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Amazon poaches Microsoft games chief

Kindle online game player?

Amazon has poached one of the brains behind Microsoft's fabulously successful Xbox and Xbox Live, hinting at a rival cloud-based gaming strategy.

Director of games platform strategy Andre Vrignaud has left Microsoft for Amazon after eight years, having helped turn Microsoft into a top-ranking games brand.

Vrignaud blogged in a post that no longer seems available that he couldn't reveal what he'll be doing at Amazon. He did say: "I'm excited about where Microsoft is going in the next few years as they look to reinvent digital entertainment...but I'm also obviously very intrigued about what Amazon is looking to do."

Vrignaud joined Microsoft in 2002, as the company released its first Xbox consoles, to develop Xbox Live. Microsoft's online multiplayer subscription-based service has 25 million members, and estimates indicate that it broke the $1bn revenue barrier for the first time during the company's most recent fiscal year, ended in July.

He leaves as some Xbox Live gamers will pay more to play from this November. The annual subscription in the US is going up from $49.99 to $59.99, with increases also in the UK, Canada, and Mexico. Meanwhile, games analyst Michael Pachter has reportedly predicted Microsoft will soon introduce a higher-priced XBox Live premium service.

Vrignaud follows Microsoft's former corporate vice president of Windows platform strategy Mike Nash, who left in February. Nash spent 19 years working on business and technology development of Windows and Internet Explorer, including security, and joined the toaster warehouse to start working on the company's Kindle reader.

It's not unusual for employees to move between Microsoft and Amazon, given their geographical proximity in Washington State. Amazon is a slightly easier commute thanks to the fact it's based in Seattle. Microsoft is on the other side of Lake Washington in Redmond.

Loosely connecting these two dots from an industry perspective, though, could suggest Amazon sees the Kindle as a device for playing games from Amazon. Given the Microsoft pedigree, there's every chance that could mean online game play and "connected experiences" paid for by subscriptions.

Vrignaud recounted the political battles he fought inside Microsoft to get buy-in to paying online services and to move beyond the world of PC-like console-based gaming.

Not many people remember now, but there was a time when even the idea of Xbox LIVE was extremely controversial. We got... robust, shall we say, feedback on a variety of subjects. I remember folks insisting that voice would never be desired from the console audience, or that this whole crazy digital content download Marketplace thing would never take off. And of course, quite a few folks struggled to believe that Xbox LIVE would be a service that people would be willing to pay for. 25 million+ members later I think that debate has finally been put to rest.

That kind of built-in resistance should be less evident at Amazon, which was already working online before stepping into cloud-based services that others, like Microsoft, are now struggling to emulate. ®

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