Freestyle footballers, zombies, Romans and Plan B took Leicester Square by storm last month to usher in the Xbox One.
It was certainly a pretty spectacle, with a giant Xbox dome, fast cars and musicians doing their best to help passers-by, industry types and fans forget about the chilly November cold. And retailers got in on the act, too. Over 300 GAME stores opened at midnight, while Tesco was branded with the Xbox logo online and across over 100 of its biggest stores.
“It feels like a very big event,” says Phil Harrison, corporate VP at Microsoft, “And because this launch is in the era of social media, it feels massively amplified by that.”
But amidst the festivities, another games retailer announced it would be shutting its doors, and earlier in the month, controversial games analyst Michael Pachter predicted that Xbox One and PS4 would be the last of the consoles. On top of that, Ubisoft and EA have told MCV they think eight years was ‘a bit long’ to wait between Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
So now the glamour of launch night is over, what does the future of Microsoft’s console business hold? MCV caught up with Harrison ahead of the Leicester Square launch event to discuss just that.
It’s a night for celebration, yet it’s also a troubling time for retail with Blockbuster on the brink. Do you feel we need to do more to support our shops?
I think we do work very closely with retail and we work carefully with them and invest in promotions. We saw Tesco run TV ads for Xbox One, and this relationship is multiplied dozens around the country with different retail chains, indies and majors.
The situation is disappointing, but it reflects the changing make-up of retail in entertainment in the UK. I don’t think we are necessarily surprised by any of those changes.
"If you compare it from launch until now, 360
is a totally different machine. I think the
entertainment streaming revolution that
happened in the middle of this life cycle has
definitely extended its life."
Phil Harrison, Xbox
A regular release of products helps. But after Xbox One and PS4 is on shelves, there’s a real lack of new games for the first few months. Why is that?
It’s not a deliberate thing. But not everyone who buys an Xbox One at launch will be playing it right away, some will be going under trees for December 25th and Titanfall at the beginning of March is not so far away. Plus we want our release schedule to have some breathing room in it.
There’s a lot of great new IP next year. But this side of Christmas there’s a lot of the same franchises. Does that not do a disservice to what Xbox One is about?
Well, I wouldn’t call these franchises old. You want to get a balance. There’s 22 games at launch, 11 of which are billion-dollar franchises. I think gamers are looking for something new but they are also looking for something familiar to re-enforce their purchase decision.
There has been some research that pointed out it’s the console exclusives that are the games that drive purchase intention the most, and ten of our games are only available on Xbox One.
EA and Ubisoft told me that eight years waiting for a console was a long time. And that they would prefer five or six years. Was the last console generation too long?
Eight years is actually the right time for a couple of reasons. One, Xbox 360 continues to grow, over 80m units and counting and going strong.
But the underlying silicon chip design innovations that allow Xbox One to be what it is, didn’t come on stream in volume and the price-volume relationship that we needed until right now. So if we had come out three years ago with a new console, it would not be to the same degree of performance that we have now, and it would not be to the same degree of price performance as we have now. Xbox 360 also had seven years of growth, which I think is a record for a console.
How did you manage seven years?
It’s down to the underlying quality of the product. The fact that the Xbox 360 as a non-gaming experience started to grow. We saw the evolution of the dashboard and user interface change dramatically.
If you compare it from launch until now, 360 is a totally different machine. I think the entertainment streaming revolution that happened in the middle of this life cycle has definitely extended its life.
And then great games. You just have to look at the powerhouse franchises, not just from our own studios, but also the likes of GTA. It’s not just a big game, that’s the biggest entertainment franchise ever.
At London Games Conference, Michael Pachter said this will be the last console generation. He reckons we will be playing online or on tablets. What’s your view?
Back to my earlier comment about 360 – all the things that powered the longevity of that console are even more relevant with Xbox One. We have a cloud service, which will make the console a living, breathing thing. It will grow over time; it will grow in capability – not just the device but how the device and the cloud inter-operate. That is effectively going to add performance and experience to the device even without changing a single chip inside of it.
But because of the cloud, then surely you won’t ever need another console? Xbox One is all you’ll ever need.
Well right now it’s the only one you’ll ever need. Let’s not speculate any more beyond that.
"I think Kinect Sports Rivals in the spring will be our first
big step into that – don’t forget the importance of a game
like Zoo Tycoon. In the past when we talk about
expanding a console’s audience we only thought about
doing it through games, but with Xbox One it’s not about
just doing it with games – it’s about TV and Skype. It’s
about the non-gaming features that Xbox One delivers
that give anybody in the household permission to play –
old, young, male or female."
Phil Harrison, Xbox
During the journey of Xbox One, has anything surprised you? Was there something gamers liked more than you were expecting?
There are two things that have definitely popped more strongly than we expected. One is game DVR and the upload feature. The ability to create your own gaming content and sharing that with your friends has landed incredibly well with our audience. It’s our intention that it would become possibly a new viral channel for marketing and promotion for games but it’s massively exceeded my expectations in terms of how it has been delivered. And the other thing is Skype in the living room with a simple to use interface where I can simply say ‘Skype, call Chris’ and it just does it. It is fantastic
It’s all of those 80s sci-fi movies coming true.
And next week we’ll have flying cars.
You mention DVR. Sharing content via Twitch and the like has become a revolution in games media. How much impact do you expect this to have?
It’s a great thing. If you give the player a voice, whether it’s among his friends or in the country or in the world that has to be a good thing for our medium. I think that will make the connection between games, players and developers even closer. I think that’s a win-win for everyone.
How far can Xbox One move into the mainstream?
I think Kinect Sports Rivals in the spring will be our first big step into that – don’t forget the importance of a game like Zoo Tycoon.
In the past when we talk about expanding a console’s audience we only thought about doing it through games, but with Xbox One it’s not about just doing it with games – it’s about TV and Skype. It’s about the non-gaming features that Xbox One delivers that give anybody in the household permission to play – old, young, male or female.