The X-Men

The X-Men
It has become a tradition at E3 to be confronted with whooping during the platform holder press conferences – but perhaps the same level of excitement is a little unexpected in the follow-up features with the trade’s most powerful men.

Nevertheless, the sight of Don Mattrick and John Shappert literally high-fiving during our chat suggested that they were more than a little pleased with the reaction to Microsoft’s E3 media briefing.

Before we’ve even really started, Mattrick is keen to emphasise his belief that not only did Microsoft’s conference go down well, but Sony and Nintendo’s efforts left something to be desired.

“I think that we got more than 12 months’ work done, and others went on an extended vacation,” he told MCV. “Hopefully they got some good vacation photos, because they sure weren’t showing up at work. I think that the feedback we’ve had has been very positive.”

“What I’ve heard is that Microsoft has had a year of real productivity since the last E3 compared to our competitors, so that’s been encouraging. Of course I’m going to be biased, but so far what I’ve heard is that Sony and Nintendo have disappointed. And Microsoft has been leading, innovating and driving a very comprehensive global programme.”

“We’re building momentum and we’re on a scale that no other consumer electronics company or entertainment company has been able to achieve in nine years. It’s been a very good show and I’m very pleased.”

“There’s nothing at this show that makes me believe that we’re not going to grow at a faster rate and that good things await us.”

So he’s pleased, to say the least. But while Microsoft perhaps had the games and the glamour of Welsh songbird Duffy’s appearance, a major chunk of the presentation was dedicated to Live, and the comprehensive overhaul that Microsoft is calling ‘the new Xbox experience’.

While the phrase may not have stuck, Mattrick’s enthusiasm remains – especially when it comes to talking about the success of Live.

“The growth to over 12 million members is pretty amazing. Others talked about it, but we shared that consumers have spent over a billion in this space. Breaking that billion dollar threshold is a big event for any company and any industry. There’s not many companies anywhere that can say that.”

Microsoft clearly values its online platform almost as much as its ‘traditional’ retail business – hence the presence of Live boss John Shappert in so much of Microsoft’s E3 press coverage. But talking about the platform holder’s new Avatar’s system, there’s inevitably an elephant on the room – is the system just a straight-up rip-off of Nintendo’s Miis?

“It’d be remiss to say that we don’t enjoy playing on the other systems and we have a lot of respect for the work that Miyamoto-san and Nintendo do, but I think it’s a logical extension of our Gamercard, Gamertag and Achievements,” says Schappert.

“People want to personlise their Gamertag and so when we look to the future and think about building a brand new Xbox experience, Avatars is a logical extension of that innovation. I think it’s another avenue of self-expression and there are a lot of opportunities here for consumers.”

Movie and TV content deals were a similarly high-profile element of Microsoft’s E3 showcase – but are people really using these services?

Shappert says that of all Xbox Live’s paid downloads, a third of those are from the video marketplace – the system is in its infancy, clearly, and Shappert says that there’s a long way to go to shift perceptions of 360 from hardcore games machine to all-emcompassing entertainment device.

“We have a bigger story than maybe people thought and there’s a lot more we can do. That’s the challenge we have to pick up and run with,” he says. “It’s our goal for that message to come across, that Xbox brings more entertainment to your television than any other device. If you want to watch a TV show, if you want to watch a movie, play an arcade game, play a retail game or join a party – people can do that. That’s our goal – turn it on, there’s always something on there for you.”

It’ll be interesting to see how far Microsoft take their vision of owning entertainment in the living room. But Shappert is keen to stress that the majority of potential Xbox owners are gamers already.

“We would like nothing more than have everyone pick up an Xbox for these services on Live and turn them into gamers. We’ve sold 20 million hardware units to date and we’re very proud of that, but there’s a lot more to sell and there are a lot of people who enjoyed other consoles last generation who have not upgraded yet.
“Maybe they’re still sitting on the sidelines because of content choices. They want different games that are not being offered yet, or maybe they haven’t upgraded yet because of price. Hopefully they’ll say it’s now time to get an Xbox 360 because it’s a great, approachable machine.”

Mattrick and Schappert’s confidence and enthusiasm is certainly infectious – there was a brief moment when your correspondent considered high-fiving the two Microsoft execs to conclude the feature, instead of the usual handshake. For the sake of losing that all-important air of professionalism, we resisted.

Mattrick’s assertion that his rivals had been on ‘an extended holiday’ for the last year – a planned soundbite used within several features, it has transpired – ensured that Microsoft truly owned the post–E3 media scrum thanks to its headline-friendly bravado.

But talking is the easy part; actually pushing on to own the under-the-TV entertainment space will certainly be a lot more difficult.

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