have a new way to play with a whole host of games that go beyond what Rare is doing as well. Just like Xbox Live, it wasn't just about one particular game. It was about the portfolio of games and experiences.
Bringing that back to Rare and Rare's fans, I think for folks like me that grew up on Rare games, I now have a set of Rare experiences today and tomorrow that are going to be fun for me, but they're also going to be fun for every single family member that's around me.
I can invite my mum in. I can invite my wife in. I can invite my two little girls in. I can invite my brother in. It doesn't matter who they are. Whether they like games, they don't like games, everyone now gets to be part of the fun. I think that's a sea change for us. That's a pretty significant step for the industry, certainly for Xbox and for Rare.
So, Rare gamers who have grown up on Rare games are going to have a brand new way to play, and it's exciting.
Eurogamer: What's your vision for Rare? Is it now a Kinect-focused studio? Is it a Kinect-only studio?
Scott Henson: Kinect in Rare, in Sports, that equation, if you just look at it it's a big, bold bright future. If you rewind to eight years ago, it's great to have had this experience with Xbox Live because I can see a perfect parallel with Kinect and your question, which is, we're just starting to scratch the surface.
We're just starting to scratch the surface with how you interact with your body, how you become a part of that experience and how you use your voice to control things. Rare is going to continue to do what first-party does, which is innovate and push the boundaries of what that means. We've got lots and lots of years of innovation ahead of us.
Yes, absolutely, Kinect will be a key part of the studio's future. I'm not suggesting it's going to be exclusive, but it will be the centrepiece of our strategy for sure, because there is a lot of opportunity there. It's bold and bright.
Eurogamer: You've said you grew up on Rare games. There are many classic Rare games that are still fondly remembered – Killer Instinct, Perfect Dark and Kameo spring to mind. Is Rare done with those now, or do you have a personal desire to perhaps revisit those, perhaps incorporating Kinect into them?
Scott Henson: One of the assets here is we've got this great back catalogue, this great history. The number one asset Rare has is its creativity and its talent and its desire to innovate and push forward.
We'll look at those opportunities. Absolutely. You can look at what we're doing with Xbox Live Arcade and you can see how we've taken those classics and refreshed them and brought them to the service. We'll continue to look at those kinds of opportunities. Don't just think about packaged goods in terms of opportunities and Rare and how we bring those things to life. We'll look at all of it and evaluate it.
But the centrepiece will be continuing to do what first-party does best, which is innovate and look at new experiences and opportunities with things like Kinect and push the boundaries of that. That's our role and Rare will continue to lead the charge around that.
Eurogamer: I was a huge fan of Killer Instinct back in the day. Did you play it?
Scott Henson: I actually never did play Killer Instinct. I know. Ken Lobb [Microsoft Game Studios] would be yelling in my ear right now, 'What are you talking about?' Killer Instinct's one of his favourite games. I know Killer Instinct is very high in the fan list and one we need to continue to keep our eye on.
Eurogamer: What are the chances? Tell me.
Scott Henson: Here's where I say, 'The chances of us innovating and focusing on Kinect are really high.' We will continue to look at things like Killer Instinct.
Eurogamer: You're taking a lot on here with Rare – you're uprooting your family and relocating to the UK. What was the main motivation behind the move?
Scott Henson: You asked personal, right? I've mostly talked about professional, but I'll bring it to me as a dad and a husband. I have two little girls. I have a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old. My motivation, really, at a personal level, is that everyone is invited to come in and play.
I very much have been over the last, I'd say, if you think about the last 10 years as Xbox has grown up, very motivated by creating experiences the entire family can play.
Now don't get me wrong – we've played lots of Kameo together. We've completed Kameo four times playing co-op together with a controller. Seriously. Lots and lots of Kameo time. But, there is this visceralness and simple approachable fun about getting up off the couch using your full body and playing sports the way you play sports.
My two girls play football – or soccer, as we call it in the United States...
More on Kinect Sports
Eurogamer: You have to call it football from now on.
Scott Henson: That's right. Notice that's where I started. Personally, I want to continue to build experiences like that so that everyone in the family is invited to jump in and play. Professionally, the innovation and pushing the boundaries of innovation is unparalleled. There's nothing like it. That's why I think it's the perfect opportunity at the perfect time.
Eurogamer: A lot of core 360 owners are quite sceptical about Kinect. They baulk at the marketing and perceived issues with the tech. What do you say to those more hardcore focused gamers who have been with Xbox from the beginning, who play and love the likes of Halo and Gears of War?
Scott Henson: Just pretend for a second that Kinect was not here. I know it's here, it's big, bold, bright, loud and proud, right? But let's assume it wasn't here. Look at the incredible portfolio that is there for the core gamer. From Halo: Reach to Black Ops to Gears of War to Fable III... Oh my gosh, the list just goes on and on and on and on. There are lots of great games to go play on Xbox 360.
Now, put Kinect back into the picture, it complements that perfectly. Here is a bunch of easy, simple, approachable pick-up-and-play games, and, oh by the way, look at what we just did at TGS and look at the kind of experiences we're going to bring for the core gamer, and you're going to continue to see us innovate and bring new experiences on the Kinect platform.
This is just the beginning. There is a whole host of experiences that are game-focused and entertainment-focused, that people can enjoy with or without Kinect.
Eurogamer: It was interesting to hear you're such a fan of Kameo. Now you're in charge and you're making all the big decisions, what are the chances of a sequel?
Scott Henson: I'll probably play it through for a fifth time with my family. I'll just start with that. Anything beyond that, we'll continue to evaluate and look at.
Eurogamer: Now you're with Rare, if there's one long-lasting mark you wish to make on the studio, what is it?
Scott Henson: To invite people in who never thought about playing games before. At the same time, delighting people that think of themselves as gamers. It's an 'and', right? I grew up on games. I see the value and power of games, both socially and intellectually. There is an incredible opportunity with Kinect and building on the success of Kinect Sports to do exactly that.
Scott Henson is studio manager of Rare.