Hiring the right staff and studios is of critical concern to Microsoft and Sony. The fierce competition between the two companies demands increasingly competent games, which can only be created by seriously smart headhunting. However, there's currently an invisible and unused workforce who have already demonstrated their mastery of next-gen hardware. If hired, they could provide massive profits, great games and invaluable ammunition for the console wars.
Let's start with Microsoft and arguably the most obvious pool of potential developer talent going to waste. Within days of Kinect releasing, an entire community of homebrew coders leapt into action; creating an unprecedented number of applications that pushed the peripheral into uncharted territory. And uncharted accuracy. Fingertip control? Stealth camo? Flying robots?! It's all good. We've already reported that Microsoft will soon be officially supporting Kinect on PC- and the last few months have already provided them with any number of coders who are overqualified for the job.
Why stop with the PC? Hiring these guys on board would allow their expertise to be shoehorned into Kinect's Xbox 360 functionality. They've already created more innovative user interfaces than your first party developers managed, so hurry up and get them on base! Their skills and expertise would be invaluable for better integrating the unique motion control input with the Xbox 360 dashboard. Not to mention for creating more accomplished games.
But it doesn't stop with Kinect. Microsoft are continually (and rightly) accused of being hopeless at retaining exclusive talent. Just look at Bungie and Epic... and don't get us started on BioWare who only produced titles for PC or Xbox 360 before their EA partnership. The 360 desperately needs more exclusives and first party studios- but Microsoft have a stable of willing developers sitting right under their nose! The Xbox Live Indie Games scene contains hundreds of great titles from veteran coders, and my weekly roundups should demonstrate that there'. It's essentially a massive job portfolio! More nurturing of the service itself, as well as its oft-overlooked developers, would create a truly unique selling point for the Xbox 360 as well as a huge pool of potential candiates for existing (or new) first party studios.
Media Molecule have the right idea- and Redmond's PR bunker could learn a thing or two from watching them. When they needed more level designers for LittleBigPlanet 2, they didn't send out an open call for new talent. They had all the portfolios and CVs that any developer could ever desire right there in the community-made level database! Media Molecule hired on staff directly out of their own community; people who have already demonstrated mastery of the game's capabilities and their own commitment to hard graft. This is nothing less than the way forward. Valve have also taken great strides in this area, illustrated by their acquisition of Turtle Rock. Unfortunately these two companies are the exception rather than the rule.
Sony themselves are somewhat slower on the uptake... which brings us to the most controversial segment of this article. Ever since the PS3 hit the shelves, they've been waging a constant battle against the threat of homebrew applications and custom firmware, leading to the current lawsuits against over a hundred coders. George "GeoHot" Hotz and the fail0verflow lads are currently engaged in a fierce legal snafu over the latest firmware breaches.
Here's the thing. I'm not saying that Sony are wrong to legally defend their copyrighted material- far from it- but surely you'd want a cabal of developers with intimate knowledge of the PS3's inner workings on your side. Much like Agent Hanratty put an infamous fraudster to work for the FBI in Catch Me If You Can, wouldn't these guys be more useful working for Sony rather than against them? They've already demonstrated their skills better than any interview ever could, and a generous salary would mean that they could be tasked with making the PS3 more secure whilst creating an easier way for developers to get original homebrew/indie applications onto the Playstation and PSP. Let's face it, they'd be an asset to any software company that hired them.
Sure, it would set an odd precedent. But wouldn't it be more profitable for everyone concerned if Sony tried to join them before trying to beat them?
God knows that there are many other exceptional candidates labouring away instead of making bank for Microsoft, Sony and countless other employers. In my opinion, it's about time that gaming's top brass start viewing modding communities and homebrew coders as ready made opportunities- not threats to their bottom line. That way, everybody wins... and everyone gets paid.