Peter Moore shocked the industry by announcing his departure from the position of Xbox corporate vice president, leaving to lead EA's sports division. Not a week ago, Moore was representing Microsoft's console at E3, and that's where Gamasutra met with him, at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica.
Herein, we discuss the 360's future, the battle between HD and Blu-ray, the Zune and potential Microsoft handheld devices (as a preview, he says we'll be waiting a "long time"), and virtual worlds. More importantly, we finally got the bottom of that age-old question – is Peter Moore the Devil?
How is the 360 going to capitalize on the lead it's got so far?
Peter Moore: What an install base lead gives you is a lot of critical mass in the marketplace, and from a developers' point of view, it's a great development platform. It's got a large critical massive install base, we're broadening our reach into the next phase of the consumer segmentation, and we've got a couple of good games coming this holiday. When you add all that together, you feel good about the momentum in the marketplace, if you believe that games make the difference. When you add all that together, we feel real good about having all the ingredients necessary to be successful this holiday and to continue to keep the lead.
It seems like everyone's going for user-created content these days. The Game Studio Express is positioning itself as the "YouTube of games." Do you think that's going to come quickly?
PM: We're certainly working on an environment where game developers -- from the hobbyist all the way up to the independent game studios -- can find a platform for their own created content. It's not easy. There's a lot of policy situations with security and all the things you need to do with administration. But we have a team that's working on that, and we're looking forward to being able to make that next step for Game Studio Express, to be able to have people to share their games online.
Based on your last console, some people feel that Microsoft isn't in things for the long haul, because the Xbox stopped after about five years. I'm sure you feel differently.
PM: I think those were Peter Dille's comments. They're welcome to their opinions, and having an opinion about something that is still years away is fine and makes good PR fodder, but we're very committed to this platform. I'll just let the numbers speak for themselves so far. I don't have to get into a swinging match with them.
The same gentleman says that HD-DVD will be dead within months. How do you feel about that?
PM: On that one, I look forward to speaking with you at CES next year. I was just looking at HD-DVD numbers over the weekend, and I think Toshiba may have an opinion about that. Of course, the fact that Sony has an economic interest in making sure that it's dead is interesting. I think his comments will be read with interest from the folks at the European Union, who will be looking at the tactics that they've been using to ensure that retailers do things their way. Again, I'll defer comment and look at what happens. I think that's kind of a preposterous statement.
I was wondering why we didn't hear much about Zune at E3.
PM: Well, it's a game show. It does not fall under me; it's a separate part of our overall division.
I know a lot of people were expecting some additional 360 connectibility.
PM: It's pretty good right now. When I connect it to my 360, it recognizes Zune immediately. We are laser-focused -- as you saw from the press conference -- on the games this holiday. The ability for us to start talking about devices that aren't game machines seems a little disingenuous. It's about the games, and we're here for the games. Games make this business go.
People are kind of waiting for the when, where, and how of Microsoft getting into handhelds, if ever they do.
PM: They may be waiting for awhile. Unless you've got a lot of money and can throw it my way, you're going to be waiting for awhile.
Can you speak to Microsoft's strategies in Japan at all? How is that looking forward?
PM: There's so many layers of what we're doing there. There's the consumer layer where we just do the standard business model of working in the Japanese market with consumers to buy an Xbox 360 and games and to get them on Xbox Live from a standard model. The deeper model that we're doing in Japan is that we have the greatest respect for the development and publishing community there.
We're spending a lot of time with the developers over there, and we've got publishing partners working with them to globalize their content to make sure that games like Resident Evil and Devil May Cry find their home on the platform. A lot of the Japanese publishing community looks to the success of Capcom with both Dead Rising and Lost Planet as being very successful for them. Having that ability to broaden their horizons past Japan is now important to Japanese publishers.
The Japanese market has been flatly declining for many years now, and for them to continue their business, they need to globalize. They look at us as the market leader outside of Japan, and realize that we need to be a strong partner.
It's certainly been a tactic for a number of people. It seems that a lot of Japanese game makers are making their large-budget games specifically for the U.S., because those big-budget games don't have a high sell-through on any next-gen platform.
PM: That's right. We're making sure that they all show up on the 360.
I found it interesting that Trusty Bell sold more 360s than Blue Dragon did.
PM: I know that's not the case, because we had a Blue Dragon bundle. The Blue Dragon bundle sold a lot. It was a 29,000 yen bundle that put Blue Dragon in there. The numbers were a little more than [80,000]. Trusty Bell did well. I love Trusty Bell -- it's a great game, and it moved a lot of 360s just two or three weeks ago, but not as much as Blue Dragon.
