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Google is laying the groundwork to make a big play in video games

Jan 23, 2018, 23:51 IST

Former Microsoft exec. Phil Harrison giving a presentation during an Xbox Media Briefing at E3 2013.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

  • Video game industry veteran Phil Harrison is joining Google's consumer hardware division.
  • Harrison's career was primarily spent at Sony, where he helped build the PlayStation brand across 15 years.
  • His most recent gaming job was at Microsoft, representing the Xbox division as a corporate VP.
  • His job at Google is a curious twist - he's directly reporting to Rick Osterloh, Google's hardware leader.

Why did Google just hire a long-time video game industry veteran for its hardware team?

That's the big question after the big Twitter announcement on Monday from Phil Harrison, the former Sony and Microsoft executive who joined Google recently as VP and GM in the hardware group.

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In one sense, this is a logical move: Harrison is most well-known for his work at Sony, where he helped several iterations of the PlayStation game console become major consumer products. He was there during the PlayStation 2 years, when Sony enjoyed its highest-ever market share of the game-console market.

In another sense, it's a baffling move: Harrison is a long-term game industry veteran. Google's efforts in gaming are, at best, limited. There's no dedicated gaming hardware from the company, unless you consider Google's Daydream VR headset a dedicated gaming device (which even Google doesn't).


Ben Gilbert / Business Insider

The closest Google gets to gaming is Google Play, the digital storefront for Android. And even then, most games on mobile come to Apple's iPhone first.

Moreover, Harrison's joining the consumer hardware group - the nascent group behind the Google Home smart speakers, and the Google Pixel phones, the Pixelbook laptops, and the Chromecast streaming devices (and, yes, the Daydream VR headset). This is the team headed by Rick Osterloh, and it's a bit of an anomaly for Google - a company that traditionally hasn't focused on first-party hardware.

But Google swears it's serious about turning hardware into more than just a "hobby." To that end, Google outright bought an engineering division from HTC for $1.1 billion. And now, it's got Phil Harrison.

So, why Harrison?

Phil Harrison isn't a hardware engineer.


His time at Sony's PlayStation division was spent in executive roles. Harrison's not the guy who draws out the architecture for the next big PlayStation console - he's the guy who orchestrates major game launches alongside that next big console.

With over 20 years experience running major gaming platforms, Harrison is a guy who knows people.

Perhaps most importantly for Google, Harrison is a guy who can get a meeting with whoever Google wants to speak with. Though it's unlikely Google will make a dedicated gaming device, it's entirely likely that the future of Google's hardware division will involve gaming. When augmented-reality headsets overtake smartphones, for instance, gaming will be a crucial component of that effort - and that's when Phil Harrison could be a perfect fit for Google's hardware team.

For now, though, Google and Harrison aren't saying.

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