E3 Interview: Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg

By Patrick Garratt, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 22:55 GMT


If you want to talk to a Microsoft exec about where Xbox 360 stands right now, there’s probably no better person to speak to than product management director Aaron Greenberg.

The boss has just managed Microsoft’s entire E3 effort as executive producer – he ran Monday’s press conference – but took time to talk to us on at the firm’s LACC booth today.


  • Aaron’s a VG247 fan!
  • Whether or not Microsoft won E3
  • Why Natal will revolutionize home entertainment
  • The question of Metal Gear Solid Rising platform exclusivity
  • When we can expect to see Natal
  • Natal games well into development
  • FFXIV exclusivity
  • “Bungie’s going to be doing a lot of work in the Halo universe”
  • Aaron on Crackdown 2’s release date
  • The biggest blockbusters are on Xbox 360
  • Sony motion-sensing is “very derivative” of “Wii experience”
  • “The only experience you need with Natal is life experience”

The full thing’s after the break.

[Interview by Nathan Grayson]

VG247: First of all, it’s great to be able to talk to you. We really appreciate this.

Aaron Greenberg: It’s my pleasure. I’m actually a fan of you guys’ site, and Patrick and I have exchanged emails. I probably have a bit of a different style to other [execs]. If people write me I write them back. I don’t care. I play our games, I’m on the Live community. I like to get to know sites. So yeah, my pleasure to do it.

Let’s start off with the obvious question. A lot of people have been very impressed with your press conference this year. Do you think you guys ‘won’ E3?

Well, I guess it’s hard to say. The polls online do show us as “winning” E3, for what it’s worth. I think what we did that was really unique compared to the other conferences, is that we outlined a great vision for our business, what we’re doing today and what we’re doing tomorrow. We delivered the blockbuster games, the amazing online experience, what we’re doing with entertainment, and that’s all happening today. And we showed people what we believe is a really exciting technology for the future of the game and entertainment. I think it’s pretty clear to people that there’s a lot happening for many years on Xbox 360.

Where’s Xbox 360 going in terms of ambition? You said that Natal will revolutionize entertainment, but how will it do that?

I believe that some of the things we showed at E3 this year, as I said, will revolutionize home entertainment. Natal is one example of that. I think what we’re doing with Xbox Live in the living room, providing instant-on, 1080p movies: you know, that’s a first. And how can that be delivered… on a global scale?

I think that now allowing people to stand in front of their TV and play games and have fun, no matter their age, no matter their experience, even if they’ve never played a game before: Natal really does make games accessible to anyone. That’s one thing we’re excited about.

I think when you add those things up, it does change the living room.

You had Metal Gear Solid Rising at your press conference this year. Is it a 360 exclusive or is it multi-platform?

That’s a great question for Konami. We did not announce it as an Xbox 360 exclusive specifically, but that’s a good question to ask them. I know that we were really excited to be working with Kojima-san, and to have him there. He’s just really fantastic to work with. He’s been really supportive of us with the Metal gear project, and, as he said, that title is already in development for Xbox 360, and we’re really excited to see what he has in store with the game.

When’s Natal coming? It looked pretty early from the videos you guys were showing. Do you have a projected release date for it?

We haven’t announced a release date, but we did, obviously, show some tech demos to give an idea of what can be done. We showed Peter Molyneux’s project, the Milo game. We do have games that are well into development. We’ve also said that’s it’s actually timed for development kits to start arriving this week at our third-party partners, so games are in development now. It’s only a matter of time before it comes to market. At E3, the focus is on unveiling the project and capturing people’s imagination with what can be done in this whole new world of controller-free gaming.

So, 2010, 2011?

We haven’t said. [Laughs] But that’s good. It’s good to press. I’d do the same if I were in your shoes, but I’d say that here’s where we start. We believe that this is breakthrough technology that will change the future of games entertainment, and we want to give all the tools to the creators [so they can realize] all the possibilities that they can bring to life with this new technology, and when those things are ready to come to life, we’ll bring it to market. But today we’re not talking about that yet.

Last year you guys announced that Final Fantasy XIII was coming to the Xbox 360, and that was a huge announcement for you. This year, Square said that Final Fantasy XIV was a PS3 exclusive. So what’s up with that?

That would be a good question to ask Square. I know that we have a great relationship with [Square]. They provided a number of big titles, including some exclusives like Star Ocean, along with having FFXIII demoed on Xbox 360.

I know that Final Fantasy XIV is an online game, the next step to what Final Fantasy XI was. My understanding is that it’s not exclusive, but that would be a good question to ask them.

