Microsoft and Adobe casual gaming partnership– Casual love or just gaming each other?

I often get many theories floated past me from staffers, usually it is a case of mind candy, and ways to figure out the chaos within Microsoft – kind of like reverse detective work?

Today, I got a great piece to a puzzle I have been trying to put together for quite some time. It comes mainly from a meeting that Microsoft and Adobe CEO’s had a couple of years ago – in secret kind of.

The two meeting for a catch-up was always unlikely, and when those two get in a room there is an agenda, now the question was always – what was that agenda

The working theory is that Silverlights death was confirmed in that meeting, that in order to regain favor with the Adobe crowd you had to basically show your intent has been to knife the baby – get rid of your competitive threat and at the same time work out a strategy into getting the hordes of design audiences at Adobe’s disposal to give Microsoft another look – despite the brand fail of internet explorer / office clippie and many many many more.

The inside gossip I got today was that Microsoft are working together with Adobe to close the gap on the casual gaming market, in that Adobe’s always owned this market online via Flash for many years and to go after it, despite the XBOX brand’s success would simply take a lot of investment.

Instead, Windows team getting into bed with Adobe to produce a tooling story that compliments their future platform strategies around casual gaming makes more sense as it wins on two fronts. The first being is Windows team aren’t keen to own the tooling strategy for this area, its basically to hard and requires a separate war chest to dominate. Adobe is keen to shift away from being the platform story (notice why Adobe is less platform focused these days and gone back to basics on tooling?) and more about owning the tooling that goes with platform(s).

Adobe working with Microsoft also provides a partnership elsewhere; they both get to cross-pollinate with the developer and designer adoptions. If you can get developers to buy, your tools to work with designers both parties win. As Microsoft is desperate to win hearts and minds on the design bloodlines, it is why metro is the default look as despite its marketing fluff; it is simply a case of ascii art meets public toilet signage – idiot proof.

It is not enough and despite the proactive technical audiences raising glasses in favor of the solid color screens known as metro, it still is not sustaining the creative momentum it desperately needs to retain the interruption required to seed a bigger customer base.

Looking back on BUILD conference, I also found it interesting that XNA was not mentioned as much is it could or probably should have been. It like Silverlight was left with a lot of ambiguity around its futures specifically how casual gaming audiences could benefit from Windows 8 in the future.

In fact, sitting down to play with the current scraps of beta that was given to us via this conference and focusing on Window 8, under the hood it’s still murky as to how the overall new platform is going to work with regards to games.

Not only that, but the reality that plug-ins as we know it aren’t going to be friendly within Windows 8 Browser(s) it’s also a bit of a question mark around how Adobe can retain success here going forward. In fact, if Windows 8 does go ahead, it’s basically a case of Flash being shut down the moment that platform gets traction and before you throw the anti-trust argument on the table, remember that no longer applies – the Windows team can push out Silverlight over night to every machine world wide if they wanted to (not as optional either) as legally speaking, nothing is preventing this today?

That was also our intent in the Silverlight team, when the consent decree sunset kicked in we had strategies around how we would get ubiquity worldwide in quite a rapid way – I mean in nine months we pushed Silverlight out to half a billion people under a lot of tight constraints. Today, nothing …despite constraints gone?

Silverlight had to be knifed but why, and WinRT is not enough there has to be a better story on the horizon.

The windows teams are not really interested in tooling or mini platforms, they typically want a locked in way of life in that you buy Windows and THEN the free market opens up.

If the Windows team have any chance of success of having an AppStore model much like the iTunes/Apple story they need to provide a lot of free market opportunities to folks who aren’t already exclusively tied down to Apple (content wise as well as other categories).

Apple have made it clear Adobe has no future on their future platform stories other than tooling for designers to create Objective-C experiences and also they can install such tooling on the Operating System – but that’s it, beyond that Steve Jobs was quite open about his dislike for Flash.

Flash and HTML5 are also becoming quite a topical conversation in the Adobe communities, specifically the FUD around the future of Flash – Yes more Flash is dead posts arriving to an RSS feed near you.

Adobe have to figure out a strategy here around retaining control as in the end despite them spending a lot of time and energy now on tooling vs. their vision of the platform dominance for mobile devices (CTO Kevin Lynch used to always beat that war drum, today, not so much? He was ahead of his time in thinking and cunning strategies to position Flash but in the end, it never stuck).

