With the Xbox's US launch now less than six months away, the Financial Times is reporting that Microsoft has yet to ship beta development kits (XDKs) to third party developers working on games for the console. "The beta systems have not yet been sent", according to Electronic Arts CEO Larry Pobst, who complained that "we need them so we can polish the games". Meanwhile Infogrames boss Bruno Bonnell confirmed that some of his development teams have yet to receive the final kits as well.
"Microsoft has a lot to do over the next few months", Larry Pobst believes, adding that "they are on a death march right now". Strong stuff indeed, especially when you factor in further comments from him about whether or not Flextronics can really manufacture the 600,000+ consoles that Microsoft have promised to have ready for the US launch. But there's more to this story than meets the eye. Microsoft insists that nothing is wrong, with Xbox meister Robbie Bach saying that although some developers haven't yet received the final kits, they are still on schedule.
In fact, just last week Jeff Henshaw, executive producer of the XDK, announced on the official Xbox website that "the next generation of Xbox Development Kits - based upon console hardware - have begun shipping to hungry developers around the world". Which means that Microsoft has met (even if only with a couple of days to spare) its target of shipping the final XDKs before E3. Microsoft meeting a deadline? That has to be a first...
Larry Pobst's comments smack of Microsoft-baiting, and EA are certainly no strangers to controversy. Just a few months ago they exchanged harsh words with Sega, pouring scorn on the ailing Japanese company's attempts to develop games for other people's consoles after the death of the Dreamcast. They've even laid into Sony in the past, describing the PlayStation 2 as "living room art" because of a lack of killer games to encourage people to buy the console. Of course, every second PS2 game that is sold is published by EA, and the company seems to have thrown most of its eggs into the Sony basket, with just a handful of Xbox and GameCube titles in development compared to the avalanche of PS2 games they have planned. Which might shed some light on the publisher's latest outburst. Cynical, moi?