GC2006: Chris Lewis Interview
Who? Chris Lewis, Regional Vice President, Home and Entertainment Devices Division, Microsoft Europe.
Where? Leipzig Games Convention 2006
When? Wednesday August 23, 2pm
Barrie: Europe hasn’t always been viewed as an important market for big consoles. Is Europe important for Xbox 360, and why?
Chris Lewis: I think that’s a good assessment up until one year ago. I think up until that point Europe was treated like a second class citizen by most console manufacturers — us included. The release schedule was out of step, we didn’t bring the console to the market at the same time as the US, and so on. I can honestly say that’s changed, and Xbox 360 brought that change about. Last year we launched simultaneously around the world — which was a non-trivial task, I can assure you — and I think the mere fact we had an appetite to do that says that Europe is very important to us, and that for us to win with Xbox 360 we need to win in Europe. I think we’re also showing how important Europe is to Xbox 360 by really targeting the types of games we have at European gamers. We now understand how important clever games are for the German market, how important Pro Evolution Soccer is for Southern Europe, and we’re acting on that.
Football was a big story at the conference today, with Pro Evo 6 and FIFA 07 announced as next-gen Xbox 360 exclusives in Europe for the next year. How important is that announcement for Xbox 360 in the coming year?
Chris Lewis: It was really exciting to talk about that today. Football is a religion in Europe, especially right now in the wake of the World Cup, and it’s great to be able to say that for next-gen football gaming there’s only one place for the next year: Xbox 360. It’s great to have games of the quality of Pro Evo 6 and FIFA 07 on board with Xbox 360, and it’s particularly great to be able to speak about something tangible here at Leipzig. Yes, I’m excited about our momentum. I’m excited about 1.3 millin units sold in the UK and 10 million units by the end of the year. But it’s especially good to be able to speak about important games like Pro Evo and FIFA.
How heavily are you going to push that footballing message?
Chris Lewis: I think it carries a great deal of momentum just because of what it represents. I’m also confident that the gaming community will vote with their controllers. In Southern Europe gamers loves Pro Evo, while in Northern Europe we see more FIFA fans, so it’s great to satisfy both those groups at once. I’m hoping we get some good PR from the announcement, but if the gamers who love these football games are happy then I’m happy!
How do you think this announcement will affect the mindset of people who might have been waiting for a PS3 to play Pro Evo 6 and FIFA?
Chris Lewis: I’m hoping it’ll encourage them not to wait, but rather to get out there and get into the next generation of football gaming now. These games are really taking their respective series to the next level in terms of visuals, gameplay, AI and features, and I don’t think gamers will want to wait to experience that. So I’m confident that there’s going to be a football feeding frenzy with Xbox 360. Bring it on!
Live Anywhere signals a new closeness between Xbox 360 and PC. Will we be seeing more of this close relationship in the future?
Chris Lewis: We’re already beginning to see that where it makes sense, but not every Xbox 360 game lends itself to PC and vice versa. What you will also see is Microsoft offering a seamless and integrated experience across both the Xbox and the PC, whether that’s using a joypad to control games, playing Xbox 360 players via your PC, or communicating across the platforms. We want to create an open gaming environment because that’s what gamers are telling us they want. The PC is still an important part of our gaming strategy and we want to ensure gamers know that.
We also got to see more of Live Anywhere. When can we expect to see it working on our mobile phones and how do you think it will revolutionise the way we look at games and Xbox Live?
Chris Lewis: It’s funny, because we really have to keep reminding ourselves how cool Live Anywhere is. We see it so much that it’s brilliant when we present it and we hear oohs and aahs! But it’s already upon is. The technology is already there and we demoed how you could transmit your Gamercard using your phone. We’re going to be hearing more and more about it as time goes on, but we shouldn’t forget the revolution in online gaming that Xbox Live has already caused. Over 50% of Xbox 360s are already hooked up to Xbox Live and that statistic really stands testament to how easy Live is to use, how much great content is available on there, and how much gamers are loving using the service. The way Live Anywhere is going to extend that even further into the gaming community just takes things to the next level.
