“How Microsoft destroyed development culture at FASA” and the creativity problem in Redmond

Wed, Aug 26, 2009


In a recent interview with GamesIndustry, FASA Interactive founder Jordan Weisman opines on how Microsoft destroyed FASA’s development culture when it was acquired by Redmond in 1999, and how it almost did the same when it acquired Bungie in 2001.  Bungie, of course, is the development house behind the immensely popular Halo series for the Xbox.

“When Microsoft bought FASA Interactive and incorporated it into Microsoft… the two reasons they bought us was, one, they wanted the catalogue of intellectual properties and, two, they felt that we had developed a really good development culture. And the reality is that, pretty much from the day we moved to Redmond, that development culture was destroyed,” Weisman told GamesIndustry.biz.

“I don’t think the studio ever really had a chance. It was destroyed right in the beginning.”

And Microsoft came close to repeating its mistakes with Bungie, added Weisman, who was working for the corporation as creative director at the time the Chicago-based studio was acquired.

“When we were acquiring Bungie, they wanted me to sit down with the owners of Bungie and tell them how well the transition went,” he explained. “And it was like – ‘what planet are you guys on?’ This transition did not go well. And actually I became the lead vocal pain in the ass to get things done very different for Bungie.

“I tried to convince them to leave Bungie in Chicago, but not winning that I did succeed in getting them to put them in a walled off room, which didn’t follow any of the other Microsoft stuff. We were much better able to defend Bungie’s culture than we were FASA’s culture.”

Microsoft’s inability to “integrate” creative teams into the Redmond fray seems to be indicative of a corporate culture that simply doesn’t know how to embrace, or what to do with, creativity.  Counternotions wrote on the topic way back in 2007:

The company has a very difficult time absorbing, integrating and maintaining creative teams. In fact, units within Microsoft chartered to have a creative bend are kept as far away from the core Windows blackhole as possible.

Its financially weak but high-visibility game device unit XBox is run practically as a separate company under J Allard. When Microsoft entered the digital music market with its own device, Zune was also placed in the XBox division.

In fact, you can often tell how creative a Microsoft project is gonna be, or at least strives to be, based on how embedded or secluded the product group is on Microsoft’s campus.  It’s almost sad, really, and speaks to a much larger problem – for a tech giant as huge and influential as Microsoft, creativity should ideally pour from the inside out.  Instead, creativity at Microsoft seems to consist of a bunch of acquisitions sitting on the periphery and practically acting independently of the company itself.



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