Yesterday was so jam-packed with video game-related news, it was like E3 had already arrived. Probably the biggest event was the announced departure of both Robbie Bach and J Allard from Microsoft. Bach is President of the Entertainment and Devices Division while Allard holds the title of Chief Technology Officer. Both were instrumental in the success of the Xbox consoles. Bach is set to retire this fall, while Allard will retain a role as an adviser to Steve Ballmer. Bach will not be replaced, and Interactive Entertainment Business Senior Vice President Don Mattrick will report directly to Ballmer once Bach is gone (on the mobile side of the house, Mobile Communications Business Senior Vice President Andy Lees will do the same). The official line is that the two departures are not related. What this means for the future of the Xbox line isn't clear, but the fall launch of Project Natal is still on schedule, as far as we know. Kevin C. Tofel at GigaOm takes a look at the situation in "Is Steve Ballmer Really the Best Choice to Run Microsoft’s Consumer Business?" Also of interest is J. Allard's goodbye email, shared by ZDnet. Allard puts a pretty positive spin on his departure.
Sony got some arguably bad news yesterday, too, as Insomniac, makers of the Sony-exclusive series Ratchet & Clank and Resistance, signed up as part of the Electronic Arts Partners program. Their next IP will be cross-platform, but beyond that they aren't saying too much about specifics. In an interview with Joystiq, Insomniac CEO Ted Price confirms that both Ratchet and Resistance are owned by Sony so those franchises will remain Sony exclusives. Still in the Sony camp, a leak suggests that a premium version of Sony's Playstation Network, labeled PSN+, will be announced at E3. Various versions of this leak promise different feature sets, but the one thing they all agree on is that the free version of PSN won't lose any features; PSN+ will add perks to what already exists. We've heard everything from a free PSN title every month to the chance to play the first hour of retail games for free, to hardware protection programs. Of course the downside of a service like this is that any coming new features will probably be aimed at the Premium version of the service, and the free PSN will remain mostly unchanged from here on out. That's just speculation on my part; I think we'll have to wait for the Sony Press Conference at E3 to find out what's really going on here. And for the last bit of Sony-related news, IncGamers reports on a study that claims the PS3 now holds 31% of the global console marketshare and that by year's end Sony will have sold 14 million Playstation 3s (compared to 17.5 million for the Nintendo Wii and 10.5 million for the Microsoft Xbox 360). Here in the US the PS3 is seen as lagging far behind the other two consoles; it's interesting to hear that it's holding its own globally. The last rumor for today is that Rock Band 3 will support keyboards. This rumor stems from the fact that a Rock Band 3 logo in the demo of Rock Band: Green Day (available now on the XBox Live Marketplace) shows an icon of a keyboard next to the icons for the currently supported lead guitar, drums, bass guitar and microphone. What exactly this means is still anyone's guess. It probably means Rock Band 3 will ship with a plastic keyboard. But wouldn't it be far more interesting if the game supported real electronic keyboards? Do we really need another fake plastic instrument cluttering up our closets? How about a music game that teaches us a real instrument while we play?