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Xbox Live's Early Rising: Chris Early On The Growth Of Xbox Live Arcade

In this in-depth Gamasutra interview, Microsoft Casual Games and Xbox Live Arcade executive Chris Early discusses the swift rise of the company's Xbox Live Arcade service, which has now reached 25 million downloads - including insight on success metrics, trends, and potential changes to XBLA.

In the time since its re-launch with the Xbox 360 in late 2005, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade has seen over 65 games appear on the service, with more than 25 million downloads of games and demos – an extraordinary number, even if the exact split between paid and unpaid content is unknown.

After joining Microsoft as studio manager for Microsoft Casual Games in March 2005, Chris Early stepped into the role of Microsoft’s product unit manager for Xbox Live Arcade and Microsoft Casual Games in February, following the departure of Greg Canessa to PopCap Games. Gamasutra spoke to Early recently, and asked about the general state of Live Arcade, the effect that the company’s Live Anywhere push will have on it, and a number of other topics.

How would you describe the state of Xbox Live Arcade in general terms right now?

I think it’s doing really well, and I’m pleased at how it has evolved since its launch. But more important than how I feel is how the gamers in the community seem to feel about it; we continue to get good response, and get a lot of interest in it. That’s probably our best measure of success.

But how do you measure success for an online service like that?

We look at a few things – are the games worth putting out? Are they interesting to players? Are they being trialled, and they purchased? Is it something people are spending time doing? We’d hate to offer up a service on the Xbox and just have kind of it sit off to the side, with nobody ever doing anything about it.

If you look at the amount of users it gets, and the amount of downloads for the service – that’s a real indication to us that people are involved and engaged with what’s going on. They may not buy a particular game, but we have less control over that from the standpoint that we make very few of those games.

But I think it’s successful if we’ve driven someone to be motivated to download, and so far we’ve had more than 25 million downloads of games across Xbox Live Arcade since launch.

ce_1.jpg What kind of spread is that between demos and full titles?

I don’t know what the breakdown is. I believe, in most cases, people will download a demo first, though in some cases we’ve had people just buy titles directly. Although, with one of the newer innovations on Xbox Live Arcade – the automatic download condition – it automatically downloads a trial of the software to your hard drive while you’re doing other things, whenever one comes out.

How important do you feel the demo availability is for Live Arcade?

I think it’s critical. If you look at games this size and this price range, the reason a demo version or a trial version is so important is that some of these are unique independent games. You might like them, you might not like them. They aren’t games that are traditionally marketed heavily in traditional retail channels, and in a lot of cases they don’t have full reviews or write-ups on them, so it’s difficult for players to get information on them in some cases.

Nothing stands up to ‘What is this game like?’ or ‘What is it going to be like?’ than just playing it for a while. The real balance is – and especially on the PC – you don’t want to give away too much. You just want to whet the appetite to have someone say, ‘Okay, this is for me’, and then have them push the button at that point and buy the product.

It’s not exactly a new idea – it’s been around since the shareware days – but it’s something that’s new for this kind of download service.

It’s new in general, especially when you compare it to something like the mobile phone market, where you buy before you try. Maybe you haven’t had the experience yourself, but you can certainly read about it, with people who are very disappointed because they read about or assumed something from a license or a title the game was under - only to find that it was not that and they didn’t enjoy the game at all.

That just builds bad customer experience, and that’s something the mobile industry is working at overcoming. I’m glad we’re not worrying about that with Xbox Live Arcade.

It comes down to the quality of the product on the service as well, though.

Certainly you can measure the quality of the product, but even if there’s a game style you don’t like – if I was a big Spider-Man fan, I might go out and say, ‘Wow! A Spider-Man game!’ and maybe I didn’t pay attention to the fact that it’s bowling. And I’m not a big bowling guy.

You know, Spider-Man Bowling, Web Ball. [Laughs] There’s all kinds of great ideas with what you could do, but if you don’t like bowling, it’s probably not your game.

