The Xbox One strikes back

Alex Calvin
The Xbox One strikes back

For all the criticism the Xbox One has received, it is evident that Microsoft is willing to listen to the fans and change its hardware to reflect what players want.

From ditching its digital-only strategy to removing Kinect from the package, Xbox has responded to the demands of its fans.

It's still listening, too. This month, Microsoft is introducing a new UI to the Xbox One. It's bringing in cross platform play with Windows 10. It's even targeting pro-gaming with its premium and customisable Elite Controller.

That's not all, either. Perhaps its most intriguing change is adding backwards compatibility functionality, allowing gamers to play 360 titles on their Xbox One.

Within weeks, the Xbox One will almost feel like a completely new console.

We are on an on-going journey to listen to what fans want on how to make Xbox the very best place to play,” UK marketing director Harvey Eagle says.

From Day One we've been on that path, making improvements all along the way. This is the next part of that evolution of the console. It's something we were committed to throughout the life of Xbox 360 as well. We're just carrying on that ethos of listening to what fans want and bringing it to them as quickly as possible.”

Backwards compatibility was revealed at E3 this year, and was arguably the most surprising announcement to come out of Microsoft's media briefing. Gamers will be able to play around 100 360 titles on their Xbox One on launch. Suddenly, that console is looking more enticing for the many 360 gamers who are yet to upgrade to the new machines.

There's a lot of people who actively use their Xbox 360s in the UK that haven't yet moved to the newer machines,” Eagle says.

Backwards compatibility is one of several reasons why Xbox One is an incredibly appealing console for this Christmas. For a 360 owner, it is an especially appealing feature because it enables them to play the games they already own at no additional cost. This Christmas is really the time for them to make that move.”

The firm's announcement of backwards compatibility was met with screaming crowds in the room, and received plaudits from the media. But there were some naysayers – including PlayStation's European boss Jim Ryan, who said that though backwards compatibility is a much-requested feature, it's not actually greatly used.

It's what the fans have told us that they want most,” Eagle insists.

It really has ranked top in all of that list. If you were in the room at E3 when we announced it and saw the genuine response and surprise from the audience. It will prove popular, it's a great value message for a 360 owner who is considering making a move to the new consoles.

Backwards compatability wasn't the only big Xbox announcement this year. The platform holder also revealed the highly customisable Elite Controller (above).

The Elite range is really designed for what we'd call the competitive-level gamer,” Eagle explains.

It's for a serious player who wants to have full customisation of a controller, who wants to have the flexibility to set up and configure their controller for their style of game play.”

The gamepad is pricey – coming in at a hefty 130 – but it has been very popular since its launch.

It's always hard to know when you're launching a new product exactly what the demand is going to be,” Eagle says.

We were very confident that the team had built an incredible product, of that we were in no doubt. But it's a premium price product, it's a new market for us and the demand has been overwhelming. So we are in the process of trying to keep up with that demand, get as much product into the market as we can, as quickly as we can.”

The Elite Controller is another effort by Microsoft to tap into the burgeoning eSports market. At Gamescom, the platform holder announced the first Halo World Championship, with a $1m prize pool that has since grown to $1.5m. But what exactly is Xbox's ambition within the eSports space?

The team under Phil Spencer has made a commitment to make Xbox the best place for gamers to play,” Eagle says.

And that's for all types of games, whether you are interested in family-style games and want to play games like FIFA, Minecraft or LEGO – we want to make sure that Xbox delivers that. Likewise if you are more serious or pro gamer, we want to make sure Xbox can deliver on that, too. We're interested in delivering across the whole broad range of what gamers want. And that includes eSports.”

Xbox also recently launched a new entry in its Halo franchise, Halo 5: Guardians. The game generated more money in its first 24 hours than new James Bond flick Spectre and pushed the sci-fi series over $5bn in sales.

It's been the fastest-selling exclusive title on any new console and one of the most pleasing things of all is how strong multiplayer is and how many people are already out there playing,” Eagle says.

The latest data is that we've had 21m hours of gameplay posted on Halo 5. That's a mind boggling number in a very short space of time. That gives us great confidence in the future of Halo 5. It will be a game that people keep coming back to again and again, particularly because of the strength of the multiplayer.”

Halo isn't the only big game Xbox has this quarter, either. Temporary exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider hits shelves today (Friday, November 13th). And Eagle has sizeable expectations of the title.

It's obviously a much-loved franchise,” Eagle says.

We recently showed Rise of the Tomb Raider at EGX – people were queuing up for hours just to try the game. I spoke to a lot of people coming out of that and the response was really amazing. We have a great marketing campaign lined up, we have some TV ads just breaking now. As I say the game looks gorgeous, it plays gorgeous and we're really excited about it.”

When it launched, Halo helped make the Xbox One the best-selling console in the UK for that week. And Microsoft has plans to ensure it continues to drive impressive sales for the duration of the Q4 period, and close the sales gap between the Xbox One and Sony's PS4.

Now is really the time when the market starts to grow,” Eagle says.

It's a highly seasonal business, it always has been – and a lot of the sales happen in this period. We've been very focused on building the right plan to get us through this period. With the new features, the great new games that have just come out, some of the amazing games that are about to come out, plus some of the deals that we and our retail partners will have, we're making the Xbox One the most attractive console to buy out there.

It makes us very confident in how the next few weeks are going to go.”

NUMBERS GAME

Around Microsoft's recent financial report, it was revealed that the firm would no longer be reporting console sales figures.

Instead, Xbox said it was going to be revealing ‘engagement' data,

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