Is XNA Studio Express aimed at gamers in general or are you reserving it more for students and academics?
Chris Lewis: We’ve been very public about the XNA announcements. In the US we even had Chris Satchell, the man in charge of XNA Studio, on the television talking about it! The hunger for knowledge about it has even surprised us a little, but we’ve been sure to speak about its importance both to academic institutions and to ordinary gamers. It’s been deliberately designed to be simple and easy-to-use, so we’re not trying to alienate anyone. When it comes to colleges and universities however, it’s great to be able to offer a complete solution for their educational needs.
Barrie: Do you think XNA Studio will return us to the days of the bedroom coder, and how will that affect Live Marketplace?
Chris Lewis: Well, we certainly won’t be flooding Marketplace with games created using XNA Studio Express. We realise that the quickest way to turn people off Arcade is to release too much content all at the same time. There will be a very stringent vetting process about games going up on Arcade, and in fact that is already in place for the games that currently go up there. As far as the bedroom coder goes, it’s certainly true that games development is a very expensive business these days and while that means the consumer is ultimately getting better quality games, there will be great game ideas that slip by the wayside. So XNA Studio Express is great news from that point of view, as long as we control the games that we’re making available for download. In many ways we’ve been surprised by the hunger for new games and content on Marketplace, but we have a responsibility to ensure everything that goes up there is only of the highest quality.
Four new countries are getting Xbox 360 on November 3 — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Why those countries and how will it change the Xbox 360 picture in Europe?
Chris Lewis: These are all extremely important markets for us to move into because we’ve always said we wanted to expand our footprint in Europe and around the world. These countries are great for us because we already have a presence and an infrastructure there. We don’t believe in doing these things half-hearted. We make sure that we can deliver the best possible experience for new Xbox 360 gamers. We’ve got the right games in place, the right partnerships in place, and I’m confident all these launches will be very successful.
Xbox 360 has a very strong games line-up going into Christmas. You must feel confident about how you measure up against the competition?
Chris Lewis: We do have a very powerful portfolio of games. 160 Xbox 360 games available at Christmas? We feel great about that. We’ve got great momentum and we can’t wait to reach 10 million consoles by the end of the year — around the same time as our competition is just getting into shops. Historically that 10 million number is a very significant milestone in the console wars. But that doesn’t mean we’re complacent. You’ll continue to see Live evolving and getting stronger. You’ll continue to see more and more big game titles coming to Xbox 360. We’re keeping our foot flat down on the accelerator because a console isn’t just about one year or even two years — it’s about the long term. It’s important to get going with early sizzle and I think we’ve done that, but it’s not over yet and there’s a lot more to come from Xbox 360.
Barrie: If you had to change one thing from the launch of the Xbox 360 what would it be?
Chris Lewis: We were a little bit surprised by the sheer volume of demand for the console. As I mentioned earlier launching worldwide is not an easy challenge and I went on record as saying stock would be tight, but we’d replenish as quickly as we could. I’d have liked to have limitless supply at those key periods, and I’d have loved to have been able to supply all that demand, but that wasn’t possible. I’ll probably get into trouble for saying that! Anyway, even if we could have done that I’m not sure it would have put us in a very different situation. Things would have been less turbulent, but I still think we achieved an incredible launch. I was delighted with the game offering, the price, the choice, the customisation, but the supply was the one thing I’d change. It’s fixed now though!
So you’re confident there will be plenty of consoles on shelves this Christmas?
Chris Lewis: Absolutely. We’ve tripled our production, we’ve had no supply problems since March, and I’m completely confident that gamers will be able to get their eager hands on an Xbox 360 whenever and wherever they want!
Many thanks for your time Chris!
Originally Written By: Barrie Rogers