In November, we learned that Microsoft was planning to build original games for tablets and mobile phones, spreading the Xbox brand further than ever before, with a new UK studio called Lift London. Now, however, Microsoft VP Phil Harrison has clarified the studio's mission: to build games for the cloud itself. "I wanted to create from scratch a 21st century studio. Not a studio that would make retail products; a studio that would make games for the cloud, putting together the most incredible talent ever seen in a start-up," he told reporters during a London press conference. Though Harrison says the company will continue to support retail, suggesting that physical game discs might not go away soon, he suggested that the company's future is indeed in moving from packaged products to connected services.
What does Phil Harrison mean by the cloud?
The question, of course, is what Harrison means by the cloud. Microsoft already has ways to digitally distribute games and maintain remote storage: you can buy a full-sized game for Xbox 360, download it right to the hard drive on your console, and keep your savegames on Microsoft's remote servers so you can access them again at a friend's house.
But it doesn't sound like that's what Microsoft is doing with Lift London. Studio head Lee Schuneman told reporters that his outfit will be building multiplatform games for tablets, televisions, and mobile phones:
We are here to deliver entertainment as a service, when, where and how you want it. We are going beyond the box, onto tablets, mobile and TVs.
It sounds like he could be describing streaming games, like the kind that OnLive and Gaikai deliver: games hosted on servers that remotely render their images, then stream them to any device as compressed video. Phil Harrison used to serve on the advisory board of Gaikai before it was bought by Sony last year. We've reached out to Microsoft for comment, and we'll let you know what we hear.