E3: Xbox UK’s McGill: ‘We’ll never leave the core behind’

Thursday, 9 June 2011 13:14 GMT By Nathan Grayson

As evidenced by its E3 showcase, Microsoft is embracing a wider audience. But is it shafting the hardcore? VG247 spoke with Xbox UK boss Stephen McGill about that, Sony, and much more.

Stephen McGill

Director of Xbox UK.

Full coverage of Microsoft’s E3 2011 briefing here.

Watch video of the entire showcase here.

Entertainment. Kinect. Voice commands. Motion control. Oddly enough, Disneyland. Like it or not, these were Microsoft’s rallying cries during this year’s E3. For a userbase raised on guns, glory, and the sheer rush of finally making some terrible 12-year-old eat his hurtful, hurtful words, it was quite a jarring transition. Oh sure, it’s been on the horizon since Kinect happily took the wheel, but seeing the new Microsoft fully emerge from its cocoon hammered home a point that many gamers secretly hoped was merely a bad dream: change is afoot. It’s undeniable. Microsoft UK boss Stephen McGill, then, has quite the tall order ahead of him. How do you provide for two very different sides of the same coin – especially when one refuses to give any ground? Without a doubt, the Xbox’s fanbase is one big dysfunctional family, but McGill doesn’t believe that means everyone needs to be at everyone else’s throats.

VG247: Your emphasis is very much on entertainment and accessibility this year. Meanwhile, the online peanut gallery’s singing songs of fonder times before hardcore gaming was “just a niche.” Do you think that’s accurate? Is hardcore gaming’s heyday behind it?

Stephen McGill: I kind of disagree with that point of view in that I don’t think [the hardcore] is getting left behind. I think what we showed – we started with a very large third-party porfolio of great content, lots of Kinect stuff for the core, some Kinect stuff for [broader audiences], and broader entertainment/non-gaming stuff. So I think that indicates we have something for everyone – not that we’re leaving anyone behind.

And then there are things like Forza, Gears of War – you know, first party exclusives. They’re going to be huge. Forza’s got some Kinect functionality because it adds value. And then you’ve got some great content coming from the Call of Duty franchise that’s going to come first to our platform. And as a nod to the future, we’ve got Kinect Fun Lab.

Even so, the message boards and commenting threads are still lighting up with complaints. “There’s Halo 4 and Gears 3,” they say, “and then everything else is kind of a wash.” What do you say to those people?

I think it’s always a challenge when… you know, we’ve been showing off Gears 3 for quite a while now. So we sort of tease them with a little more information – announce some things, but we’ve got plenty more to announce in the coming hours and days.

Probably the challenge we have with our show is that it’s 90 minutes, and we’ve got a lot to say. So literally, every kind of topic that we have gets 90 seconds. Maybe two minutes. And you know, we’re an entertainment company. We’re servicing the core gamers. That’s our heritage. We will never leave them behind. We showed a lot of amazing content for them at the showcase.

“We’re servicing the core gamers. That’s our heritage. We will never leave them behind.”

But we showed some amazing videos of Forza at the presentation on Monday. And then people were like “Oh, you didn’t show a demo.” Well, we can’t show a demo for everything. So we showed a great video and told everyone it was in-game footage, and then they can spend the next few days [at the show] playing it. So it’s a case of 90 minutes not selling completely what this week’s all about.

So hopefully, people will get excited by the things we showed at the press conference, and then they’ll go to the stands and actually try for themselves. Nothing’s better than seeing and believing in this business. No one should believe anything besides. They should go and see it for themselves. And if they love it? Fantastic. And if they don’t love this stuff? They should call us on it. And they do. Hopefully, when they go to the booth and see the stuff, they’ll be incredibly impressed. That’s the reaction we’re hearing so far.

You’re definitely working with a lot of tried-and-true IPs, though. Between Halo, Gears, Fable, and Forza, the element of surprise that people so love at these shows is nowhere to be found. Does Microsoft plan on introducing any new first-party IPs in the near future?

[Crytek's] Ryse is a great example. So, you know, we teased that last year, but didn’t really show a lot. We’re showing a demo all this week. We’ve got plenty up our sleeves.

