Q&A

Cor­po­rate vice pres­i­dent, Mi­crosoft

EDGE - - KNOWLEDGE E3 2014 - Phil Har­ri­son

What story did you want to tell at E3?

It’s about demon­strat­ing that Xbox One is the only place where you’ll be able to play that num­ber of games to that qual­ity, those ex­clu­sives, those block­busters, that breadth of sup­port from the ID@Xbox pro­gramme, at the right price, sup­ported by a great on­line ser­vice and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ments. Over the last few months you’ve seen real added value be­ing brought in to the Xbox sys­tem. I think all of that com­bines to tell a com­pelling story. We’ve def­i­nitely learned a lot over the last year and we have con­tin­ued to hold our­selves to a very high stan­dard.

The Xbox brand has been rein­vented since Phil Spencer took charge back in March. Did that bring with it a de­gree of cul­tural change?

I don’t know if it’s a cul­tural change. I think it’s a re­flec­tion of the world that we live in, that your fans are just a tweet away from di­rect con­nec­tion to the team mem­bers in­side the com­pany. We take that feed­back and that re­spon­si­bil­ity re­ally se­ri­ously; we want to make Xbox One the place where you can play the best games at the right price with the best ser­vice. Yes, there were some things that we had to course-cor­rect along the way, but I think that the fu­ture di­rec­tion of travel is great.

I think it was im­por­tant for us to show an in­cred­i­ble lineup of games you’ll play this year, and re­ally re­in­force the fact that we showed games that will be in your collection in 2014, whether it was Halo: The

Mas­ter Chief Collection, whether it was Sun­set Over­drive, whether it was Forza Hori­zon 2… all of which will be exclusive to Xbox One this year. It was also im­por­tant to show a bunch of things that will be com­ing in 2015 and be­yond, which we hope will [re­mind] people who have al­ready bought an Xbox One why they’ve bought an Xbox One, and at­tract new people as well.

What about people who bought Xbox One for Kinect?

We are com­mit­ted to adding and in­no­vat­ing with Kinect, so ev­ery­body who en­joys Kinect on Xbox One will get additional fea­tures. We’ll con­tinue to add func­tion­al­ity, to re­fine the ex­pe­ri­ence on voice, the tech­nol­ogy around ges­ture and ID, and we’ll con­tinue to add additional ap­pli­ca­tions that take ad­van­tage of Kinect so it re­mains a key part of our strat­egy.

Kinect games were con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence from the show, though. By the mid­dle of April you’d sold five mil­lion Xboxes, all bun­dled with Kinect – which means there are five mil­lion people and only two first­party games. Does that not show a lack of sup­port for Kinect as a gam­ing de­vice?

I don’t be­lieve so. The breadth of games that we showed here for Kinect is more than we showed last year; we have more games com­ing both from es­tab­lished, large, tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers as well as ID@Xbox games. We showed a num­ber of in­no­va­tions there – Fru is one of my favourites. The value of Kinect to Xbox One is partly about games, but also about the way you in­ter­act with the de­vice us­ing voice, ges­ture or bio­met­ric lo­gin. We will con­tinue to in­no­vate on that; we’ll con­tinue to add ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the whole Xbox One ex­pe­ri­ence.

Given that it al­lows them to free up a fur­ther ten per cent of the GPU power, de­vel­op­ers must like the idea of a Kinect-less Xbox.

to de­vel­op­ers, and we’re al­ready see­ing some very sub­stan­tial im­prove­ments in frame rate, res­o­lu­tion that de­vel­op­ers are al­ready talk­ing about it, just in the few days they’ve had ac­cess to these li­braries.

DX12 is an in­cred­i­bly op­ti­mised API which has graph­ics en­gi­neers ex­cited. In the­ory, is it some­thing Xbox One could use?

That’s cor­rect, and it’s a long-term com­mit­ment. One of the things that we have in­side of Mi­crosoft which is not so ob­vi­ous to the out­side world is some of the best graph­ics re­search en­gi­neers on the planet. That’s their mis­sion: turn code into ef­fi­cient pix­els.

Let’s talk about where you are in the mar­ket­place. Sony is reporting nine mil­lion units sold; is Xbox at around six mil­lion by this point?

We have an­nounced north of five, and the num­bers that we’re happy to talk about is over five mil­lion units sold. The key stats are that this is the fastest­grow­ing con­sole we have launched, more games are be­ing pur­chased on Xbox One than any other con­sole, and we have five hours of aver­age us­age per day, with over a bil­lion voice com­mands is­sued.

