Talking to Gamasutra at a Microsoft-hosted breakfast at GDC, Microsoft executives Shane Kim and Chris Satchell answered questions touching on all aspects of Microsoft's current Xbox 360 strategy, but with notable attention paid to the Xbox 360's customer base and the future of the console.
Broadening The Xbox 360's Customer Base
The conversation ranged over a multitude of subjects, and the broadening of the customer base of the Xbox 360 was a major one. Talking about Microsoft's strategy going forward, Kim specifically praised "...the success of Nintendo with the Wii in a certain customer segment", citing that the company needs to do better in reaching a family market.
Obviously, Microsoft's chief thrust to date on this has been in major investments in first-party titles such as Rare's Viva Pinata
, and Kim indicated that there are more Pinata
-related projects planned, commenting: "You're going to see us do more with that franchise."
In addition, Satchell made the point that, though Viva Pinata
has not been a large seller for Microsoft, it was important to seed content for desired audiences onto the console ahead of their arrival - otherwise they would have no reason to jump on board and buy an Xbox 360.
Finally, Kim noted later in the session that: "We're not at a mass market price point yet" when it comes to the Xbox 360, and admitted of the original Xbox: "We didn't do a good job with the mass market audience there", making it a slightly trickier job to convince some segments of the market with the Xbox 360.
Difficult Questions About Xbox Live Arcade
Some of the most pointed questions during the Q&A session related to Xbox Live, which many of the assembled bloggers criticized for perceived delays in launching non-retro titles, as well as several executive losses in recent months - including former XBLA head Greg Canessa.
However, Chris Satchell defended the state of XBLA, noting that Microsoft is "...fully confident with the team we have there right now", and suggesting that: "People are getting more and more ambitious with what they want to do" for Xbox Live Arcade games, citing "...delays on the developer side" as one of the problems with roll-out.
However, Kim acknowledged that Microsoft needs to also shoulder some blame, noting that for Xbox Live Arcade, the company has "...created some expectations that we haven't been great on delivering on", and will be looking at ways to optimize the efficiency of the service going forward.
Halo's Episodic Jackson Adventure
In addition, as previously reported
on Gamasutra, Kim confirmed that Microsoft and Bungie Studios are currently planning two different episodic gaming series for Xbox 360 with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, commenting: "Our deal with Peter is not about a film guy who wants to make video games".
He also revealed of the Jackson/Bungie collaboration: "We're in the design phase now", continuing: "The first series will be set in the Halo universe." In addition to this deal, Jackson continues to executive produce the currently on hiatus Halo feature film.
He additionally commented that new forms like episodic gaming are vital "...if we're going to become a mainstream form of entertainment."
From Hardware To Halo 3
A multitude of other questions were asked during the course of the breakfast. Kim's comment on some of the hardware failure problems with the console since launch. He noted: "It's unfortunate that people have had problems with their Xbox 360... we've got room for improvement on both sides of the equation - it's a top priority for us."
In addition, discussion of the Halo 3
Beta briefly clarified that the Crackdown
retail version is the only major way (besides Bungie 'friends and family' testing) to try out the much-awaited game before release, with Kim voicing concern: "We have to be careful that we don't get so many people in the Beta that we overwhelm our testing capabilities."
A pointed question regarding companies such as Electronic Arts providing downloadable Xbox Live content such as cheat codes for a fee had Kim and Satchell strongly in agreement that Microsoft should not try to be a content arbiter for the system, with Kim commenting: "If a publisher is going to provide crappy content... customers are eventually going to turn their back on the publisher."
On Sony's Networking, Microsoft's Future
Finally, when asked about the current PlayStation 3 networking/online functionality plans, Kim was relatively forthright, noting: "It's not integrated into the games experience", and continuing: "There have been a lot of promises and visionary statements... coming out of the other camp."
Though the breakfast was held before Sony's keynote, Kim commented on the reports of Sony's 'Home' software that were known at the time, broadly indicating that, as far as the online functionality for any given console is concerned: "That's all about software - we're the software company in this competition... I know we're putting in place the foundation to enable those types of experiences."
Microsoft's belief in the Xbox 360 going forward? Kim summed it up confidently: "Our aspiration in this generation is to win - we're better positioned than when we kicked off this generation."