 


Just going back to a more general topic for a moment, who do you think the average Xbox Live Arcade customer is?

Well, specifically, it’s obviously drawn from a pool of Xbox 360 customers, who we know are a majority male, and a majority 14 to 33. That’s clearly the primary user of Xbox Live Arcade. But one of the things we’re doing inside Microsoft is that we are going out and talking to our customers to find out who is using the service and who is playing the games and we’re finding out that there is a lot of secondary users – moms, girlfriends, people like that.

First we heard about this anecdotally – people around the office complaining that they now have competition. They now have someone else saying they’re going to play Bejeweled for a while. It’s no longer the domain of that primary gamer in the household.

I assume that’s something you’re finding is more prevalent with Live Arcade titles than traditional retail titles for 360.

Well, in my household, I can tell you that – even at a retail game level – there’s a bit of competition for Guitar Hero between my son and my daughter!

That’s a different style of game to what a lot of people would associate the console with, though.

Right, and it’s really interesting to see how, with the lifecycle, the user demographic and the user behavior is changing as well. I know that even just around my household, once Dance Dance Revolution, Dance Dance Universe and Guitar Hero came out, my daughter has been exploring a little bit more and playing some arcade games because they’re on the console. Thing is, she’s not the one who’s going to pick up Crackdown and play a few hours of that.

I just think that’s an overall trend. As games get out there – as the content gets out there – more people get interested and the content broadens, and that’s a good thing.

 

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Just talking about growth, what level of growth has the platform seen since launch?

We launched with around 20 titles, and we’ve just cracked 60, so we’ve more than tripled the number of titles that are on the service. At the same time, the Xbox Live membership has grown to over six and a half million now. That’s a tremendously large number of people who are out there playing games over the Live service.

So, both in terms of the number of people that are out there and the number of games that are out there, they’ve both grown tremendously. Then we’ve also innovated with the service as well. I mentioned the automatic downloads, and we’ve worked in Xbox Live Arcade to enable a number of other features where you can see your friends and the Xbox Live Arcade games that they might be playing.

One of my personal favorites is the way that Achievements are displayed for Arcade games and you can see them all and roll down and see which ones you have and haven’t earned. I’m a bit of a Gamerscore addict myself.

There’s a number of features that have evolved on the platform, but there’s quite a way to go as well.

Sure, but going back to the actual figures of growth, is the actual percentage of games being downloaded growing in a relative sense? When people buy the console, are they buying more games than the people who bought the system at launch?

Well, we were really worried about a couple of things at the beginning. One was that people who the people who bought the console in the beginning were going to be the most rabid users; were going to be downloading the most, and that it would fall off after that.

We were also worried that because there was a small number of titles available in the beginning at a retail level that people were just going to Arcade when they had played whatever game they had bought, because there wasn’t another game available.

Fortunately, neither one of those has been true. It’s most surprising to me that the people who buy the console today download more arcade titles than the people who bought it at day one.

What do you attribute that to?

[Laughs] I wish I could give you the exact reason behind that, but all I can do is theorize, and that is that the people who bought the console day one are the people who are used it and ready and are the hardest-core gamers - and who feel that $50 a game is not a problem and they can go and get that.

The great thing is we see other people playing games, and playing Arcade games – just not with the same frequency. So maybe, I don’t know, maybe it is a little price sensitivity. Maybe it’s just that people who are buying outside the first six months don’t have the same library of games – they aren’t buying as frequently, they don’t buy that game a month or that game every couple of weeks at the retail level, so they’re looking at Arcade games. We don’t have good quantitative data on that.

ce_10.jpg What I will say is another thing that surprised us was the popularity of some of the more classic games like Uno! with the hardcore players we saw early on. If you would have asked me if that would happen, you probably would have been able to take my money. I would have bet against it. [Laughs]

It did come as a bit of a surprise.

