Microsoft has announced Lift London, a new developer focused on creating new IP for tablets, mobiles and TVs.
Ex-Rare developer Lee Schuneman is running the developer, which was created by top Microsoft Studios exec Phil Harrison as a "21st century studio" that will build experiences only for the cloud.
"We're here to deliver entertainment as a service," Schuneman said at a Microsoft briefing held in London this afternoon, "where, when and how you want it. We're going beyond the box with great games and experiences on tablets, mobiles and TVs, powered by Microsoft."
Schuneman had been at Rare for 16 years, working on games ranging from Diddy Kong Racing to Kinect Sports. He has already hired a sizeable team, including Simon Carter, co-founder of original Fable developer Big Blue Box and the recently set-up Another Place Productions.
"Phil's view, one I support, is that the traditional game release model, which has a massive up front design, development and marketing cost and a relatively short 16 week window after the game comes out for returns, is changing.
"Of course, we're still going to see the blockbuster games, the Halos, the Call of Dutys. They're not going to disappear anytime soon. But for the larger networked majority of gamers we plan to use a much more nimble, streamlined development cycle.
"The studio's mission is to be bold and brave and to lift the reach of the Xbox service beyond the console. If you look at the size of the tablet market today, it's measured in the hundreds of millions, and that's the area where we aspire to be."
Lift London will act as an incubator studio of sorts. It has already partnered with indie developer Dlala Studios, which is hard at work creating a new IP in the Lift London office, itself situated in the Soho Productions building. The set-up is similar to Sony Santa Monica, which has worked with the likes of thatgamecompany to build PlayStation exclusive games.
Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that Fable developer Lionhead is now helmed by Scott Henson, who had been chief of Rare before a brief stint supporting Harrison following his arrival last year. Mark Webley, who co-founded Lionhead alongside Peter Molyneux, has moved on "very amicably", Harrison said, "and with our best wishes and admiration for everything he has done. He felt it was time to seek alternative challenges."
Harrison outlined the new Microsoft Studios developers in Europe as it stands now: Rare, Lionhead, Soho Productions, Press Play, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and now Lift London.
Craig Duncan is the new studio head of Rare following Henson's exit. Duncan, an industry veteran with experience at Codemasters, Midway and Sumo Digital, has in fact been running Rare for over nine months, but Microsoft formally announced the appointment today.
Brian Stone is studio head of Soho Productions, which focuses on television experiences on Xbox (it is responsible for the Kinect Sesame Street TV and National Geographic games).
Harrison said Microsoft is building an external development organisation to extend the reach of its developer relationships in the UK and across Europe. This will manage and support production outside of Microsoft with a raft of companies.
"The key thread that runs thorugh this and our future is the shift from packaged products to connected entertainment services," Harrison said. "That is the thread you will see us develop over the coming years. It's not a change we're going to make immediately. We will continue to support retail products with our key releases for sure.
"But everything we do will have increasingly deep social and additional features that are reliant on the network, that are unlocked by the network and enhanced by the network through Xbox Live and beyond. That's the key strategic shift we're making with our business, moving from being a maker of packaged products to being an operator of connected services.
"You will see that in the people we hire, the companies we partner with and the business models we develop and the creative expression we bring to life on all of these platforms."
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