Phil Harrison’s appointment and what it means for Microsoft

It’s easy to see Phil Harrison’s appointment as the boss of Microsoft Studios Europe as a vanity signing.

After all, Peter Molyneux is one of the greatest and most respected figures in global games development. They are big boots to fill. Literally – Peter Molyneux is a tall man. But Phil is taller.

However, this appointment is more than simply about the headlines.

Phil Harrison was present from the very beginning of the PlayStation project. He was one of the first men seen wearing a Sony PlayStation badge back in the early days of ECTS, remaining brave in the face of shushed bribes and sneers from the UK gaming granddads.

He was a true evangelist of the company and played a key role in its rise from nothingness to prominence, from pretender to leader.

But following his departure from Sony in 2008 Phil has been very much an advocate of the new gaming”. This was partly the reason behind Atari’s ongoing period of self-transformation that occurred under his watch. And that’s also partly the reason why his Atari tenure was short.

But in the most recent years working for both streaming games service Gaikai and venture capitalists London Venture Partner, Harrison has been keen to warn the old firm that things are changing.

I think in the next five-to-ten years we will easily get this level of game inside a web browser, on your mobile platform, on your iPad, and we will be able to deliver that level of immersion to any kind of screen,” he said of Modern Warfare 2 in 2010.

He then went on to predict a complete changing of the guard in the games industry at GDC in 2011.

"If this conference was called ‘Game Publishers Conference’ I think everyone would be in the bar crying into their beer and being just miserable. Without naming names, if I was a chief executive at one of the major traditional publishers, I’d be really challenging my leadership team as to how to change the company.

"But I don’t know of a company that has successfully reinvented itself from being packaged goods, product centric to being network service centric. I don’t know of an example, and if you can find one, I’d love to know about it. I don’t know of a company that’s successfully changed its culture – in any industry, not just in the computer gaming business.

"The chances are that the leaders of social and mobile are not going to be from traditional packaged goods game companies."

Later that year he even predicted that Apple will be in complete control of the games market by 2011.

"At this trajectory, if you extrapolate the market-share gains that they are making, forward for ten years – if they carry on unrestrained in their growth, then there’s a pretty good chance that Apple will be the games industry.”

We’re guessing he might choose to forget those last comments, though.

At a time when Microsoft is on the brink of revealing its Xbox 360 successor – and one which MCV itself has predicted will be a service lead evolution, not a hardware lead one" – Harrison’s appointment suddenly becomes all the more understandable.

Welcome back, Phil.

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