We caught up with Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg, Director of Product Management for Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE, to chat about the console's presence at CES, the year ahead and the number 17 million.
While Greenberg was appropriately coy about the Xbox 360's upcoming line-up beyond what has been announced — yes, there are more games coming for the thing — he didn't shy away from talking about the numbers war between Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, specifically Sony's claims that it too has 17 million accounts.
Read on for a taste of what Greenberg had to say about Microsoft's plans for the Xbox.
What are you getting out of CES, Xbox-wise this year?
Greenberg: CES this year was, I think, the main focus was about Windows 7. We definitely took a back seat from a Microsoft corporate standpoint.
It's not a show where you get a lot of big game news. But it is interesting to see what's happening in technology, what innovative things are going on. For us, we usually talk a lot about how things are going to work and integrate across the company and I thought Windows 7 looked pretty good... even though I know Kotaku is a Mac house.
Well, Crecente is a die hard Windows guy. He's has a deep Apple hatred.
Greenberg: But does he even turn on his computer? I mean, that guy's gotta be laying in a bed, being fed grapes...
No, he's on his computer all the time.
Greenberg: Yeah, so I thought the stuff we showed with Kodu was neat. Having the 12-year old girl [on stage] was fun.
An actual 12-year old girl.
Greenberg: Yeah. We were going to go with a 12-year old Avatar, but we thought if we could get a real person, that would be more entertaining.
Obviously at CES there aren't a lot of four year old pieces of technology being shown, but clearly you're keeping it fresh with software updates like the New Xbox Experience. Do you ever see yourselves doing something on this level again with the 360? Do you see another NXE style revamp like that in the console's future?
Greenberg: It's an interesting question. When we approached the NXE, we really thought about it as if we were launching an entirely new console. When we started thinking about all the changes and possibilities, at first we thought 'Well, we'll update this, change that.'
Then we thought, well, 'What if we just completely wiped the slate clean and completely reinvent the console from the ground up?' It was a pretty massive undertaking, a massive amount of work and we've been very happy with the results.
But it's kind of hard to think about if we would do something on that level again. It's hard to say what this will feel like, two, three, four years from now, but right now it feels like we're definitely on the cutting edge. We've designed it so we can continuously update it with new features, so I think we'll be able to keep up and fine tune based on feedback from the community.
When did you start the NXE project?
Greenberg: The Live team, as soon as we launched the console, were always working on new tech and new updates, but this project has been in development for years. There wasn't a specific day where we just said "Let's go."
When are we going to hear more about the 2009 line-up?
Greenberg: We take a different kind of approach to how we unveil news throughout the year than other platform publishers. We tend to talk about products a little closer to when they're ready. Last year at CES we didn't talk a lot about our holiday line-up, we waited until July.
We absolutely have a lot of innovation, we have new first and third-party games coming out this holiday that we have not announced yet. We'll probably wait until later in the year to talk about those.
The team that built the NXE is a massive team that's working on things like Xbox Live Primetime in the Spring, but new stuff, new partnerships, new content and things that we'll be announcing throughout the year. So stay tuned. There's a lot coming, for sure.
In the past couple years, there seem to have been some noticeable endeavors to secure specific game content, like role-playing game content tailored for the Japanese market and last year, more non-core products like Lips, Scene It and You're In the Movies. What's the philosophy in 2009 to expand the Xbox 360 market?
Greenberg: I think what we'll see is, as a result of how 2008 shaped up — the fact that we had our biggest year in history and we're now expanding our lead over the PS3 in a global basis — we went into 2008 with a solid lead over PS3 in North America, but Europe was a much closer race. Now, we're really expanding our lead there. We've become, by far, the lead global platform for third parties. I think you'll see us getting some benefits from that.
Historically, third parties would give us great support and lead developed on our platform, but they would say "In Europe, we have to still support the PS3" but now that that has switched, I think you'll see us get some benefits from that.
I also think we'll have our first full year at mass market price points. We saw a lot of success this holiday as a result of that. I think this is a year where the masses really come into the industry. We know that the PlayStation 2 sold 75% of their systems below $200. The vast majority of those consumers still have not upgraded yet. So I think it's the year where those consumers go into the store and start making purchases. We think that will benefit us tremendously in 2009. Us having the largest community of core gamers is going to drive blockbuster and core games as well.
You talked earlier about the economy, what concession is Microsoft going to make. I know you're comfortable with the price point at $199, but are you going to do something on the games front to lure in that more price conscious consumer?
Greenberg: Well, we've invested pretty heavily in our Platinum Hits program and we'll grow that, absolutely. We want consumers to have a great library of value titles, particularly new consumers that are more price sensitive. We've expanded that to Xbox Live Arcade and we've started discounting and promoting Marketplace content as well. I think we've gotten more aggressive about offering value. We're also going to add a lot more value into the console by adding new content, new partners, new functionality, just like what we did with Netflix, the New Xbox Experience, and Live Party.
Microsoft recently claimed 17 million Live users and 28 million Xbox 360s sold...
Greenberg: Active users.
Active. So what's the total of Live members that you've accumulated?
Greenberg: Uh... A significantly larger number than 17 million. To be clear, we are pretty conservative on how we report our members. It is active members — you have to own an Xbox 360 and if you're not active in the last six months, we recycle the gamertag and we remove your account. It is a true number of the people we have on the service.
I think it's important to note, if you compare those to PSN, those numbers you can have just a PSP, you can create an account on the Web. We don't count Web accounts.
You're an active member on PSN until you cancel an account. So, essentially forever. It's definitely apples to oranges when you compare those numbers.