Yeah, well, we went out and talked to players to find out why. Was it a mistake? [Laughs] Is it how they justify the console to other people in the household? Actually, it’s just that gamers like good gameplay. Period. They’re willing to play the game, even if it is a classic card game or whatever, just because it has good gameplay.

It has been done very well, and it was Game of the Year for a number of places, and it has a number of the features that make Live so popular. It has the voice chat, it has the video chat, it has the ability to customize your own rules, it has the add-on content. Plus, it’s a very accessible game.

 


What are you concerns about the Live Arcade platform at the moment?

Well, if I was going to say we worry about anything, we worry that we need to continue to innovate and improve. We’ve had the luxury of being the leader in the space, and the flattery of people imitating the service but what we can’t do, I feel, is sit still and rest on our laurels.

That’s why we’ll continue to innovate with the service, and bring a better service to our players. We’ll do that through content and features, and I do believe that we’ll continue to do this as we go on.

My other worry, I guess, would be that we might not have good content, but I don’t think that’s a worry, because we keep seeing great submissions, and no falling down in the number of people interested in developing games for the platform ranging from independents and publishers like EA and Activision, Ubisoft, Activision – if anything, I’d say that case is accelerating as well. We’re finding traditional games publishers saying, ‘Hey – this is a good space to be in’.

Have you found that you’re getting more interest from the larger publishers, especially?

Absolutely. I think part of it was that when we came out they said, ‘Well, we’ll write a game or two’, and they’ve seen how those games have gone, or they see how the platform has done overall and then now they’re like, ‘We want to do five!’ or ten, or however many they want to do. [Laughs] We have to be careful, because we have only a certain amount of capacity for bringing games to the service.

In terms of the independent content, how do you go about sourcing that?

We have a team of developer relations folks who meet with the independent developers and talk to them about their content and how it might fir the platform and then there’s a content submission process that they help them walk through. Then it goes up in front of the content selection board and that’s how we determine what content goes up on the servers.

There’s still a quality control process as well, right?

Yeah, and that’s on the front end. That’s making sure that everybody knows what the bar is; what things are expected. There are requirements that every game has to live up to, like having leaderboards and being Live enabled and having a trial version and so forth. Those are all requirements for Xbox Live Arcade.

Then there’s the quality bar, which is, ‘Is this of good enough graphical quality for Xbox Live Arcade’. We do that all ahead of time, and there’s generally two processes that people go through: there’s the more independent route, where we act in close contact with the developer, and work the game through milestones.

Then there’s then there’s the more hands off route, which is the route for more traditional publishers of Xbox games because they know that process – they know those requirements from developing games for retail. We don’t have as much need to go over that with them.

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Have there been cases of games being developed and then not making it past that quality assurance stage?

Yes. Fortunately not many, and what we tend to do is to work with them early in the process to get things corrected. There have definitely been games that haven’t been there at one point that have recovered, and there’s also games that never have.

I’d argue that’s a good thing though. It means we’re doing our job.

How important is the scheduling of the games to the success of the service?

Well, we’ve done a couple of things. First off, by setting up Xbox Live Arcade Wednesday, where there’s a focus on having something happening every Wednesday. Initially, it wasn’t every Wednesday that was a launch day, but at least there’d be something going on – a reason to come to Xbox Live Arcade and check it out whether it be a tournament, or a Game with Fame, or a content launch, or something like that. I think that was a very important point in giving people a reason to come on regularly and see what’s up with the service.

Recently, since April, we’ve had more and more content coming up. Actually, on most Wednesdays, we’ve been releasing two games. Having a time to come to Xbox Live Arcade helps those games, helps player realize what’s coming out, and gives them a place to look.

Now, from a scheduling standpoint, I think that it’s something we owe to out publishers, and ourselves. We take pains to make sure that we’re not doing two of the same style of game at the same time. It’d be like launching Quake and Unreal on the same day. It’s not good for either game.

 


How much of a concern is it that you might flood the market in that way, even if you are just doing, say, two games a week for a couple of weeks in a row? Because surely that’s something that’s going to affect the amount of people buying the product that you’re putting out there?

