Games

Xbox research and development lead Chris Novak leaving Microsoft

If you’ve signed up for Game Pass or are obsessed with Xbox achievements, you’re familiar with the work of Chris Novak.

The head of Xbox research and design is leaving the company after nearly 20 years. Novak has been leading user experience design and research efforts for over 5 years, and has previously held positions as Xbox design director and Xbox design architect. Across these roles, Novak is responsible for user experience on many of the company’s biggest projects, including Xbox Game Pass, along with cloud gaming and Xbox Live.

Novak told Polygon: “Microsoft has been a place where I have been able to learn from the very essence of the game, from the best in the world in the entire industry. “I had to see it in its best and worst. And that learning process, I really appreciate.”

chris novak leaves blow after it

Chris Novak blows Post-Its off a wall
Photo: Chris Novak

Novak takes over Microsoft’s Xbox research and design at a turning point for the company and its flagship console. When the Xbox One launched in 2013, Microsoft’s marketing strategy failed the console: the Xbox 360 was successful in attracting a large gaming audience, but Microsoft was aiming for the Xbox One to become the a comprehensive entertainment system. Xbox One reveal is a notorious, everything-centered disaster but video games. Microsoft quickly realized that it had to win back gamers, but never completely abandoned the entertainment platform.

Novak became head of Xbox research and design shortly after Microsoft was publicly promoting the idea that the Xbox would focus primarily on video games. While the console is still important, the more exciting idea for Xbox leadership is the freedom to play Xbox games on different devices, starting with the launch of Xbox Play Anywhere, for allows players to access the game on Windows PC or console.

Xbox leader Phil Spencer came up with a unique idea: Gamers can play games anywhere, using the Xbox ecosystem. After PC, Xbox leadership is focused on bringing Xbox to mobile devices through cloud streaming. Novak points to the Microsoft Touch Adaptation Kit for Xbox Cloud Gaming as a particularly proud moment in his career at the company.

Screenshot of Project Gotham Racing 2 with a white car

Project Gotham Racing 2
Image: Bizarre Creations, Ltd./Microsoft Game Studios

“How big of a challenge is that when you’re trying to build a full-game experience on a device it was never designed for? That’s the challenge at hand,” Novak said. “We spent a lot of time as part of the xCloud effort, with the xCloud engineers, pursuing that and making sure that all the technology that allows us to show this output to anyone which device. […] It was one of my proudest moments.”

Another feature he loves is the Xbox’s photo and achievement modes; The original Xbox Live almost launched with a limit of just five achievements. Novak and his team realized with Project Gotham Racing 2 Those achievements reinforce Microsoft’s philosophy that different play styles are acceptable. In Project Gotham Racing 2, most people want to win races and go fast, but some players want to take pictures of the storefront and explore the environment; A series of achievements have reinforced the idea of ​​play your way, a spell that has stayed with Novak and company for decades.

Novak’s biggest challenge, he said, is balancing experimental changes with keeping things comfortable for players. “It’s very easy to build new things, but not better,” says Novak. “And most people want their gaming experience to be comfortable, familiar, and fast. It has to connect them to what they want as quickly as possible, and whenever you do something new you can ask them to use a different button or think about a different process. And they might be frustrated with that.”

artwork for Project xCloud featuring Xbox logo and Xbox controller

Image: Microsoft

Novak continued: “Getting that balance is a constant challenge.”

Novak said he is leaving Microsoft to take a break from work and refocus his life. After losing someone close to him three years ago, Novak said he wants to take some time off to learn new things. He will not switch to the new company immediately.

“I’m about to be 20 years with Xbox,” Novak said. “For me, something that’s coming out for Xbox, something super exciting, will be a commitment to work for many years there. It would be great. But do I want to commit to that? Or do I want to admit that I am satisfied with what we have shipped? Do I really need to go out and continue my own learning journey, trying some other things. If I don’t do it now, when do I do it? ”

https://www.polygon.com/23032055/xbox-chris-novak-exiting-resigns-microsoft-20-years Xbox research and development lead Chris Novak leaving Microsoft

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