For many gamers the Xbox 360 is all about Halo and Gears of War. Microsoft wants to change that. It's on a mission to spread the word that the 360 is about more than shooting people on Xbox LIVE. It's about social games, sharing media and renting movies. At a press conference to announce a content deal with NBC Universal to make available to download on demand 30 flicks from its back catalogue, we caught up with Microsoft's head of gaming and entertainment in the UK, Stephen McGill, to talk exclusive DLC, questionable claims from Sony and... Alan Wake.
VideoGamer.com: Let's start with your announcement regarding additional movie content on Xbox LIVE. What are the details?
Stephen McGill: We already had Paramount and Warner Bros. We've hundreds of movies already on the service. We've added Universal and 30 movies today. They've got such a huge library of content, so we'll add more every week. So things like Mamma Mia! is coming out next week. They've got some great licenses.
VideoGamer.com: The US has Netflix but we don't have anything like that. What's the deal there?
SM: Netflix was already in the States. They already had a service that worked really well, integrated with what we were trying to do with Xbox LIVE. There isn't really an equivalent over here. There's lots of postal things, but the video on demand service, there isn't any at the moment. Xbox LIVE was already the largest video on demand service in the UK, in your living room, under your TV. There isn't a comparative partner that we can go and work with right now. We're very focused on getting movie companies on board and you'll see more and more of our content come along. Netflix isn't here in the UK unfortunately.
VideoGamer.com: Microsoft has to become Netflix in the UK, then?
SM: If you look at what we're doing we already are. We've already got the great content on the service. The fact that it's not streaming, it's downloading, but I'm on a 2MB broadband service at home and on a standard definition download I can start downloading and then start watching within seconds. Obviously high definition takes a little bit longer. It's almost like streaming anyway, so we're already there.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think that Microsoft will ever provide this kind of content to purchase and keep on your hard drive, or are hard drives still too small for that?
SM: It's really about how the content owners want their partners to use their content. So that's entirely in the hands of the movie studios and what they want to do with the content. They feel comfortable with downloading it to rent and obviously watching it, watch it any time over the next month and within a number of hours once you've started. That's not something we control.
VideoGamer.com: Would Microsoft like to be able to provide content to purchase outright? Is it something Microsoft is working towards?
SM: It depends on what our consumers want. They seem very happy right now when you talking to them about the services we're offering from a download to rent model. So that's what we'll offer them.
VideoGamer.com: Moving on to 1 vs. 100, is that the beginning of a commitment from Microsoft to bring similar social-focused games to the Xbox 360?
SM: We'll get 1 versus 100 out of the way first! We're only just starting to tease about what we're going to do there. I think we'll answer that one in the fullness of time. It's a little way away yet before we launch that one. It's great to show a little bit more about what we're trying to do with that whole interactive entertainment thing, bringing TV games into real fun entertainment in the living room with mates.
VideoGamer.com: The 360 is known by gamers as a real gamer's machine, but events like today highlight that it can provide more than that. Is it a challenge from Microsoft's point of view to get that message across, to convince consumers that the Xbox 360 is more than just Halo and Gears of War?
SM: I think you hit a really interesting nail on the head there. The gamers recognise we're a great games machine and now we're opening things up to a broader audience. It's the word and. We can do both. I think when you look at the strategies of some of our competitors out there, I think they're a little bit more confused about how they do that. Are they trying to be too entertainment focused, and maybe not even delivering on that, and forgetting maybe their gaming roots? So, for us it's about continuing to service the needs of gamers with great games and great add-ons to those games, because obviously particularly in this current climate people have to watch pennies a bit more, people are staying in a lot more, so extensions of the games, game add-ons that extend the life of your games, is a benefit for people who are having to watch what they spend and how they spend it, so I think that's a good thing. Continuing to service that, absolutely critical. But as is introducing new experiences and new people to what we offer. We're very focused on continuing to broaden our audience and, I think, some of the stuff we did pre-Christmas changed people's perceptions of what we were doing. I think a lot of people may of, certainly in the past when you think of our heritage, back on version 1 and the type of games you could get on Xbox 1, compared to the experiences you get now, you get those same experiences and so much more. We haven't compromised our heritage or what gamers want, to be able to build those other services and experiences around entertainment. And there's different ways we would market. A lot of people would like to see more games advertising on TV. Well we do that but we also do our marketing around games in other ways, and TV happens to be a great way to get to a broader audience about a broader message as well. I think we can do both and I hope people would agree we're doing it quite well. If you look at the momentum we had going into Christmas, we were the fastest-growing console in 2008 and we've continued some great momentum through 2009. I hope people are enjoying what we're offering.