Aaron Greenberg, head of Xbox Games Marketing, talks new hardware, FIFA 17, eSports and Pokmon Go.
Xbox One S 2TB has sold out in most markets now. Can we read much into this?
We had a massive briefing at E3 where we revealed two new consoles, a lot of games and innovation for the platform. Then, coming out of that, we got word from NPD that we were the No.1 selling console in the US for the month of July, which was great news. That is in advance of the Xbox One S launch. Then two weeks ago, in the UK, we were also the No.1 selling console. So we have seen some really nice momentum post-E3, leading up to and into the launches of Xbox One S. We’ve seen similar momentum across Europe, frankly, some really great sales. We are seeing overwhelming, unprecedented demand.
The focus now is on the Xbox One S 500GB and 1TB models with FIFA 17, as you revealed at Gamescom. Do you expect this to maintain the momentum across Europe?
We know FIFA is the No.1 title across Europe, which is why we have a multi-year partnership with EA on the franchise. For us to be able to do that, both with the game and to have exclusive content like the FIFA Ultimate Team Legends, has been great. But to be able to drive new console adoption, with a new model, then add a tonne of value, to give people the ability to play the game seven days early… we think that is a massive differentiator for FIFA fans, for gamers, and for the millions and millions of people across Europe that haven’t bought a next-gen console yet. We believe this is a big differentiator that will help us drive share gains in those key markets.
Has it not been challenging pushing the S, when you’ve announced that the Scorpio is out next year? Are consumers not waiting for that one?
For us, it is nice to be able to have the new console, the 40 per cent smaller model, to deliver a lot of the benefits for folks that are looking for 4K content for 4K TVs and things like that – HDR gaming, 4K video streaming and a 4K Blu-ray player at an incredible value. We are really proud of the design and the work that the team put in to bring Xbox One S to market. We are going to continue to be very, very aggressive in terms of how we promote and go to market with this box, really focused on delivering on value with bundles and what you get for the price.
At the same time, as we spoke at E3, Project Scorpio is an opportunity for us to bring true 4K gaming for the first time to the console market. We think that is the next big leap in innovation for gaming and is something that has never been done before on console. We’re building the most powerful console ever created with a six teraflop GPU. We announced that early at E3 so that we can start working with developers and partners who we know will want to take advantage of that incredible amount of power and have a good year plus to be able to plan for it.
Then there’s the PC space, too. Isn’t your Windows 10 strategy potentially harmful to Xbox hardware? Or are we moving into a space where it doesn’t matter which machine gamers own?
For us, we really want to bring our games to as many people as possible. There are over 139m PC gamers in Europe. We are bringing a whole lot of new content to the PC, we are letting people play ReCore, Gears of War, Forza Horizon 3… that’s a lot of great stuff. At the same time, we also know that PC gamers like different types of genres and have different preferences, so we are also going to be there with titles like Halo Wars 2. That’s an action real-time strategy game, which is a genre that has done very well on the PC. We think of a title like that as almost PC-first, with the ability to bring in a lot of new fans into that franchise because we are bringing it to the PC.
For us, what you’re seeing is that we’re outlining a longer-term vision about building a future beyond console generations, and where gamers can play without boundaries. That is the focus of what we are doing.
"We’re outlining a longer-term vision about
building a future beyond console generations, and where
gamers can play without boundaries."
Aaron Greenberg, Xbox
A lot of these games are for core users. With your move away from Kinect, are you giving up on trying to attract a kids and family audience?
In many ways, we look at the PEGI ratings of the titles, and we have a pretty diverse line-up of games. Things like Minecraft, which is rated for all ages, Forza Horizon 3 is another great example. FIFA, another one. Sure, on one end we have Gears of War 4, Dead Rising 4 and others that are more for the core, older gamer. But we do have a wide variety of content from core to casual. We will continue to offer a diverse line-up of content. And that doesn’t even include when you get into what our developers are doing on the ID@Xbox programme. There are tonnes of innovation happening there and a lot of them have a broader appeal, as well.
Changing the subject briefly, you’ve recently acquired the Twitch-rival streaming service Beam. Why invest in this area?
Beam is a live-streaming service, but what is innovative about it, is it gives viewers the ability to watch and also play along with their favourite game streamers in real time. We saw something really innovative there that we felt would benefit our network and our gamers, and would be something that would make Xbox Live more social and fun. It is a small team that has created something really unique. They have won a number of awards and it has just been really, really fun to get to work with that team.
What we like about it is that it moves traditional game streaming from a passive experience into a more interactive, real-time participation. We think that has the ability to bring in more people to that experience, and so we are excited to add them to the family, and do more things with them across Xbox Live.
"Beam moves traditional game streaming
from a passive experience to a more
interactive, real-time participation."
Aaron Greenberg, Xbox
Another major area of investment for Xbox has been in eSports. How do you approach this market? Is it a big money generator do you think, or more a marketing tool?
It is about investing in the brand and franchise. The model for how you launch, market and sustain your community around games has evolved. Before, we would go off and every couple of years we bring out a new triple-A blockbuster from a franchise, we launch it, maybe there’s a couple of pieces of DLC, and then we go away and work on the next version for a number of years. That model has evolved and what we are seeing is a lot more sustained engagement, with people having an appetite to stay around and play the games month in
and month out.
If you look at Halo 5 as an example, even eight months post-launch we were introducing new modes. We saw our monthly average users for Halo grow month over month, three months in a row, into the eighth month post-launch. That is really kind of breaking the traditional curves of engagement, but it does show that if you give people new content and new things to experience, they will come back. With eSports it is aligned around the same thing. A lot of it is about bringing new content and competition to the space, but also giving players the ability to watch and see some of the greatest players in the world compete.
That drives awareness and new game modes. It has obviously been a booming thing for the industry widely, but we made a big bet around Halo with the Halo World Championship. We had the largest console eSports grand prize ever in the history of gaming. We actually gave the winning four players $1m – split between them – which is incredible. And we are doing something similar with Gears of War 4 and our eSports offering there.
There’s a big clamour amongst your community to allow Xbox fans to compete with PlayStation owners. Now that you have cross-play with PC, how close are we to being able to see PS4 and Xbox One owners compete together?
We put it in the hands of the developers. You have seen with things like Rocket League where we have enabled them to connect Xbox Live gamers with a much broader network of players. For them, we have built the bridge our end. We know that for a game like that it makes sense to allow players on other platforms to compete in the same arenas. We think that is good gamers.
Our strategy is to put gamers at the centre of everything we do, and that has led us to support things like that where a developer wants to connect people on Steam, for example. They’re doing that today. In terms of connecting with gamers on the PlayStation Network, we fully support them to do that. And I believe they’re talking to Sony about it, but I don’t know the latest.
Are you still playing Pokemon Go?[Laughs] I try to play everything and I have definitely played many, many, many hours of Pokmon Go. It is so neat to see a product like that capture so many people’s attention – young, old, male, female. And gosh it has got me to do so many unnatural things – walking to places I would never walk.
There is a real simplicity to how much fun that is. It is great to see the traditional Pokmon audience get captivated by it, but also to see adults involved as well. There is a Pokmon Gym outside my office, so it’s nice to look outside my window and see people sit out there and battle for the Gym. We’ve had some summer interns here who have been out there quite a bit. It’s impressive.