Attention Xbox 360 owners: The New Xbox Experience is coming. November 19, if you're wondering. Some of you might have read our hands-on preview of the free downloadable update, but we know there are still many questions still unanswered. So, we thought it would be a good idea to ask you, the lovely readers, what you wanted to know before we left for a NXE session with James Houlton, UK product manager, LIVE, and Robin Burrowes, EMEA product manager, LIVE. Read on for the answers you so crave.

FantasyMeister: What was the precursor for driving such development in the first place?

James Houlton: The whole idea of NXE is to reinvent, and for us we feel it's the first time that anyone has done this from a consumer electronics point of view, particularly a console, just using the upgrade of software, and create something that really fresh, really easy to navigate, uses audio and visual to really get the thing to pop up so that people can easily identify and find what they're looking for and just make it a lot easier from a navigation point of view.

Obviously with the price drop that we recently announced, that the Arcade starting at £129 being the cheapest next-gen console, it's a big Christmas for us in terms of where we think we're going to go. We feel we do a fairly good job with games like Fable and Gears, but with NXE and our other broadening titles we feel there's an opportunity for us to grow that market as well. So not shift our direction at all but actually grow into that more mainstream and NXE is there to help us on that journey.

Ghost5: Will we still be able to use gamerpics?

James Houlton: You don't have to use your Avatar picture if you like. So you create an Avatar, but your Gamer Pic is your public display. You can take a picture of your Avatar and you can use that on your Gamer Card, or you can use whatever image you've got now, currently.


FantasyMeister: Are there any upcoming titles that are going to incorporate Avatars and other new features of the Experience into their gameplay?

James Houlton: 1 vs. 100 is part of the Prime Time channel, so that's next year. November 19 is really just the start of the NXE. The official date is that in Spring 2009 we'll be able to add in Prime Time as its own channel and 1 vs. 100 is that pivotal content part where you'll be able to change the way people play in terms of an interactive quiz. Your Avatar will also be part of that experience as well.

In terms of Avatars from launch, Scene It! Box Office Smash, that will be one of the first games where you'll be represented by your Avatar in game. There's things like Uno Rush as well. There will be a selection of titles out for launch as well, so once you've created your Avatar you will already be able to start to use it in a relevant game. You're not going to see Avatars running around Call of Duty 5!

Robin Burrowes: In certain instances we're going back to games that we've already published, like Hearts and Spades, and retrofitting those with Avatar support. So there will be about five or six Avatar supported games both full release and Arcade that will happen at launch. And then we're looking at ramping that up to certainly a few dozen Avatar related games by spring time.

FantasyMeister: Will the above become compulsory for developers in the future like Achievements currently are?

Robin Burrowes: It will be an encouragement point of view and we'll show best practice with some Arcade games and some first party games. Scene It! right now is probably best practice that we've got from a first party point of view. From an Arcade point of view, games like Uno Rush, which will probably be the hero title for how Avatars merge with games. We'll certainly be giving publishers the publishing rights to be able to merge those in.

Dave from Streatham: Will game installs improve load times and by how much? Won't this cause widespread piracy?

James Houlton: One of the things you can do is install the game now onto the hard drive. So if the disk is in the tray it will play from the hard drive and the disk just basically validates that you've got a genuine copy. If you were just going to play a game and try it you probably wouldn't want to install it, you'd just play it from the disk. We did some testing in the office and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise took six minutes to download to the hard drive so it's pretty quick. The estimates in terms of performance, obviously depending on the game, it increases between 30 and 50 per cent in terms of load times. So if it's a game you play a lot, it's probably worth doing. Depends how big the hard drive you've got is and what else you use that space for.

FantasyMeister: Will there be any LIVE downtime on November 19?

James Houlton: No. They already did the downtime on September 29. There was a 24 hour period of LIVE downtime, and that was to basically prepare for it. On November 19 you'll just turn it on it'll just do the standard update.

Rogue Soul: Whatever happened to the friends list expansion (still capped at 100)?

James Houlton: You can have up to 100 friends and the Avatars will all be represented in your friends list.


FantasyMeister: What unique features will be available to each country/region?

James Houlton: You might be familiar with Inside Xbox. It's like a news magazine programme created by the guys at the office. They get to programme it locally, so they go out and do interviews with, say Guillermo del Toro, and they can just pop that straight up there on the service. They go to game launches filming and interviewing people. They can then take that content and put it straight up here so they can create really relevant content. If it was around an Arcade game coming out that day they can put up a video talking through it and announcing it's coming out. They can link to Game Marketplace.

Spotlight is an area that we can program around new launches, or content we think is relevant or new. So if a brand new blockbuster film had gone up we can change that there, or the PES demo might be up. We can try to help people by pulling up the new stuff that they might want to see. It uses art work, like movie posters or game box art, to really help draw people to it, so you're not searching through lists of stuff, you see it straight away.

Video Marketplace is ever growing for us in terms of partners, with MGM on board as well from a European point of view. You can go in, as you can with all the other channels, do New Arrivals, Most Popular, we can feature up stuff. We can actually program that so we do give a good idea of the variety, if we just happen to get a load of titles up there that appeal to a certain audience when people start downloading it doesn't put people off. With the price point now at £129 we feel a real switch point in terms of broadening our audience. Hopefully as we drive people to LIVE the last thing we want to do is go, 'actually it's all Hellboy and stuff like that'. So we can program it around family titles or slightly more action, or whatever we want to do, we have control of that.

Netflix (US movie service) is certainly somewhere we want to get to and we're evaluating who and what that could be with but we haven't got anything to announce. For us it's one of those things that's definitely a priority for us. That whole idea of being able to get access to a lot more content.

Robin Burrowes: It's basically a business model that we're exploring right now. Netflix obviously launches with the NXE in the States, and it's a great way of extending the entertainment capability as well as the fact that form a social entertainment point of view people can access that content on different consoles at the same time, and it's that social entertainment experience that we're really looking to evolve. We see that as one of our key unique selling propositions. So you can have an Xbox LIVE party where you can socialise with your friends more visibly, the fact that you can have quick launches into certain games, if you've all got the same game in your Arcade selection, having those games more easily launched and playing with each other becomes more achievable. It's a rich area for us to continue to evolve. So there will be lots more that we do within that shared space.

Wido: Will you still be able to use themes?

James Houlton: You can still use existing themes, a little bit like the Gamer Pics. If you've bought themes, or one theme or unlocked them, they still work within the New Xbox Experience as well. If you were to go to My Xbox and change the theme to say something like Night, the background changes. If I go to my Friends list then all the items on that Friends list look different as well. It's a fun, little bit more visual way of looking at your Friends and being able to find them quite easily. Existing themes obviously won't drive this content but the backgrounds still work. We were really conscious of that, especially if people have bought them or they've won them. They mean a lot to people.

FantasyMeister: Do you plan to come out with an environment similar to Home at any time?

James Houlton: It's when you're in your Friends list, that's when you'll see your Avatars, in there. You could then have a party, if there was a group of them together you could go up and join the party. This is the area where you would do most of your Avatar interactions, so to speak, but not in anything more than this Friends list.

pblive: Are there any plans to support more video formats at the same time in the update?

James Houlton: No, it's the same.