“Our strat­egy is to lead in a cloud world. Xbox Live is the high­est­per­form­ing ex­am­ple of that”

The new li­braries that we gave to all de­vel­op­ers in June give you the additional ten per cent per­for­mance, ir­re­spec­tive of which ma­chine you have. You don’t have to un­plug Kinect to get it; ev­ery game can take what we call ‘the GPU reser­va­tion’ and use it for them­selves. Now, when the game fin­ishes and the box hands power back to the con­sole, then all of the con­nec­tiv­ity you get with Kinect continues to work as be­fore. You don’t need to un­plug Kinect to get it, and it works on ev­ery ma­chine.

It’s no se­cret de­vel­op­ers have been strug­gling to match Play Sta­tion 4’s res­o­lu­tion in mul­ti­plat­form games. If the con­sole is as ca­pa­ble, was Mi­crosoft’s XDK sim­ply not ready for dis­tri­bu­tion?

This is a fairly stan­dard evo­lu­tion of any plat­form. Over a pe­riod of time the plat­form en­gi­neer­ing fo­cus is to give as much power as pos­si­ble to the de­vel­oper so that the de­vel­oper can turn that in to an ex­pe­ri­ence that gives as much as fun as pos­si­ble to the player.

You’d agree that Sony was able to give more power to de­vel­op­ers at an ear­lier point, though, right?

That may be true, but there is no doubt that we are very com­mit­ted to giv­ing all of the power that we can

Most of those com­mands are ‘Xbox on’ and ‘Xbox off, yes’, though.

The en­gage­ment and us­age of all as­pects of Xbox One have ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions. And the lineup of games that we have an­nounced or shown at our me­dia brief­ing – and that play­ers will get a chance to play this year – shows that our com­mit­ment is un­wa­ver­ing.

There is a gap, but by the end of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion PS3 and 360 drew more or less even. What does it take for Xbox to close the gap faster than Sony did pre­vi­ously?

Some an­a­lysts will sug­gest that we are less than five per cent into this gen­er­a­tion, so there is plenty of mar­ket op­por­tu­nity ahead of us. Hats off to Sony, they’ve had a great start; they have been in more coun­tries and – to date, at least – at a lower price. We have an­nounced a new Xbox One at a lower price; we go to 29 new coun­tries start­ing in Septem­ber. It’s about games, it’s about Xbox Live as a ser­vice, and it’s about value. We think that those three things give us ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, and not just to com­pete. That’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to grow the mar­ket and build a long-term busi­ness for Xbox One in as many homes as we can, de­liv­er­ing the best games and en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ences that we can.

Sony is very good at demon­strat­ing its power as a tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tor, and Mi­crosoft has been equally in­no­va­tive tech­no­log­i­cally, but how will you prove that when the fo­cus is so heav­ily on games?

Our strat­egy as a com­pany is to lead in a cloud world. And Xbox Live is the high­est-per­form­ing ex­am­ple of Mi­crosoft’s cloud strat­egy, whether it’s the sheer vol­ume and breadth of the ser­vice, with 48 mil­lion mem­bers, or whether it is the very deep tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tions that have sup­ported games like Ti­tan­fall and Forza Mo­tor­sport. We’ll con­tinue to scale, and ex­pand to many of the games we saw to­day, whether it’s Crack­down, Fa­ble Leg­ends, Hori­zon 2, etc. We think that is a clear place for us as a com­pany to put our tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion be­cause that has real im­pact in game­play. It has real tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to game­play now. It’s not some­thing that will land two or three years from now.

The games you showed to­day were much broader than any­thing Mi­crosoft has shown be­fore. Who is the Xbox con­sumer now?

I think we’ve seen in the last five years an ex­plo­sion of people who play games, and self-iden­tify as a gamer. Whether it’s some­body play­ing Clash

Of Clans or Candy Crush on their phone or iPad, or gam­ing on the con­sole on the big­gest screen in the house, pretty much ev­ery­body is a gamer and there’s this pos­i­tive wave mov­ing through the world. As people get older they con­tinue to play games. You may choose to change the pat­tern of game­play as you get a fam­ily, as you get kids, or what­ever, but I think that the lineup of what we shared to­day is a re­flec­tion of the im­pact that games have in so­ci­ety and will con­tinue to have in the fu­ture.

It’s not just about driv­ing, shoot­ing and sports; it’s a much deeper and so­phis­ti­cated set of con­sumers who are more dis­cern­ing in their tastes. The re­ac­tion to games like In­side and Ori

And The Blind For­est is phenom­e­nal. I think that con­flu­ence of art and game­play is a great place for us to be leading, sup­ported by all the won­der­ful work that is be­ing done at the ID@Xbox pro­gramme as well. I think the plat­form can def­i­nitely sup­port all game styles and all game de­signs.

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