I was surprised by its success. It seemed to come out of left field, but I guess that's where it needs to come from.
PM: Well, we showed it at TGS last year, and it's a gorgeous looking game. It's one of those games where you look at it as a Westerner and you just don't know. Who knew? The Japanese gamer has such intricate, interesting tastes. You look at a game and you think, "I have no idea why anyone will buy it." I'm not saying that about Trusty Bell -- it was a beautiful game, but not something that moves the needle over here.
It seems like it's tough to know what's going to stick in that market from this perspective.
PM: We rely on our Japanese folks that trusted us that this is going to sell well. It's done well, and we got behind it, and it makes us very happy.
What do you think Microsoft could be doing better right now?
PM: The only thing after this week is that we've got to continue to accelerate and broaden our reach into the broader market. We've been making a lot of strides, and I know that we have some announcements between now and the holiday that we've kept for Tokyo Game Show, and I think it's going to be very important that we reach.
As much as we love our hardcore guys -- they're going to love Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV and all of the incredible games that we've got -- at the same time, we've got to get fun back in the living room on our platform. We need to accelerate that reach. That's the only thing we're looking at, in terms of what our competitors are doing. I think Nintendo is doing a phenomenal job in providing that fun, unexpected experience, to their credit.
Can you say what kind of steps you're going to take?
PM: It's things like more content that's going to take advantage of the new controller. The new controller's doing great for us because it's simple and relatively inexpensive.
You mean the one with [quiz game] Scene It?
PM: Yeah. That'll come bundled with the game, and you can bet that there are going to be more games that are going to take advantage of that controller. That takes a little bit of the intimidation factor away. Typically, when you pass a controller to someone who's not a gamer, they don't even want to touch it, because look at all those buttons and pads and sticks and triggers. The thing's damn complicated. We wanted to do something for anyone who could use a remote control with a TV, which is just about everybody.
It can be tough to launch a peripheral and make it mainstream and large-scale.
PM: That's why we're bundling it with a game. The game is compelling and has a great price point, then our job is to take advantage of the install base so as to not just treat it as a peripheral. But we sell millions of wireless controllers, so the peripheral business is very strong. It's going to be the question that the guys behind Rock Band or Guitar Hero are going to have. It's a fabulous experience, except when I'm playing guitar! We hear a lot of interesting things from the community.
There was a community gathering here last night, and I don't know if you heard this, but I was asking the community because we were demoing Guitar Hero, and they're finding people on blogs who are asking, "Who wants in?" They don't know how much Rock Band is going to be, but there are groups of four people coming up with plans to buy the peripherals and forming their bands virtually. There are blogs saying, "I'm in for guitar if anyone's in for drums." I don't think they know, and I know that MTV has announced the pricing yet, but it's not going to be cheap.
The drumkit's not going to be cheap, that's for sure! The thing about that is that it's going to teach you to play the drums. The guitar is not going to teach you to play guitar, but this is the interface.
PM: Harmonix had in a number of bands that have real drummers, and they had difficulty adjusting. Drums have a rhythm and touch that they've found difficult. My Chemical Romance loved Guitar Hero, but the guy says, "I can't play my own song in the game because my fingers want to go somewhere else." It's fascinating.
How important do you think the online platform is to the future success of all of the current consoles?
PM: I think it's pretty darn important, from the point of view of bringing communities together. If you're looking for the concept of building business models that help the industry and help get money back into development -- which is not inconsequential, given the costs of working on high-definition games -- you've got to find different ways of connecting people so that you can advertise to them, do sponsored downloads, and sell them extra content.
The offline model simply is insufficient in this connected world. Having a rich online community that has critical mass is going to be very important, not only for the people who connect to us to buy games, but for ten million people who we can talk to, advertise to, and sell to. It's going to be absolutely critical.
Are you at all interested in having a social networking front-end? I'm not talking exactly like Home, but Nintendo has its Miis, which is a half-stutter step.
PM: Well, I'd like to think that seven million people connecting, talking, and playing is pretty darn good social networking. We built up the front-end to let people say, "This is who I am. This is my Gamerscore. These are my Achievements, and this is what I'm playing right now. You can be my friend." You've got the rudimentary things that you need as a gamer to understand what the social network is.
I think ultimately, you'll see us look at things like connecting through spaces and things like that, but we're going to say, "Let's be careful." If I opt in to give you information about me, in my case, I would have no issue. I have an MSN Space, and I could potentially link you to that, so you could see more about me, figure out where I live, and how old I am. I'd learn a little bit more about you, particularly about what we're playing on a particular basis.