It is a concern that, as more product comes into the service, there’ll be less purchases on average per game, but we’re not really seeing that. We’re hearing just the opposite of that from our player base – they want more, and a greater variety of titles. I don’t think you’ll ever see, say, ten titles on one day or something like that. I just don’t see the value in putting out that many titles through our service.

But certainly, a couple of titles a week is doable and stomachable from the perspective of the player community. Then again, that’s why there’s the genre difference, I guess. If you happen to be a guy who loves puzzles – or a girl who loves puzzle games – then you don’t want all of your puzzle games to come out on the same day because then you might buy one and not get around to trying the other one. But if every week you get an action game and a puzzle game, you know which one you’re going to buy.

What kind of feedback have you had from gamers about the service?

I think overall it’s been extremely positive. People love the ability to get in and play a game – a quick, easy to pick up game. Whether it be a trial of one of those games, or to actually have on they can play in between the retail games.

We got a lot of feedback early on about what games to bring to the service – I think there was even an article on Gamasutra at some point. We continue to make our way down those lists and it’s actually kind of heartening for us when we see those lists and we look at our content pipeline; there’s a pretty good lineup overall. We know that we’re bringing what people want.

We’ve also done the submissions from the independent community – we try to make sure there’s independent slots available for people to come and develop. I think people have responded to that very well. It’s been good in terms of helping with the development, but also in terms of the tools have made overall – with XNA Studio Express people can actually make an arcade game for publication.

I think we’ve listened to player, we’ve listened to publishers, we’ve listened to the development community. One great example of us listening to developers is regarding the lifting of the 50mb file size limit on Arcade games.

We put it there originally to give everyone the same size canvas knowing that as games moved from floppy discs to CD to DVDs, you just end up with more and more content. We tend to find from the production costs of games that people strive to fill whatever medium they have. That was one of our attempts at saying, ‘Well, we want these games to be small, we want them to be accessible, and we want them to download quickly and we want them to be able to be played and enjoyed quickly’.

If you talk to most developers, or even gamers who have played for a long time, they will go back and talk about some of the early game play mechanics that were so good – because you really had to focus on gameplay, not art, or something like that. That was our real focus. So from talking to developers, we found that they were spending a little too much time – in our opinions – trying to optimize for 50mb, rather than making a great game. After hearing that, we had a look at what might work, and that’s when we moved the file size to 150mb.

Even with that, there’s not a whole lot of room for “excess”, really.

No, I don’t think so either. Again, that comes back to what the nature of Xbox Live Arcade is. It’s never going to be a service where you can download a full retail game, nor do we expect it to be or anything like that. we see it as a playground where you can get these games that you are able to get quickly, get into quickly, play and have a great time. And you can play them a bunch! It’s that easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master type of concept.

What kind of connectivity do you see happening between XNA and Xbox Live Arcade in the future?

It’s certainly a great trial ground, as we’ve seen from a couple of the concepts that have gone on or are going on. Right now, you can create a game and you can share it amongst the creator community, and you can see that game come to your own Xbox. It’s not a worldwide distribution service, but for those people that make games or are willing to experiment with Game Studio Express, it’s great to be able to do that.

I think what we’ll see is that we will have more people using Game Studio Express as a mechanism for developing their game. As the Live service – and, as you know, we’ve just launched on the PC now – as it continues, it’ll make it that much easier to develop a title across a couple of platforms. That’s one of the key advantages to using managed code – you can, with a very minimal amount of additional work, have that same game running on the PC.

How closely are you keeping an eye on what’s happening in the XNA developer community?

I hope we’re keeping a pretty close eye. [Laughs]

That’s what the competitions are for.

Yes, exactly. [Laughs] But that’s our lifeblood really. I could make the best service in the world, but if the content sucks, no one is going to come. It’s the developers who create the content, and we would not exist without them. So, going back to your first question about the state of Xbox Live Arcade? I’d say it’s extremely healthy if the interest coming from developers is any measure.

