Speaking to Xbox executives is akin to interviewing politicans.
They are highly media trained, capable of spinning every answer into delivering their desired message.
The senior staff at Microsoft have all studied that detailed PR dossier, to make sure they are all reading from the same hymn sheet.
It can be frustrating, but it is also impressive. Xbox is a firm that is so meticulous in its planning that each interview, marketing campaign and press conference are all closely aligned.
Which is why the calamitous Xbox One unveiling was so surprising.
Conflicting interviews, undecided business policies and confused messaging upset gamers. The press turned on them. So Xbox cancelled E3 interviews (this is MCV’s first since Xbox One was announced), it ripped up that PR dossier. And started again.
This is why Gamescom became such a crucial show for Xbox – a show it didn’t even attend last year. With just over two months until launch, the company has finally set out its updated vision for its new console, and has teamed up with FIFA to try and combat the PS4 momentum.
It has tweaked its marketing, too. It has toned down the ‘all-in-one entertainment system’ messaging in favour of gamer-friendly rhetoric. The latest ad reads: ‘If you love gaming, this one’s for you.”
And, best of all, MCV has finally secured its first Xbox One interview with Xbox Europe VP Chris Lewis.
Do you feel that the overhaul you’ve made to Xbox One’s strategy has hurt its momentum?
No. And look, we remain true to our vision that we want to be wherever our consumers want us to be. We think that digital consumption patterns will change and grow over time. We think that the Cloud gives you a level of sophistication, depth and breadth that people can only dream of. And overtime more people will embrace that.
That said, we want to offer consumers choice, including physical discs and being able to do all the things that they want with those physical discs. We want to be available in any format that our consumers are looking for. We’ve always been very committed to consumer choice.
Why not stick with your strategy, and just try and educate consumers better on what it was you were trying to do?
As a business, the minute we don’t listen to our customers attentively, and adapt and react in an appropriate way, then we would be in a dangerous place. I love the fact that we are reactive and agile in that way. We remain true to our vision – digitally and physically – and we are genuinely in an enviable position versus anyone else in being able to deliver that. I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.
The biggest concern from MCV readers was your potential pre-owned restrictions, which you have since reined in. What is Xbox’s position on second-hand?
What you’ve seen from us by way of our adaptation to some of the feedback is indicative of our respect for what our retail partners are and what they represent. We partner with them deeply and we will continue to do so. And I’ll come back to our point earlier, which is we want to offer consumers as much choice as they want from us right now, without compromising our vision and overall strategic approach. And I think we have a really great balance now.
Do you feel your FIFA/Xbox One giveaway is a game changer?
It is a big bet for us, and one that has been a long time in the planning. But that’s not to preclude anything else, we have deep relationships with Activision and Ubisoft. We think this is a hugely impactful and very positive piece of news for us.
Sony has announced over 1m PS4 pre-orders worldwide, while you are trying to stimulate demand with the FIFA bundle. Have the numbers not matched your expectations?
I won’t give you a number, but we are very happy with the progress. In countries that have truly got behind Xbox One, the UK is an example of that, we’ve seen really strong pre-order momentum. As an example of your homeland, that is somewhat typical of everywhere. This latest piece of news will do nothing but add more adrenaline to that.
Were you not tempted to remove Kinect from the Xbox One box?
Kinect is at the heart of the architecture of what we are with Xbox One, our developers love the fact it is consistent and that they can develop confident that the technology is there for them to create experiences and enhancements in games with its use of voice, gesture and the recognition of you in the room. All of that richness needs to be consistent across Xbox One. So no, we are clear on our vision and our strategy for the hardware, the platform, the services and the content.
Will Xbox One sell out?
Well we have done a few of these now. You can feel assured that we spend a lot of time and a good level of rigor on supply chain, making sure of everything for all of our retailers around Europe – some of which have much longer logistic schedules because of their physical location, or proximity to our distribution centre. So I am very confident we will be in good shape. Can I tell you most definitely we won’t sell out? You know, on the first day I think we will sell out in some places. There’s two key things there. The first is: That’s fantastic because we have got that much demand. But the second key thing is that we replenish those retailers really fast. In the ramp through pre-order to day one and then importantly though the Christmas period, we need to have good replenishment schedules, because we know how important that is.
Will the next-gen transition be slower this time? Particularly with so many big games being on Xbox 360 and Xbox One?
There’s no doubt from the reaction we’ve had here to the Xbox One line-up, our own games and Xbox One versions of third-party games, is that they are enormously rich, deep and compelling experiences. I am confident people will flock to Xbox One to play them, and onto next-generation in a rapid way.
In addition, we remain committed to Xbox 360. It is an important part of the ecosystem for our retailer partners, for our third-party developers and indeed for our own economics. So you are going to see us marketing Xbox 360 very strongly, there is fantastic content coming to 360. Both of those consoles will have a very healthy future for multiple years. But the content, the entertainment, the applications, certainly the overall Kinect richness, will compel people to move to this new generation quite quickly.
When Xbox 360 launched, you stopped producing hardware and games for the first Xbox straight away. Will you be managing the transition better this time?
Most definitely. Xbox 360 has a multi-year future. In my own team I have a lot of people worrying a lot about that 360 plan, making sure that it is robust, that we have good healthy space in retail outlets, that we have a value proposition through Christmas, and that we harness some the content coming. We see a genuine concurrent and healthy existence for both 360 and Xbox One.
Why announce such an aggressive indie programme?
It is crucial that we have a plan and that we are fertile ground for the next blockbuster games. We are constantly seeking the next Call of Dutys and Forza Motorsports. Those smart ideas have to be incubated and encouraged. We are very keen for people to see our platform as the space to do that.
What do you think are the key areas in deciding this next generation console battle?
The whole thing is fascinating. People, when I have these discussions, go: “You must be really worried about the competition?” Actually, it is the most exciting time. Good, strong, healthy competition creates so much more of a vibrant environment. It pushes the quality bar up for everything – your marketing, the approach to your consumers, the games themselves. And that’s great for retail. It is a really healthy time.
This Christmas we will be locking horns with Sony, of course we will, you’d expect that, but I think the ultimate beneficiary of that will be the consumer. It’s really healthy and exciting for the industry that we are taking such big strides in terms of the technology and what that experience means for the consumers. It is a great time.
That said, I wouldn’t trade places. I think we are in an enviable position.
This interview first appeared in MCV Issue 753 (August 30th)