Microsoft has just delivered what is likely to be its final E3 press conference before announcing its next generation. We spoke to Xbox Europe boss Chris Lewis on the state of 360’s game.
Xbox 360 and E3 2012
Microsoft’s press conference’s main stars were Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Forza Horizon, Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider.
It’s widely expected that both Microsoft and Sony will announce their next generation consoles at E3 next year.
You can get full coverage of all the E3 press conferences here.
E3 2012 is likely the last before we see Microsoft’s vision for its next console generation, and it was always going to be a contentious year for the Xbox project. Some have criticised Microsoft for spreading its software too thin and focusing on non-gaming aspects too greatly in the run-up to the hardware switch, but with the likes of Halo 4 and Forza Horizon out this financial year it’s a charge Chris Lewis, Microsoft’s Europe vice president of interactive entertainment, strongly denies. He believes Xbox 360’s game line-up’s in the best place it’s ever been.
We spoke to Chris on the phone from LA this evening on the past, the now and what comes next.
VG247: How do you think the conference went in general?
Chris Lewis: We’re very happy. I’m bound to say that because I’m biased, but generally, over the course of the last 24 hours since our press conference, the reaction from people has been very encouraging. They like the mission we’re on in terms of making the entertainment people love even more amazing. They like the line-up. We’re very proud of the fact that this is such a powerful line-up, the greatest line-up of games ever. We were unashamedly putting Halo 4 up there front and centre. We’re very pleased with the reaction, not only to that title, but to Gears of War, Forza Horizon and Fable: The Journey, of course. Having Usher on stage to help us talk more about Dance Central 3 we thought was powerful and worked very well.
The reaction was great. People are intrigued and excited about what they heard from us around Xbox SmartGlass. Again, the reaction to that was very positive, about the flexibility that it offers and the way in compliments the gaming experience. Very happy so far. There’s a lot of the show still to go, but my personal view is that people will get even more positive when they get their hands on the games.
“I think the line-up is first class, and very deep and very wide. I think this is not only a pretty powerful line-up, but we deliberately complimented these announcements with entertainment partnerships right across the region of Europe, as well as globally, and the connection point was Xbox for Windows 8 and SmartGlass.”
Your line-up this year does seem slighter than normal. You don’t seem to have as many titles, and I assume that’s because you’re about to enter a hardware transition.
I’m not convinced I agree with you. If I’m allowed to disagree with you, then I’ll take the opportunity. I look across the line-up of the sequels, the new IP, Wreckateer, Matter, LocoCycle, and all of the third-party line-up; especially for Europe, FIFA 13 looks amazing; what we have by way of our deep relationship with Activision and what we’re doing there with Call of Duty; I look at Ubisoft.
I think the line-up is first class, and very deep and very wide. I think this is not only a pretty powerful line-up, but we deliberately complimented these announcements with entertainment partnerships right across the region of Europe, as well as globally, and the connection point was Xbox for Windows 8 and SmartGlass. And the browser: being able to talk about that at this show, we think, gave a very good portfolio of announcements.
A lot of people have been saying you may have focused too heavily on services this time as opposed to software. Do you think that’s fair?
No I don’t, actually. We do have an embarrassment of riches, I think, in terms of the things that we have at our disposal to discuss, and as you can imagine in the run-up to this event we have to think very hard about the time available and how best to use it. But I think if you look back at what we covered, there is a lot of games content there, across the titles that I described earlier.
Whilst we’re excited about the vision to see the Xbox 360 central as that entertainment hub in the home, we remain committed to great content, great games, for the core and for the casual. Kinect: 19 million units and growing. What we’re been able to achieve with the Kinect technology around voice as well as gesture, I think, again, is something that we really wanted to talk about here at E3.
I like the balance of what we announced, but clearly you’re bound to get a positive opinion from me. People I’ve been speaking to here in the last 24 hours have given me a very strong sense of confidence based on what they heard from us.
I wanted to talk to you about Kinect. As far as I’m aware, the only two motion products that were shown in that presentation were Fable and Dance Central, and everything else was voice-related. There’s been a big focus on Kinect in the last few years, and it seems to me that in this presentation you really pulled back. Is this end of the “rush to motion”? Are you still completely committed to Kinect?
“Kinect, and all aspects of Kinect, are very central to what we’re talking about now and in the future.”
