INTERVIEW: Pav Bhardwaj, Xbox Live UK

Microsoft’s Xbox Live UK product manager talks Minecraft, Arcade Next and the future of the Xbox 360 online platform.

Tell us about the Arcade Next promotion – why group a bunch of new games under that tagline? How effective have past promotions been?

Yeah I think we’ve been quite fortunate. We’ve just come out of a promotion for a set of games and obviously we’ve got four Arcade titles launching. They’re all published by Microsoft Studios, so they’re all first-party. They’re all really, really good IPs. There’s been a lot of demand for them. We’ve packed them all together and will send them out to everybody. Between [other XBLA promotions] House Party and Summer of Arcade, there’s a gap where we’d thought we’d plug these titles.

What kind of growth has Xbox Live and Live Arcade seen in the UK over the past year?

We don’t have any particular numbers as such, but we’ve seen good growth with the arcade titles, and the game add-on business is in growth as well. We were really pleased with how it’s going. We’re bringing new titles out constantly. We brought out a number of titles a few weeks ago, and now we have Trials Evolution, Minecraft, Bloodforge and Fable Heroes. It’s a new set of amazing IP and some amazing games.

What are the key features of each Arcade Next game? What sets them apart?

Trials Evolution from RedLynx/Ubisoft provides intense new maps in the next dimension of the smash-hit, award-winning Trials HD.

Climax Studios’ Bloodforge combines devastating melee, ranged and magical attacks to deliver a fast-paced, bloodthirsty, brutal combat experience available exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade.

Fable Heroes from Lionhead Studios delivers a fresh spin on the Fable franchise with an action-packed hack-and-slash adventure on Xbox Live Arcade.

Finally, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition from 4J Studios and Mojang brings the global PC phenomenon to gamers for the first time on any console platform.

What are your sales expectations for each Arcade Next title?

While we wouldn’t talk about specific sales targets, we’re really excited to launch such a strong line-up of titles as part of the Arcade Next promotion. With highly recognized IP in Trials, Fable and Minecraft, and a heart-pounding combat experience in Bloodforge, we have high hopes for these titles.

Specifically, we’ve got big hopes for Minecraft on the Xbox. It does look incredible, it has split-screen, and is very very true to the PC experience. It has multiplayer functionality as well, so you can make things with up to eight players. So it’s really strong. And then we’re bringing Kinect functionality as well in the future. That’ll add something unique that PC players can’t actually do today.

What are you doing to market the Xbox Live Arcade Next promotion?

A bespoke Arcade Next trailer was created to kick off the campaign and we’ll be supporting the promotion at retail with posters, banners and others point-of-sale materials. We’ll also be running online advertising through our Xbox-owned channels and engaging the Xbox Community Network through direct communication and social media.

The four Arcade Next games will also be available at selected GAME stores as part of our ongoing digital code distribution business model.

Do you expect Xbox Live digital card sales to rise around the games’ launch? If so, by how much?

As with any anticipated new digital content release, we expect to see an increase in Microsoft point sales both at retail and directly through Xbox Live.

Obviously Minecraft is a big coup for Microsoft. We’ve noticed there are several Minecraft-style ‘clones’ on the Xbox Live indie marketplace. How do these kind of games get approved?

We want to keep working cooperatively with developers on games that they want to produce and land on the platform. There’s a process to make sure the games are of a good quality and that people will enjoy them. And I suppose what Minecraft has above and beyond over games similar to it is a massive install base on the PC side, and obviously its unique Xbox functionality.

What do you think of those similar indie games – do they prove the strong demand for Minecraft? And do you think they will see a drop in sales now the official game is coming out?

I think that’s true for all the titles to be honest. There’s bound to be massive demand for Minecraft. People are being really positive about it. So I think there’s more than enough room for multiple games and they do offer something slightly different to one another.

Minecraft is a game that has a lot of frequent updates. How much freedom does developer Mojang have on updating Minecraft on XBLA?

I think as with all games there’ll be updates as and when they come down. It’ll be updated as and when the assets are available. It’ll be exactly the same as other Arcade games on the system.