 


In regards to the innovation coming from independent developers, do you think that helps consumers’ perception of the service?

I do, and here’s how I think this is – we actually had people give us direct feedback on this: they appreciate the range of games that are available on Xbox Live Arcade, and they attributed it to the creativity that people can exhibit with these smaller titles. It doesn’t cost 10 or 20 million dollars to make an Arcade game, therefore you get some pretty wacky and unconventional gameplay mechanics, and they’re really fun.

I mean, take a look at Eets: Chowdown. That’s not necessarily a game you’d see someone producing at retail. Or Outpost Kaloki or Cloning Clyde - those are all different gameplay mechanics that haven’t been done at retail and might not have ever seen a chance at it, given the risk management associated with making a $20 million title.

What’s interesting is that, as more major publishers are doing it, we’re seeing teams rolling off of their retail projects and saying, ‘Can we make an Arcade game in between games now?’

That’s pretty neat. Now they can do something a little more creative, rather than just sticking to the mechanics that are known and needed to make a retail game a success – they’ll try something new. The really interesting thing I think we’ll see – in terms of forward looking stuff – is that those teams will be able to make companion games for the retail title they’ve just made, maybe using some of the same art assets, maybe even interacting with the game in some way.

I think what that will do for people working on a retail team is it will allow them to say, ‘Well, you know what? We had all these fun ideas for what fun gameplay might be but we couldn’t do it for the retail title’. Now they can think about adding it into a Live Arcade title.

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Allowing them to extend the life of the IP as well.

It is. It comes back to allowing the developers to experiment and try and make something that’s fun. Some of them are going to flop, sure, but some of them are going to be great – things you wouldn’t have seen without service like Xbox Live Arcade.

How important is developer feedback for the service?

I think it’s something that we do a lot of, and I hope that we listen well to their report cards. Not everybody’s always happy with the pace with which we’re able to innovate, or change things.

What changes have you made based on developer feedback?

Well, the size limitation is one. Another was looking at how we can do the background downloads, and essentially deliver more of the demos to people interested in getting them. Even though it doesn’t take that long to download an Arcade game, the combination background along with the automatic Arcade downloads is something that developers are very happy with, and has met their requests in terms of being able to get the downloads to more people.

There’s probably been a number of improvements in the XDK [Xbox Development Kit] over time – some of the underlying stuff used to work with Live. Those have been good improvements for the development community.

Some of that ends up showing up to the player in ways like seeing more games that are socially multiplayer enabled; seeing more games that you can join in with a friend; seeing more games that have a couple of different gameplay styles that you can measure yourself against. These are all improvements based on work with the XDK, or work with the conditions for Arcade development.

Going back to what your were saying about the multiplayer, I recall there being a bit of criticism regarding lag in games like Contra. Is that something that you are aware of, and are trying to address?

Oh, absolutely. Lag occurs in many cases and in many games, whether it be an Arcade game or a retail game because of the way the game is developed and so forth. We do test fairly extensively and that’s why we’re not happy when something like that does happen. In Contra’s case, we’re actually working on fix, and there’s other games that have had lag problems at one stage or another that we’re working on fixes for.

We try to find as many of those as possible before they get out to the consumer, but developers aren’t always happy when we pull the game out of cert on something because, in many cases, looking to launch as quickly as possible. Still, we want to deliver the best quality games that we can.

At the end of the day, it isa function of how the developers code the game and I’ve seen – over the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been in the games industry – games that are written and have no lag on dial-up modems because they’re architected well for communication. I’ve seen games bring a LAN to a standstill because it’s sending out one packet for every bullet that’s coming out of a chain gun.

It’s partly the experience of writing multiplayer, and peer to peer and optimizing for communication, and some of it is how extensively it’s been tested ahead of time. there are some great teams that get to a point where they’re like, ‘Ahh, if we’d switched this slightly, it would have been a much higher performing game’. Multiplayer, as you probably well know, is something of an arcane art. [Laughs]

 


With the Live Anywhere push that is happening now, how will that affect Live Arcade, in terms of bringing it onto the Windows platform?