Kinect, and all aspects of Kinect, are very central to what we’re talking about now and in the future. Our relationship to Nike, for example, and what we showed for the fitness genre in that respect is very important. As well, as you say, Fable: The Journey is centrally orientated around Kinect. We’ve already had good success with Mass Effect and other titles with Kinect, so both for the core and the broad audience, Kinect, and very complimentary experiences to the game in question, is very important to what we’re doing.
So no: there’s no dropping back in any respect. Kinect has given a gravity-defying shot in the arm to the life-cycle, Pat, and we’re enjoying genuine growth year-over-year. Last year was bigger than the previous year, which is not something you expect at this point. We’re proud of what it’s doing for us, and it’ll remain very central to what we’re doing both from voice and physical gesture standpoint.
You gave over a lot of time to SmartGlass is the presentation. We’re seeing similar messages from Nintendo and Sony about connected eco-systems in the living room and the second screen. Do you think this is a trend that’s going to be central to Xbox in the future?
Our goal is to continually change the way folks consume their entertainment, and we listen very intently to what they’re looking for from us. Now, with SmartGlass suddenly tablets and phones, devices that you already have in the home, become great companions devices to the experience. They can hook up to the TV, they can share video, they can provide complimentary and additional information. We think it’s elegant and simple, a fluid way to navigate across the whole Xbox experience.
If you’re telling me that you think that’s a natural evolution of the way people want to consume digital entertainment, then I completely agree with you. I think people do a lot of that now. Often when people are watching a movie or the football, or whatever, often they have the laptop open and the phone going. I think being able to link your devices to what you’ve already got, via Xbox SmartGlass, opens up another dimension we can offer that no one else can.
You’ve done some more DLC deals this year. You’ve managed to tie up exclusive Call of Duty content again, and you’ve grabbed content for Tomb Raider. You’re very good at doing this. Why do you think publishers like putting their content exclusively on 360? Is it just because you pay more?
“We’re still growing. We were up last year over the previous year. The partners love the length of the life-cycle, because it means they can really stretch out the boundaries of the technology. Retail likes the longevity, and that we attach more games and experiences than any of our competitors.”
No. I think some of these titles are so enormous in their own right that become platforms in many ways. The additional, very compelling elements made available via DLC are very important to the consumers and the consumption patterns of the game. Why do they like working with us? Honestly, I think they’re pleased with the Xbox Live service, with the richness of experience that it offers their users. I think those exclusive windows are mutually very beneficial for both us and our third-party publishing partners. They’ve always been, and will continue to be, an important part of the mix, recognizing that there are a number of massive franchises now which, as I said, are almost like platforms in their own right.
And about the Xbox 360 hardware itself? There was no new SKU this year, there was no price cut and there was no peripheral. Is the end for 360? Are we seeing its death throes?
No, not at all. As I said earlier, we’re still growing. We were up last year over the previous year. The partners love the length of the life-cycle, because it means they can really stretch out the boundaries of the technology. Retail likes the longevity, and that we attach more games and experiences than any of our competitors. So no, we haven’t talked about the things that you reference simply because we think we’re in a very good place at the moment. We’re competitively priced. We enjoyed the number one position globally in 2011, which is what Don prophesized at E3 last year. Europe, as you can imagine, needed to play a very central part in that. Our business health and general economic health is fabulous. We’re pleased where we are. We’re in a very enviable position, I think, and our partners would agree.
Finally, then, the general consensus is that this is the last year of the current generation. Are you looking forward to moving on now, or are you a little bit nervous about heading out onto a new machine?
I’m genuinely proud of the progress we’ve made in terms of listening to what our consumers want. The architecture of the first version of Xbox, with the Ethernet port and the vision for online gaming, was a marvelous prophesy. I think we were very well placed back then, and I think we developed our proposition in a really powerful way, to the point where we can talk about connected and digital entertainment in a way that we might never have dreamt possible ten years ago.
I like where we are now. I like the fact we’re still growing. The economic model’s very good. Our partner eco-system is probably the healthiest it’s ever been. I think the challenge of the economic climate makes it tricky for everybody. of course, and there are pockets of European where that’s a little bit more of an exaggerated problem than others, and I think that’s choppy water for everybody to sail through, not just us. But I like where we are. I like the position we’re enjoying. The future’s very bright, but we’re enjoying great momentum right now, and long may that continue.