I personally think that the Gamerscore and friends list things are among the most important, and I'm curious as to why not everyone else thinks that.
PM: Friends lists for us are a very sticky application. The more friends you have, the less chance you have of going off the service. That's a standard numerical fact. We let people build friends lists because you have your social network there, and if you like to play with these people, you can become a Gold member. It's the old AOL model -- back then, you were scared stiff of losing your AOL e-mail address, because the only way you could have the Internet was through AOL. It made it easy for you.
How many Xboxes do you think Halo is going to sell?
PM: I don't know. I know it's going to sell a lot of green ones. I think it's going to sell a lot of hardware, there's no doubt about that. There's primarily two things. We've got a lot of PS2 fence-sitters: guys who aren't seeing anything yet on the PS3 and are saying, "I'm going to spend $500 on this console and spend money on these games," but they're not seeing [worthwhile PS3 content].
For another thing, we've got a lot of guys who still play Halo 2 on the Xbox, and this is the big motivator for them. They'll move up and buy a 360 for Halo, no doubt about that. You've got a holiday coming up, and after they look at Halo, they'll look at the entire lineup we've got and say, "Halo's great, [but there's also] exclusive content, Madden, Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, PGR 4, Blue Dragon, and Bioshock." You add all that together and you say, "I'm getting one."
How important do you think exclusives are in that equation?
PM: I think they're obviously very important, because it's been proven over and over again. If you look at the last generation -- whether Sony admits it or not -- I think having Grand Theft Auto as an exclusive was one of the key reasons they did so well on that generation. There's no doubt in my mind that, prior to that, having Final Fantasy for the PlayStation [created the same effect]. You also look at an exclusive level for your first party. Boy, without Zelda and Metroid, where would Nintendo be? Those things don't show up on any other box, and I think they're critically important.
Microsoft doesn't have quite as large of a stable of people who can make those as Nintendo and Sony right now.
PM: Well, we have 1,100 people working at Microsoft Game Studios, and importantly, we have tremendous relationships with Epic, Bizarre Creations, BioWare, Irrational Games, and other people who are doing this stuff for us. Ubisoft Montreal is also part of the family. You look around the world, and there's 1,100 people who say, "I work for Microsoft, and I have my blue badge." Then you have three to four thousand people who are almost working exclusively on our titles who are not Microsoft employees, but are very important to the Microsoft Game Studio family.
People have been saying behind the backs of their hands that the 360 is easier to develop for than the PS3. Do you feel like that's a factor, in talking to these companies?
PM: I don't think they say it behind the backs of their hands. I think the development community is pretty open about that.
Well, they're the ones who want to be cross-platform.
PM: It's no secret. It's a development architecture that has its roots way back on the PC. It's derivative, and not totally different from the Xbox itself. People are just comfortable with it, and they also know that they just need to place a phone call with us and we support them on-site with our technical teams.
It seems like Microsoft has really been ramping up its development support. I've been getting that impression. Obviously the libraries are more mature because they're similar, and you've got your cross-platform thing going with Games for Windows.
PM: The libraries continue to evolve, and when you've got thousands of people working on the platform, the development community is very good at sharing. As we get closer to a game shipping, there's always things we put in there to fix graphical issues and network issues. We always solve the problems.
You mentioned Final Fantasy. I've been wondering, now that Square Enix has licensed Unreal Engine 3 for some of its projects, if they're ever going to go cross-platform for that series.
PM: We talk to Square Enix all the time. They're a great partner, and we do some distribution for them now with Project Sylpheed. We're always talking, but it's their intellectual property, and they know what's best for them and their shareholders. One would assume that if we continue to do our job with our install base that Final Fantasy could show up on our box. We did have XI, as you know, and while XIII still seems like it's a ways away, we would hope to have that progress.
Back to your Sega days, did you ever feel like you gave up on the Dreamcast too soon?
PM: I never gave up on the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast was and still is many peoples' favorite console of all time, and we had this tough situation with Sega and couldn't sustain the investment in the platform that was necessary to compete with the PlayStation 2, which was a pretty powerful platform. It was a sad day for all of us: January 31st, 2001. It was tough for all Sega fans. I've never had anyone come up to me and say, "You know, I bought a Dreamcast and it wasn't worth the money." I've never had anybody come up to me and say that. We all loved the Dreamcast. There just weren't enough of us. That was the problem.
This is a bit of a sensitive question - you've no doubt seen the photoshops of yourself with devil horns…I have to ask you – are you in fact the Prince of Darkness?
PM: Damn, my cover's blown! Let me just tuck the tail in back there!
I knew it!