The jig is up. Google Games is coming. Let us no longer be fooled or fool ourselves.
Lee wrote in a blog post:
"Very recently, I have left Microsoft to join a special projects team at Google. After more than 2 and a half years working as a core contributor to the human tracking algorithms for Kinect, it was an extremely difficult decision and I leave behind many great colleagues in Redmond."
Lee remembers with fondness nurturing Kinect through the very early days of incubation (even before it was called "Project Natal") all the way to shipping 8 million units in the first 60 days.
Lee actually has a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction, which involves "exploring novel interface technology that can influence the lives of many people." Microsoft described Lee in a bio as one who:
"explores novel input and output devices that can improve interaction with computing technology. His main responsibilities include advising the direction of existing hardware product lines and developing prototypes that may be developed into new products."
"Lee joined Microsoft in June 2008 after graduating with a doctoral degree in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University. His research work spans a variety of topics including projection technology, multitouch input, augmented reality, brain-computer interfaces, and haptics."
I'm going to go out on a tiny limb here and claim Lee was brought on board to help size up the Google Games initiative we began hearing about last summer.
Here's the background:
Recall that in June TechCrunch noted that Google invested $100 million into online gaming power Zynga and was looking for a product management leader for Google Games.
A few weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is in "talks with several makers of popular online games as it seeks to develop a broader social networking service that could compete with Facebook."
So, a partnership with Zynga and perhaps quietly with Playdom, Playfish or others. That made me think Google is trying to add social gaming for its then alleged Google Me effort, which is now known as Google+1.
Of course, these folks could also just be building apps for the Chrome Web Store, but I think it's bigger than that given the virtual currency and other multibillion-dollar stakes that lie in online social games today.
The equation, proven by Facebook and Zynga, is simple: social gaming = increased user engagement = big ad dollars.
Now this note from Lee makes me think Google is potentially building a gaming console.
Just as Google partnered with HTC and Samsung on the Nexus One and Nexus S, Google could have contracted with a hardware maker to build a gaming console, which Google would fuel with an Android-based platform and games from Zynga and others.
Perhaps we will see this at Google I/O in May? I'm just speculating, but it would be pretty cool: Google throwing billions at building out gaming to blunt the Xbox-Kinect and Facebook-Zynga powerhouses.