Microsoft have to bridge this gap and until you see a casual gaming story unfolding at the next BUILD something or someone has to provide the ingredients here to make that work, as in the end this is the carrot that gets you in part Windows 8 adoption with consumers – especially given the Windows 8 in its current form has no level of excitement from Enterprise or Medium Business industries.

Today, I was told a scrap of info but the more I step back and piece things together the more I begin to cast a theory, and this post is a current working model of it.

I could do with more information, care to share?

XNA, where’s that heading next? What is Microsofts casual gaming story in the new Windows 8 world? Why no Silverlight focus on Casual gaming? HTML5 can’t handle it on its own that’s for sure…

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Adobe Open Screen Project – reality check.

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Despite what some folks in the Adobe community think, I’m actually still a big fan of Flash and what it represents. I do however hold Adobe up to a much higher standard than I did with Microsoft, as for me they have shown endless amounts of potential but have in my opinion squandered through either in-fighting or misalignment with the rest of the industry.

I’ve read a many a post on the “Open Screen Project” and whilst the concept of putting Flash Runtime on multiple devices etc is quite an appealing concept, I just don’t see them pulling it off beyond a few million units here and there. It’s a reality check that I think a lot of the Adobe staff need to take a step back and review.

Putting Flash on the iPhone or vNext desktop device is the easy part and I don’t think a lot of companies are realistically against that idea on it’s own. They would be typically skeptical of the technical dependency when you start too look beyond the “Open” PR spin and start focus on the tooling and ecosystem surrounding it.

Adobe just don’t have the developer numbers to support a sophisticated ecosystem it requires. There are a lot of exceptionally talented programmers in the Adobe community, some of which are fighting well above their weight – these however aren’t the majority. Adobe needs more of a groundswell of developers, ones that typically hail from either .NET, PHP or JAVA as their previous breeding ground. To date, they haven’t yielded that as fast as they should/could.

Adobe have been plagued with getting their community to move from ActionScript 1.0 and 2.0 over to ActionScript 3.0 and for the past 2-3 years that’s been a campaign of there’s in motion (i.e. being a little more aggressive in ensuring future roadmaps lock the next generation of ActionScript etc into place, essentially what I call a “duress adoption”). They’ve also recently started picking up on the reality that Microsoft fears daily, PHP has become the 800lb gorilla. There are quite a groundswell of PHP developers out there who don’t typically favor Adobe or Microsoft in a lot of ways and are more than happy to punch out solutions built in a HTML/CSS/JavaScript sandbox.

So why me, someone with little PHP experience? I’ve always felt like evangelism is about growing your developer community and developer relations is about helping the community you have – Ryan Stewart, Adobe Evangelist.

Adobe needs to court these folks and fast, as if they can get these folks to switch gears into the Adobe community lifestyle, they in turn and increase there developer base in a much more significant way than they have in the past by pounding at the Java and/or .NET developer doors.

Assuming they fix the Developer base, they next need to convince OEM manufacturers that their tooling isn’t the liability in this equation. I say that, as whilst its fun and 10x more productive to build Flash based solutions via Adobe specific tooling, this in turn creates effectively a liability in around the concept of being “”Open”. It’s not really Open, its more of a half-hatched Open concept, as producing a SWF outside Adobe tooling is actually not a likely thing to occur in the industry. The reason being is, whilst you can technically make your own SWF, you are still required to fall into line with Adobe’s roadmap and vision of where it all heads.

Implementing software which creates SWF files has always been permitted, on the condition that the resulting files render "error free in the latest publicly available version of Adobe Flash Player." – Wikipedia.com

Point is, that whilst their intentions are righteous and feel open, you have to face reality that this is just shifting the boundaries on a total lock-in and instead of declaring the Runtime and File Format as completely locked, its really the tooling story behind it is where the money tree begins. After all, Adobe aren’t in this business for free, they have shareholders and a $3billion+ fiscal profit expectation to meet.

The tooling component to this equation is really the bottleneck as could you imagine what would happen if say ActionScript 3.0 and Flash were solutions that a Visual Studio .NET developer could write inside the said tooling? It would have a huge impact on both sides of the isle roadmaps that’s for sure.

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