Xbox wins Cologne, but wants more of Europe

Christopher Dring
Xbox wins Cologne, but wants more of Europe

Microsoft won't use the word ‘relaunch' but that's essentially what it has done with Xbox One.

It has already cut the price, redesigned the controller and, come November, it will have introduced a new user interface and backwards compatibility, too.

Outside of its casing, the Xbox One that gamers will be buying this Christmas will look nothing like the one launched two years ago.

You live or die on the innovation you can bring to market on anything you do,” says EMEA boss Neil Thompson.

What the Xbox and product teams have done an amazing job of is just bringing a ton of innovation to our platform – hardware, software services... When you add all those elements together it can feel overwhelming – like it is a new console.

When I used to be interviewed about Xbox 360, I would say that the 360 today will be different to the one you bought a year ago. It is exactly the same in this generation and, if anything, the pace is accelerating, because competitive pressure means that companies like us have to constantly innovate."

"I have a genre triple-A killer title for every market in Europe."

Neil Thompson, Xbox

MCV spoke to Thompson shortly after Xbox's pre-Gamescom press conference. It was an eclectic showing, flitting between console and PC, and from blockbusters like Quantum Break to indie efforts such as We Happy Few. There were eSports initiatives, DVR functionality and, erm, rain in Forza 6. That's without mentioning the announcement of FIFA bundles and the reveal of a new Halo Wars.

It may sound scattershot, but there was a good reason for the variety. Xbox is losing Europe to an increasingly dominant PlayStation. This a fragmented market and what appeals in France doesn't necessarily sell in Sweden. Microsoft was at Gamescom with the express intention of turning the tide on this situation.

PC is big across Europe, which is why PC hits Cities: Skylines, and Train Simulator were on stage. Many of the games on display were European-made (including Quantum Break, Crackdown 3, Cobalt, Homefront, Beyond Eyes, Just Cause 3, Worms, Halo Wars, Fable Legends and so on). Plus, doing anything with FIFA will automatically attract a large proportion of European gamers.

Part of us being at Gamescom was to demonstrate we are supporting Europe, and we want to be successful over here,” explains Thompson. It was a content-driven show, and Europe has a lot of great development talent”

He adds: We absolutely want to win share in Europe. The games line-up we have got, the backwards compatibility, the DVR elements and so on... all of this will help us build more-and-more momentum.

I have a genre triple-A killer title for every market in Europe. The general trend in Europe is that Northern Europe tends to be shooter and racing territories, in mid-Europe you tend to have fans of football and strategy games, and if you go to the south it is all about social games and soccer, too. If you look at what we are offering with FIFA, if you look at our first-party shooters and racing games, plus our strategy titles, we have it covered. What we have got to do a great job of is making sure all the fans in those markets understand what content is suited to them. That is the job that the teams have to get done.”

Xbox One's Q4 line-up is unquestionably strong – Halo 5, Forza 6 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are amongst this year's biggest games – and it's imperative they deliver on their promise. But perhaps Microsoft's biggest challenge will come in its third-party relationships. Xbox has not had much luck with its third-party partnerships, whereas PlayStation has done an impressive job of making games such as Destiny appear like exclusives.

What is important is that we tell our fanbase – and our install base on Xbox 360 – about all of the titles that are coming this holiday on Xbox,” says Thompson. And that is both first-party and third-party. Just look at the bundles we do and the offerings we create, like our FIFA offer. It is really about us making sure that we are working hard with the publishers – which we do – and that we explain to our fans what all of our game content is. Yes, we love our first-party titles, and we have an amazing line-up, but we will talk about all of the games coming to Xbox One.”

A major part of Microsoft's Gamescom was Windows 10. In Germany and much of Europe, PC is the most popular games platform, and Microsoft hopes its renewed push into PC can help win over fans in this arena.

We now have this OS platform where, if developers wish to, they can now develop an app or a game across both the Xbox and Windows platforms,” states Thompson.
The mere fact you can now do that is game-changing for the industry. It will scale very rapidly, based on what we are currently seeing; developers will get more and more excited about the creative possibilities.”

Some of Xbox One's upcoming games, such as Fable Legends, will be made available on PC, too. It's a bold move, because if gamers can get these titles on PC, surely it might harm sales of the console?

No. It is all additive,” defends Thompson. We had 14 million downloads of Windows 10 in the first 24 hours. I don't know how many of them are Xbox users before they downloaded Windows 10, but now we have an audience that is exposed to the Xbox features, games and apps that we have. It is all about adding to game experiences.”

EUROPEAN CHARM OFFENSIVE

Impressing at Gamescom was never going to be enough for Xbox. When asked if Xbox could be No.1 in Europe, Thompson is coy about the answer. The firm may indeed win market share, but unseating an increasingly dominant PS4 is no small feat.

Yet this was a start. Xbox will believe it had something for everyone at Gamescom, and its main aim is not to convince PS4 gamers to swap machines, but rather to encourage the millions of Xbox 360 owners that have yet to upgrade to do so.

With things like backwards compatibility and that stellar line-up, it certainly has the tools at its disposal to do just that.

It is an amazing line-up,” concludes Thompson. The fascinating thing is when you start to look at 2016, that is amazing as well, because you have Gears of War 4, Quantum Break, Crackdown... so we have
an embarrassment of riches and I hope our fans will love them. Now it is down to us to make that happen.”

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