So we’ve heard about Lionhead’s plans to build creative AI, but what about Microsoft’s plans for everyone else? Ben Board of Xbox’s new European developer account manager team explains what they can offer…
European game developers, something actually quite useful has happened: if your game will be released on Xbox 360 or Windows, you now have people in your time zone dedicated to you.
Team Xbox has added two new DAMs (Developer Account Managers) and a ninja engineer to its European HQ in Reading, UK. As one of those new DAMs I’d like to describe what we do and why that’s good for you, to let you know we’re here, and to give you a bit of personal background on the team.
So what does a DAM do? We work closely with your game teams to find ways to achieve the cool stuff you’re planning, using our knowledge of the hardware, software, features, technologies, processes, and new initiatives, even the MS address book.
If you have any other reason to want to contact Microsoft, your DAM is a great starting point. Perhaps you’ve been talking about building a website that can talk to the game, or you want to set up an online server for the title to store shared screenshots or replays; or you’re thinking about your DLC strategy, perhaps using an in-game store, and you want to know whether it’s worth the effort; or you think that your game will step on a TCR, and you’d like to talk about an exception. Or you want to use native Xbox features like Avatars, Live Party, or a certain cool new camera technology. Or perhaps you’d like an Xbox expert to look at the performance of your title, or to give advice on your code architecture, or to help you with your XLSP installation. This is what we do.
Let me introduce the new team. I’m Ben Board, and after joining Bullfrog/EA as a coder in 1997 eventually was a lead on Fable at Lionhead, established and ran the Guildford IGDA chapter, and spent three years as a producer in Australia before joining Microsoft. Charlie Skilbeck, my DAM colleague, has been involved with video games since about 1990, mostly as a programmer. He’s worked for Codemasters, LucasArts and more recently EA Partners as their tech director. Ask him about his 256 byte Tron implementation and prepare to glaze over. Our third pillar is Allan Murphy, XDC engineering ace. Allan has worked in the game industry for over 16 years and on consoles since the early ‘90s, has shipped numerous titles and worked on a wide variety of engine technology, and has fixed more Load Hit Stores than I’ve had hot dinners. Between us we can offer nearly a half-century of game development experience.
While there’s a lot we can do for you directly, much of our work is finding answers to questions or putting you in touch with the right person, and we work with a huge array of experts behind the scenes: the exceptional US DAM team; the AMs, who work with publishers on the business and commercial sides; the Release Managers, who work with publishers and developers to shepherd titles through submission; the marketing team, the Windows and DirectX teams, and not least XNA, to whom Allan reports. We have access to the definitive body of knowledge on Xbox development, in the form of whitepapers, Gamefest and GDC presentations, and a galaxy of subject matter stars who have supported their specialities for years, and often designed or developed the features themselves.
Do you have something you’d like to talk about? If you don’t know who your DAM is, the first step is to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll discuss your question over email or on the phone, and we may loop in a platform contact or two for their input. Depending on the issue we might arrange a conference call, or we might come to your office and talk about it in person. If needed, we can arrange meetings between you and relevant specialists at E3 or GDC.
Get us involved early. We do troubleshoot last-minute problems, but if you talk to your DAM about your title and its aspirations when it’s in its early stages there’s more we can do for you, and we have a better chance of avoiding drama at five to midnight. Include us in the planning phase, when you’re aiming highest, and when we can help you estimate how much work some of these features will be. And get to know your DAM. Business is done between people, not companies, and when things get crispy (and they will) it can be very helpful to have someone at the platform that you can call on a Sunday night. And we buy a lot of lunches. The next one could be you.
If we’re coming to see your studio or a new title for the first time, it’s helpful if we can speak to people from all disciplines. The programmers may cut the code that runs on our hardware, but designers and artists make decisions based on platform capabilities, QA need to understand the TCRs and submission process, producers need to understand timelines and the cost of features, and studio heads need to make decisions that support the higher-level goals of a title or franchise. In my experience the most productive meetings occur when all facets of the project sit around a table, present their ideas, ask questions, get answers, and come to an understanding with me and each other about realistic options, and I take away a list of things to resolve.
X MARKS THE SPOT
That’s what we are – now let me describe what we’re not. We’re not a replacement for the peerless Game Developer Support (email@example.com). They remain the best target for your low-level API questions, but we suggest you CC your DAM so we’re aware of your issues. We’re not Microsoft Game Studios, so if you’ve got a game idea that shows off Xbox’s unique capabilities you should pitch it to them.
We are a Microsoft resource for you, and we pride ourselves on our ability to keep your information confidential. We’re not founts of all knowledge, so bear with us if we have to loop in the gurus. We don’t make decisions about your game’s content: we’ll give you reasoned advice, but what you do with it is up to you. And we’re not so blinkered to ignore that you work on other platforms too – yes, we want the Xbox version to be the best, but we know that you take pride in the quality of all your SKUs, and we won’t give you advice that undermines that.
Starting next month, I’ll be contributing a column to this fine periodical in which I’ll talk about the big topics in our world and how your game might benefit from using them. For now, just know that you have a DAM, and he’s ready, willing and able to help your game reach its potential. No charge.