Kim: Early Developer Ecosystems Key In Emerging Platforms

Former Microsoft Games Studios vice president Shane Kim talks to Gamasutra about joining Moai platform creator Zipline Games' board of directors, and his view of the rapidly-shifting mobile market.
Former Microsoft Game Studios vice president Shane Kim spent 15 years with the company's Interactive Entertainment Business, but since his retirement from the company hasn't lost interest in the games business. He's joined the board of directors at two companies -- first, retailer GameStop, and recently, Zipline Games, creator of the Moai mobile game development platform. "One of the cool things about what I'm doing ...since I left Microsoft is I get to pick and choose who I want to work with," says Kim. Having managed major console franchises like Halo, Gears of War and Fable while with Microsoft, Kim says he initially saw his introduction to Zipline as "an opportunity to learn" about the exploding mobile space, but decided to get involved thanks to the passion of execs and founders Patrick Meehan and Todd Hooper. "My role as a director is obviously not to get super involved in the day-to-day details, but really to help Todd and Patrick guide the direction to the company and make introductions where I can," he says. 700 developers are already using the Lua-based Moai platform in open beta, after a closed beta attracted much demand. And Jordan Weisman’s Crimson, the first title published by Bungie Aerospace, will use Moai. Thanks to his experiences working with developers on the Xbox platform, Kim firmly believes that a strong developer ecosystem is essential to any emerging platform. At Xbox's launch, "it was not one of the leading consoles... it was all about trying to figure out ways to win the hearts and minds of developers," Kim recalls. "A big part of our business has always been, how do you make life easier for developers, and make it easier to support your platform?" The rapidly-changing mobile market can be "very confusing" for some new companies, Kim suggests. "These are generally small companies; they've got tough decisions to make in terms of which platforms to support. But it's a great opportunity, it's very analogous to what we did in the early days of Xbox, in terms of creating the best ecosystem, platforms and services so that developers can really focus on what they do best." The early mandate for anyone offering developer platforms and services in the mobile space is education, Kim believes. "Developers are generally pretty heads-down and just focused on trying to get their titles done, so you have to educate... we're going to be pushing the Moai platform from that perspective." "People who are looking for quick fixes in terms of developing that platform business are going to be sadly mistaken," he adds. "It's a constant battle, and you really have to be committed to this space." For Kim, it's interesting to again be participating in platform building in a newly-shifting market where there are a wide variety of opportunities, in many ways a similar climate to the launch of the Xbox ecosystem. But plenty's different: "I think what you have in this space is, in my opinion, a much faster-moving environment than the console space," he says. "There are a lot of similarities from a platform mentality and architecture standpoint... but the fact is, the mobile space just moves much more quickly. Things are so different now than they were two years ago," Kim says. "When [Xbox] entered the market, you had established competitors, like Sony and Nintendo. And the console model in general was pretty well understood. There was evolution, but not the dramatic changes that I think we're witnessing today in terms of what happens in the mobile space, the different kinds of business models that developers and customers are adopting, what Apple and Google are doing themselves in the operating systems." It's more dynamic than the console sector, which resembles "a long war that will go on for many generations." He hopes Moai will play a similar role and experience a similar growth trajectory to Epic's launch of the Unreal Engine: "People came at it maybe even from the PC gaming heritage and wanted to develop their own 3D renders, but now it's broadly accepted as a great solution."

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