If you have signed up for Game Pass or are a geek at Xbox Achievements, you are familiar with Chris Novak’s work.
The head of Xbox research and design is leaving the company after nearly 20 years. Novak has led user experience research and design efforts for more than five years, and previously held positions as Xbox Design Director and Xbox Design Architect. Across these roles, Novak has been responsible for user experience on many of the company’s biggest projects, including Xbox Game Pass, along with cloud gaming and Xbox Live.
“Microsoft was where I learned in the gaming crucible, from the best players in the world across the industry,” Novak told Polygon. “I have to see her in her best of times and her worst of times. And that learning process, I really appreciate.”
Novak took over Microsoft Xbox research and design at a turning point for the company and its home console. When the Xbox One launched in 2013, Microsoft’s marketing strategy for the console failed: the Xbox 360 managed to attract a large gaming audience, but Microsoft looked to the Xbox One as a complete entertainment system. The Xbox One revealed a notorious disaster, focusing on everything But Video games. Microsoft soon realized that it had to get the players back, but it never gave up on the entertainment platform either.
Novak came in as head of Xbox research and design after Microsoft had been pushing hard, publicly, on the idea that the Xbox was primarily focused on video games. While consoles were still important, the most exciting idea for Xbox leadership was the freedom to play Xbox games on different devices, starting with the launch of Xbox Play Anywhere, which allows gamers to access games on a Windows PC or console.
Xbox leader Phil Spencer came up with a unique idea: gamers should be able to play games anywhere, using the Xbox ecosystem. After PC, Xbox leadership focused on bringing Xbox to mobile devices through cloud streaming. Novak referred to the Microsoft Touch Adaptation Kit for Xbox Cloud Gaming as a special proud moment in his career at the company.
“How big of a challenge is that when you’re trying to create complete gaming experiences on a device that it was never built for? That was the challenge,” Novak said. It allowed us to render this output to any device. […] This is one of the moments I am most proud of.”
Another feature he fondly looks forward to is the Xbox’s Photo and Achievement modes; Xbox Live originally launched with a limit of only five achievements. Novak and his team realized it Project Gotham Racing 2 These achievements reinforce Microsoft’s philosophy that different gameplay styles are acceptable. at Project Gotham Racing 2Most people wanted to win races and go fast, but some players wanted to take pictures of storefronts and explore the environments; A variety of accomplishments solidified the idea of playing your way, a motto that has remained with Novak and the company for decades.
He said Novak’s biggest challenge was balancing the experimental changes while keeping things comfortable for the player. “It’s very easy to build new things, but it’s not better,” Novak said. “And most people want their gaming experience to be comfortable, familiar, and fast. They need to be connected to the thing they want as quickly as possible, and any time you do something new you might ask them to use a different button or think of a different flow. And they might be frustrated with that. “.
“Achieving this balance is an ongoing challenge,” Novak continued.
Novak said he’s leaving Microsoft to take time off work and refocus his life. After losing someone close to him three years ago, Novak said he wanted to take time off to learn new things. He will not transfer to a new company immediately.
“I’m about to be 20 years old with Xbox,” Novak said. “For me, some of the things that will come out on Xbox, that are very exciting, will be committed to years of working there. It would be amazing. But do I want to commit to that? Or do I want to acknowledge that I am happy with what we shipped? Do I really need to get out? On my own and continue my learning journey, and try some other things. If I don’t do it now, when will I do it?”