The idea that Microsoft's split loyalties between the PC and its console business isn't new now, nor was it new when we raised the issue a few months back. But we're not sure we've heard a Microsoft representative speak quite so frankly on the topic as in a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz.
In response to the question, "Which format is your priority in Europe," Microsoft's Peter Zetterberg says the following:
On a global scale, the Windows Vista business is as important as our Xbox 360 business. But in Germany, for example, we want more gamers to buy our Xbox 360. If we launch a game that is on 360 and PC simultaneously, we basically shoot ourselves in the foot by allowing the German market to choose to play the PC version--because they are more likely to buy that than spend their money on the Xbox 360.
Although Mr. Zetterberg works for Microsoft Europe, the strategy outlined here feels very similar to Microsoft's approach in the U.S. The approach also mimics the classic Hollywood model, wherein a film launches first in the theaters, and then later comes to DVD and television, the difference being that Hollywood isn't trying to sell you the movie theater as well.
As another Microsoft rep rightly points out in a follow-up response, not all games make sense on both platforms. Fighting games and social games, like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and most of the Wii library, all play better in a living room environment. Similarly, games with complex control schemes, for example real-time strategy games like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer and MMOs like World of Warcraft, have been a harder fit for consoles.
In between those two extremes there's a lot of flexibility, and games that have crossed over to the PC after an initial console release, notably the first Halo, the Grand Theft Auto series, and the recent PC version of Mass Effect, have shown they can equal, if not surpass, the quality of their console originators. But as with all format conflicts, business trumps choice.
Microsoft could solve this problem if, as has been rumored, it really did license out the Xbox 360 hardware to other devices, including PC disc drives. We'd be among the first to say congratulations to Microsoft if it made such a move. Until then, or some similar unifying step, folks like Blizzard seem to have firm ground when they accuse Microsoft of paying lip service to PC gaming.