Well, I think you’ll see a couple of things. From a player standpoint, that is, the player on the Xbox 360, you’ll have a lot more people to play with. It’s the same community, and most times you won’t even know, unless you look at the little icon next to a person’s name if they’re on a PC or an Xbox. That’s the real beauty of it, because it’s going to expand that gamer community overall.

If you do play on a PC – and I know a lot of our gamers are dual platform gamers, with a PC and a console as well – then you’ve got that opportunity to play your games on the PC as well. When you like that game, you’ll want to play it at a variety of places. The beauty of Arcade is that many people will want to play Arcade games on the PC, because it’s a place they can take shorter play sessions, whether it be at work or in a break or something like that.

There are many PC gamers who spend hours on their games, but when I sit down to play Forza, I’m probably going to sit down on the couch and spend the time with my Xbox 360 to play it there as opposed to playing it at my desk. Of course, the great thing about this for people like me is that I can go out and get Gamerpoints on a whole other platform now. [Laughs]

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Do you think that’s going to be an important selling point for Live for Windows?

I do, but the thing is we are preventing people from tricking the system by saying that, on any given game you can only earn that Achievement once. So even though you’ll be able to play Uno! or Shadowrun on both platforms, any given Achievement can only be earned once.

Do you think the new users you’re aiming for in the Windows audience will take this on?

History certainly shows us that there are plenty of PC gamers out there who appreciate good service, and Xbox Live has a lot of great features, so bringing so bringing the whole Live service to the Windows environment can’t be a bad thing. You’ve got those places to go and see relevant leaderboards, and it’s a great way to invite friends into games across multiple platforms. It’s very exciting.

It obviously creates a lot of challenges for Live Arcade developers as well, though.

Well, there’s going to be challenges writing for any platform. The two ways that we go about trying to make it as easy as possible are, firstly, we took the development toolkit – the XDK that we developed for Live – and we’re making it as similar as possible for the Windows environment.

The other thing goes back to what I was saying before about Game Studio Express – development tools that are designed to work across multiple platforms to make coding easier. The Holy Grail is to write once, and then play on many platforms. We’re not there, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but particularly with Game Studio and the whole XNA framework we’re a lot closer than we have been before.

So it’s something you’d like to see picked up by more major developers, then?

Yes, the Game Studio Express is obviously a hobbyist level creator for games, although it is being used by a number of professional companies as well, but there’s an XNA roadmap that involves studio versions of Game Studio as well. It has a lot more tools that will aid in development.

What about the different markets that exist with the PC and 360? Are you having to think differently about the way that you’re promoting games and about the kinds of games that you’re putting out there?

Well, we do look at the demographics of the people who come to our different access points and portals and that’s probably the way that is best to think about it. Certainly there is a much more diverse audience for the PC than exists on the 360 today. As a result, you’ll see our portfolio move will move to the demographics that’s being served. For example, on MSN Games, we know that there are a lot more women playing the games, and there‘s a lot more preference for word and puzzle games on that site than there is on Xbox Live Arcade.

So we won’t necessarily see the games that are appearing on MSN Games on Xbox 360?

I think that’s partly up to the developers. We’ve had more and more developers talking about the beauty of being able to use something like MSN Games as a proving ground. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see all of the most popular games on MSN Games making their way onto the Xbox 360.

That being said, I’m going to go back to the question of portfolio management as well: some of the games on MSN Games, like the breadth of puzzle games, you probably wouldn’t see that on the Xbox 360. Over time, as the user base broadens and the demographic increases I think that will start.

 


Can you explain a little about MSN Games? It’s a paid service, right?