A while back, Bungie said that ODST was going to be their last real foray into the Halo universe, and after that they were moving on to something else. And now they’ve announced Halo Reach. Where are they going with the Halo franchise? Will they continue to make games in that series on the Xbox 360 and beyond?

I think it’s clear that Bungie’s going to be doing a lot of work in the Halo universe. The fact that they’re [doing] Reach… I hope people are certain: that is the next big Halo game from Bungie. That is a massive announce. Not a lot of details have been shown yet. We are really excited about that title following ODST, and we’re including the multilplayer beta in it. The details of what Bungie’s doing? They’re an independent developer now, so that’d be a question to ask them. I don’t believe they’re talking about any other projects right now. They’re working on all kinds of stuff. But we do know that ODST is coming this holiday and then we have Halo Reach coming next year.

Do we know when Crackdown 2’s coming?

We have not announced a launch date for Crackdown 2. We’ve just announced the title, and as you saw from the trailer, there’s some pretty exciting stuff happening with that game. I think we’re pretty confident that that is the most requested sequel that we’ve had on the Microsoft Games Studios side of any of our franchises. It’s great to be able to show that game. It’s well into development, and at a later date we’ll be giving specifics about when it’s going to launch.

It pretty much made my E3.

Did it? That was your highlight. That’s awesome. Did you like the sound at the beginning…

I was, like, wait a minute. I recognize that sound. And yep, it was Crackdown.


What’s up with the development behind Crackdown 2? Ruffian’s on it. Why isn’t Realtime Worlds developing it?

That would be a good question for Phil Spencer. I know Ruffian is developing it, and I don’t know what Realtime Worlds is working on. You know, I should not answer more on that because I don’t have the details, but I do know that a lot of people that worked on Crackdown are still working on that game. That’s a question for Phil.

A lot of the games you showed off in the press conference were multi-platform. Why do you think people should go with Xbox 360 exclusively this holiday season?

Well, first off we world-premiered ten games on our stage. We showed a massive number of exclusive titles. I think in many way we surprised people with our games line-up across the board, before you think about entertainment, before you think about Live and Natal and all the other stuff. This holiday alone, there are big, big exclusive titles coming to our platform. Forza 3 we announced, and it’s coming this holiday. Left 4 Dead 2 we announced, and it’s launching exclusively this holiday. Splinter Cell: Conviction, exclusive this holiday. Halo: ODST, exclusive this holiday. If you need big exclusive titles… And that’s before you get to all the multi-platform goods, the Call of Duties and so on.

The biggest blockbusters are on Xbox 360. If you look at this holiday, I don’t think any other platform matches us for blockbuster titles, and exclusives.

Another one of the obvious questions. What did you think of the Sony motion-sensing thing?

I watched it on TV, so it’s hard to really comment having not played with it much. To me it looked similar to the Wii experience. You hold a remote or a wand: it looked very derivative of that. Similar to other products on the market today. I thought it was interesting and fun, just like the Wii is fun. I think it’s great that they’re sharing that space.

What’s clear is that what we’re doing is, in many ways, leapfrogging over any of the experiences [demoed] today. We’re trying to breakthrough… with a new controller in gaming and entertainment, and I think that will differentiate us, and in many ways remove another barrier to people who are intimidated by, not just controllers, but wands and having to push buttons and do things. To be able to just drive a car with your hands, or to be able to kick balls as you swing and kick your feet. It’s a whole different type of experience.

I know Sony said something along the lines of Natal is not a guaranteed success because it’s not familiar?

My advice to everyone is that we all work in this industry. We’re all trying to bring great experiences to consumers. While I think the work that they’re doing, in many ways, I’m sure will be interesting, and it’s similar to the Wii, I think it’s great that they’re doing it. I think that what makes what we’re doing unique is that the only experience you need with Natal is life experience. You don’t need to have ever played a game before. How would you kick a ball in real life? How would you drive a car in real life? We’re building this technology so that anyone at any age can step in front of a sofa and have instant fun.

You announced on Monday that full-game downloads are coming to Live. Is this the death knell for retail sales, especially considering what Sony’s doing with PSP go? Retail seems to be in trouble. What are your thoughts?

I think it’s interesting. Our relationships with retailers are extremely important. That’s still the place where you buy your console, you buy your accessories, and it’s where you’re going to buy the majority of your retail games. Many of us know our local retailers, and we go in there and get advice on what’s new, what to play. There’s something special about that experience that you just can’t replicate anywhere else.

With that said, the reality is that the speed of online connectivity, storage being built into consoles… [downloading games is] something that we don’t want to deny consumers. We do it with other forms of entertainment, so why not do it with games as well? Retail plays a part in that. We sell a lot of Microsoft products at retail, so a lot of consumers buying those points and transacting their digital downloads via Live.

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