Why release Minecraft on Xbox Live?Did you think about bringing it out as a boxed title?

I think it’s probably the PC side of it. The number of customers it’s got on the PC platform is amazing – there are millions on there. And it’s a huge coup for Xbox Live Arcade to be honest. We’re very pleased it’s coming out on that platform and I think it shows the commitment to bringing out great quality IP games on the Xbox Live platform. It’s a huge coup and we’re really excited about launching it.

Equally, why release Fable: Heroes on Xbox Live as opposed to retail?

Again, we had Fable 3 come out a little while ago. We’ve announced we’re bringing Fable: The Journey to the [retail] market. And this is like a teaser to keep all the fans happy. It’s a really cool game. You can earn coins which carry over into Fable: The Journey. It’s a nice tie-in to keep the Fable fans happy until that title launches.

Why do you price your Games-on-Demand titles at the full RRP months after their retail release? How many games do you realistically sell at that price compared to their boxed counterparts?

We look to bring out the games about a couple of months after the retail launch at the full ERP. But I think it comes down to choice at the end of the day. The customer has the choice of going to retail on day one if they really want to buy a particular titles, or wait a couple of months and buy it full price from the Xbox Live marketplace.

But it really is a successful part of our business, we’re very pleased with the growth of it and it continues to do really well. Clearly there’s an audience out there who are happy to purchase a product at a full ERP seven months after [its retail release].

So you’re seeing growth with Games-on-Demand?

Absolutely, yeah. It continues to grow. We’re really pleased with how it’s been going. People are buying the games at full price and downloading them all as well which ties in with people getting bigger hard drives.

Sony has started selling Games-on-Demand-style titles on day-one on PSN. Will you follow suit?

We don’t do day one, we kind of focus on boxed for retail for day one. And that’s where our focus has always been and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. We release a game after X number of months. It’s roughly six months after the game arrives at retail at full ERP. That’s our model and we’ll be sticking to that.

Would you be open to changing this strategy in the future?

That’s the model for now. We’ve not really discussed it. It’s a successful model, so why change something that you don’t need to?

Sony is starting to push the free-to-play and virtual items model on PSN/Vita. Do you think we’ll see the day when a similar microtransaction-based model is available on Xbox Live?

Not at the moment, no. We’re not looking at anything like that.

Is this something you’d consider?

Potentially yeah, I think the model we’ve got at the moment with Xbox Live Points is what we’re working to at the moment. It’s really successful for everybody. People are really pleased with it and everyone understands it, which is the most important part of it all. So we wouldn’t change it at the moment.

Why don’t you release specific sales figures for Xbox Live Arcade games?

We don’t disclose any sales numbers outside Chart-Track data which you can all get, but we don’t really release anything from the actual Xbox Live marketplace in terms of how it’s doing. All I can say is the games are incredibly successful. We’ve got more people and they’re buying and transacting from a gaming perspective. And also from an entertainment perspective as well because we’ve got all the applications.Both sides of Microsoft Studios – retail and the Xbox Live marketplace – have been growing year-on-year. They’ve both got good levels of growth.

And again it goes back to choice.Some customers out there are happy to use their credit card or to buy content direct from the marketplace, and then there are those who want to go to retail, browse, shop, buy points and then do it that way. So it really goes back to choice and we’re making different opportunities available.

So I guess you don’t see a benefit of releasing those Xbox Live Arcade sales numbers as such?

Not really, I suppose. We don’t tend to release that sort of information.

Ubisoft previously told us that digital platforms like Xbox Live have become the home for new IP. It said they give new properties a better chance to flourish as there’s less risk launching a new game online as opposed to retail. Do you agree?

I suppose it gives more flexibility launching titles online. I think Trials is a great example of how a title can really flourish. There’s been several iterations of Trials already. And I think Trials Evolution is an amazing title, there’s new levels, features, new maps. And I think there’s still room for retail, boxed product and digital content as well.

Check MCV over the coming weeks for more exclusive news regarding Xbox Live

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