MSN Games is a web based PC service where you can play web games for free and you can download and pay for some of the games as well, like on Xbox Live Arcade but they’re try-before-you-buy games. The thing I would say is that most of those games are unconnected, so you can buy them and play them and some of them are great fun, but for me they don’t have that same depth behind them. You can’t tell what your friends are doing, and there’s no level of comparison. But that’s why we’re so excited about bringing the Live service to Windows as well, so then they can see the mix of both worlds.

So what kind of success are you hoping for with the service?

Well, today we have 13 million people who play on MSN Games every month. I’d love to see them all play on Live. I think that would be a great boost for the player base on Live, and I think it would be a great thing for those players as well.

You can see the difference when you begin to add a little bit of connectivity. I mean, on the PC we have Games for Messenger as well, and there’s less games on that service than there is on the MSN Games site, but there’s twice the number of players who play every month on Messenger Games.

ce_8.jpg So you can see that as you add the community fixtures in there, it becomes a much more interesting mix. Even if you never play against somebody else, being able to play and know that your friends are there and being able to look and see how they are versus how you are and compete and cooperate, it brings so much more to the games service overall.

But you’re obviously going to face challenges in actually getting these people to subscribe to the service.

Well, yeah. From a subscription standpoint, there is that financial burden. But just like with Xbox 360, the Silver members can download and play Arcade games, and I would hope it would be just the same.

What kinds of areas do you see as needing improvement with Xbox Live Arcade at the moment?

One of the things I think we need to work on is our method of game discovery. When we had nearly 20 titles at launch, it was fine to have an alphabetic list and two genre categories, but as we get to 60, and if you think ahead over the next year, as we add titles there, pretty soon it’s going to be difficult to find games. That’s why we added the new releases category. It’s one step that means you can look at what’s come out recently, rather than having to go through each genre separately to find out what you don’t have.

We will be making improvements in that over the coming year, and making sure you can find games that are interesting to you as easily as possible.

Are there things within the PlayStation Network and the Wii’s Virtual Console that have alerted you to gaps within the service?

Well, I know that we do our best to keep track of what’s going on, though I think we’re operating on a slightly different road-map – we know where we’re heading with the Live service, and we have a vision for what we’re delivering to customers and so far we’re staying pretty true to that. I think in some areas, we’re actually seeing reinforcement from some of what’s happening on the other services.

So you don’t believe that they’re heading along a road-map in the same way that you are?

I don’t think we’re on the same road-map, no. I think every service will be slightly different, and that’s the beauty of competition. Over time I hope they do discover things that are great that we can appropriate as well. I’m a huge believer in having multiple services out there and having a real competition exists, because I don’t think there’s any way one company can innovate in every area.

Every stage of this – I don’t care if it’s technology or whatever – it will be good for the consumer. And it’ll be good for Xbox Live Arcade as well. Keeps us on our toes; keeps us moving ahead. So far I think we’re delivering on a great vision for Xbox Live Arcade.

What kind of threat do you see coming from those services, in terms of the market share that you have?

I don’t know that I view them that way because at level there’s a prerequisite: you have to have a PS3 to buy something from their network. That’s the bigger challenge. It’s not about whether they have a better version of Live Arcade – they need the boxes in people’s hands.

At the end of the day, though, it’s kind of going to be the developers that determine that as well. Even if there were tons of boxes out there, it’s going to come back to: what’s the content mix like? Is there a variety? Is it good gameplay? Is it something that meets what you’re used to today?

But with the Wii moving into original content, as they have hinted at a number of times now, that’s obviously going to be more of an issue.

I think that’s going to be great to see. I really do. There’ll be people that develop on other platforms that are good enough to make it to Xbox Live Arcade as well.

Finally, what do you see as the future of Xbox Live Arcade?

I think we’re going to continue to grow. We’re going to continue to release great games. there’s going to be new innovations on the platform over the next year that will make it easier and easier to interact with the service, and I think you’ll see more community features as well, with things like Live Arcade Challenge, where you can play in tournaments and so forth. And when you mix that with a great lineup of titles, I think we’re on the right track.

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