But, you know, it’s interesting: Halo is a huge, huge deal. We didn’t really help ourselves with the leak a few hours before [the press conference]. That probably would have been a bit more of a surprise. There wasn’t too much talk about Halo 4, but there was talk about a Halo remake before the event. So we didn’t help ourselves there.

But people sometimes kind of gloss over that. Gears of War is massive. Forza is massive. Halo is massive. These franchises outsell PlayStation’s first-party lineup. People love these games. We will continue to innovate and evolve these franchises, and we will continue to bring new IP to the platform too. So it’s about choice, and it’s about doing what people want us to do and taking some risks and bringing some new stuff to the market too.

Speaking of new stuff, Sony’s hopping aboard the 3D bandwagon and showing no signs of looking back. They’ve even got a PlayStation-branded 3D TV bundle, which is apparently “affordable” for people who drive gold-plated rocket cars. Is 3D something you’re hoping to really push with the Xbox as well? Do you think 3D’s the next HD, or is it just a passing trend?

I’m not going to speculate where the market will go over the next couple years. But from the 3D point-of-view, I think it’s up to consumers to choose what they want.

“Gears of War is massive. Forza is massive. Halo is massive. These franchises outsell PlayStation’s first-party lineup.”

The Xbox 360 does 3D. It has for a long time. If developers want to do 3D, they can. So it’s not a case of “Xbox isn’t doing 3D.” We do it. It’s down to developers to decide what’s right for their particular game and story. So that’s a choice. And it just so happens that with the franchises we’ve got, it’s not what we’re about at all. But the choice is there for developers absolutely.

Last holiday season, “Move vs Kinect” was pretty much the talk of the town. Since then, you’ve pretty handily outpaced Move. So, would you call yourself the “winner” of the motion control war? Does Kudo Tsunoda get a medal?

I’m not sure there’s a winning line. We’re focusing on what we need to go and do to bring our experiences to market. We’re now seven months in. Even now, it’s really early days in terms of what Kinect can go and do. I think the difference now is that technology within Kinect – the way developers are utilizing it – they’ve now figured out a bunch of stuff.

Think about Kinect Sports, where you can now stand sideways for golf or baseball. As developers, we just didn’t know how to do that at launch. The hardware hasn’t changed, but we’ve learned how to do that stuff. We’re better at figuring things out. So that’s one of our key things: we’ll continue to evolve and innovate every few months, every year.

And that’s why Kinect Labs is a great signpost. The small, kind of nugget-sized experiences that are launching in Kinect Labs now, you’ll see that stuff made into [full] games or work its way into games. So one of the key things we do is share a lot of that stuff with third-parties. So, you know, hey, we figured out how to do really cool finger-tracking. We’re giving that out to all developers as a community, so they can go and see what they can do with it. If you want to do that within your game, here it is. Go and add it. Improve on it. Innovate it. Do even better. So it’s a really cool time. We’re just scratching the surface of what this stuff can do.

Nintendo recently debuted their WiiU. It’s, er, different. What’s your take on the new machine?

My team has had me locked in this hotel all day. I’ve heard nothing other than what you guys tell me when I do these interviews. So I get my free day to have a look at stuff on Thursday. It’s always exciting when people announce and launch new hardware. So as a fan of the industry, that’s great. Competition’s great. It keeps everyone on their toes. But I don’t know any details.

“And it just so happens that with the franchises we’ve got, [3D's] not what we’re about at all.”

During the press conference, you guys mentioned that you aim to be the best-selling console worldwide by the end of the year. Was that hyperbole? Or do you actually see that as an achievable goal?

There’s lots of different metrics or ways you can look at it. You know, we have an aspiration, we have a belief, and we have the content to deliver on being number one worldwide. You know, we’re number one in some, we’re number two in others. We have a plan and we’re going to stick to that. That takes having the right games for the core and the right games for the broader market, the right entertainment produced at a global level and at a local level. And we’ve got that whole mix.

So, what is the metric you’re using to measure your success?

Number one worldwide. We’ll leave it at that.

OK then. Do you have a sales target for the end of the year?

I do, but I’m not going to say it on here [laughs].

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