Microsoft Game Exec on the Art of Video Games

Among those at the E3 video gaming convention in Los Angeles was Microsoft's Kevin Brown, the senior art director and the highest-ranking African-American in the company's games unit. He talks to Farai Chideya about what initially drew him to the "art" of video games.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NPR News, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

(Soundbite of videogame)

Unknown Man: Ready? Go!

It's fun. It's loud. It's a multibillion-dollar industry, and it's growing.

(Soundbite of videogame)

Unknown Man: Ready? Go!

GORDON: Video games are big business. These games are expected to outsell CDs over the next two years.

Mr. BILL GATES (President, Microsoft Corporation): We're announcing that we're adding eight new countries, bringing the total to nearly 40. The new countries will include South Africa, Chile, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia. This is, very much, a global phenomena.

GORDON: That's Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, talking about recent additions to a global wireless network for playing video games.

He recently spoke at E3, the world's largest convention for game buyers and developers. Among those in attendance was Microsoft's Kevin Brown, the senior art director and the highest ranking African-American in the company's game unit. He explained to NPR's Farai Chideya what initially drew him to the art of video games.

Mr. KEVIN BROWN (Senior Art Director, Microsoft Corporation): When I first saw a computer, I was in my late teens. When I first bought my own personal computer it was when I was about 23. So it's relatively new, but it was, it just took me over. It's something that I've become very, very passionate about, and something that, you know, I consider something I do professionally as well as a hobby.

So, I'm traditionally trained as an artist, a fine artist, specifically, as well as an illustrator. So, I just wanted to just become more technical. I felt there was this momentum of technology that I was just missing. So I bought a computer, as I said, when I was in my early 20s, bought a copy of Photoshop, and I was just hooked. So, from that point on, I did everything, artistically, from a digital perspective.


There's a joke that goes, that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. Video games are Hollywood for what people?

Mr. BROWN: Well that's an interesting question. Video games are for all people. I think right now in the industry, we're seeing such a diverse group of peoples accept games. You see the film industry now, has recognized games as a major player. And I think, games right now, are basically for everyone.

My grandmother--which I can't even imagine she would be interested in games--but she's actually picked up a controller and played Tetris. So, that's something that I can't even imagine has happened.

CHIDEYA: How has your company innovated? There are a lot of game companies that do different things. Some of them do great first person shooters. Some of them do great games for the PC. Some of them do great games for consoles. What do you do?

Mr. BROWN: I think what we're doing currently--with the console--I think we're leading the way in terms of what's possible on a console. Again, pointing back to the visuals. But what we're seeing now, was not possible, not even on a PC--and now it's in the comfort of your living room, which is great.

We're able to--you can play a game on your console, but also turn around and play that on your PC, or your games for Window. And, what we're doing is merging those two devices to having whatever your play style is, we're available for you. And now, also, you throw on top of that, with the mobile devices and being connected while you're on the go with your games and any sort of news and tips that you can get and download while you're out and about, is amazing. It's amazing.

In terms of my day, and as it relates to E3, I manage a portfolio. So I'm basically making sure that all of the goals that we set for E3, and working in conjunction with our marketing team and our product team; making sure those goals are met. And again, you know, working with some of the outsourcing companies we work with to provide some of the trailers and some of the PR stuff that we do. Just making sure all of that stuff sort of crescendos, right before E3, and that we put our best foot forward.

CHIDEYA: Kevin, last question. Imagine that you are a really wonderful parent, and you've never played a video game. You don't like computers. You've never actually used a computer. And you have a kid who's five, six, and who's completely obsessed with video games. You want to tell that kid, get off that stuff, that's stupid. But someone comes to you, named Kevin Brown, and says, they're not stupid. Actually, there's something there. What would you tell that parent?

Mr. BROWN: Being a parent myself, it's important to monitor what your kids are doing. So first and foremost, I would make sure that that parent was involved in what their kids were looking at and involved in. But I would also make a point, that video games are not just child's play. There's a lot of work that goes into games behind the scenes. There's, you know, a lot of math, and things that the kids are learning. Dexterity, from playing the games. Looking at things; story lines that are in the games; and of course, I would give a little bit more insight into how a kid could actually make a career--which, you know, to be quite frank, it's very, very lucrative to be in the video game industry. So any parent would love to have their kid--to pursue something like that. So...

CHIDEYA: Kevin Brown, thank you so much.

Mr. BROWN: You're very welcome.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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