Last month 360Monster was invited as part of the Microsoft Xbox Community Network (XCN) to attend this years GC2006. As you well know we let our Barrie loose on the event and we have had a number of reports from the show floors (with much more to come!). Today we have been handed a write up of one of these events at the show, this time it was a Q&A session with Larry Hryb A.K.A. Major Nelson, who is the Xbox Live Director of Programming and he does a good blog and podcast too!

W hat follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members with the Major himself, read on…

When are we going to hear more about the next Dashboard update?

Major Nelson: We do two Dashboard updates every year, one in spring and one in fall. The spring update is more customer focused, so last June we rolled out active downloads and over 100 other little additions. The next update is this autumn – I don’t have a date yet – but it will contain a lot of things that the games coming out around Christmas will use. A lot of the developers working on these games are waiting for these updates. So I don’t have a date yet, but look out for that this autumn.

Is this the first time you’ve been to Leipzig?

Major Nelson: This is actually the second time. I was here last year when we made the major announcements regarding the two different console packs and the pricing, and I think that shows how important the European market is for Xbox. I actually love this show. I prefer this show to E3. Who knows what’s happening to E3, but this show feels much more fun. Leipzig seems much more gamer-centric while E3 seems to have lost its way a little. This year it was just so big and obnoxious, but Leipzig seems much more exciting to me as a gamer.

What are the coolest things you’ve seen at Leipzig this year?

Major Nelson: It was great to hear the big Xbox announcements yesterday. The football announcement is huge – the fact that European gamers will only be able to play the next-gen versions of FIFA and Pro Evo 6 on Xbox 360 for the next year is phenomenal. EA showed off some of the latest FIFA game on Xbox 360 yesterday and it looked fantastic. Unfortunately I haven’t had much chance to walk through the floor, but I’m really excited about Viva Pinata. That game’s really been talking to me and I’m not sure why. Funnily enough, out of all the trailers that were on Marketplace during E3 that’s the only one that my wife keeps asking about. “When’s VP coming out?” she says, and I think that’s really exciting.

The football announcement is huge for Europe, but how much influence has it had in the US?

Major Nelson: I think most gamers in the US respect the magnitude of the announcement, but then go back to playing their Madden. It doesn’t necessarily affect them because soccer games aren’t huge is the States, but there are a lot of heads nodding and people saying, “that’s a big deal, that’s like Madden being exclusive to Xbox 360 in the next-gen.” It’s going to turn up the heat for Microsoft because now we have to think of getting something exclusive for the US!

What do you have planned for Xbox Live Arcade in the next year?

Major Nelson: By Christmas we’re going to have over 50 Arcade games available on Xbox Live. I’ve looked at the portfolio and I can’t give any names away, but we’ve got some great titles on there. Some are old classics and some are original games like Cloning Clyde. The great thing is that we could have sat here last year and some of us wouldn’t have even known what Arcade is. One year on and we’ve all lived it, we feel it. That’s why I’m really excited about the future of Arcade.

How excited are you about XNA Game Studio Express?

Major Nelson: I’m absolutely thrilled by it! Especially the announcements we made last week about letting the community build their own games and share them in the same way that YouTube lets you share your videos. That’s the vision. Microsoft has always been building tools and processes, but the great thing about Express is that it unlocks the creativity of regular gamers who might know nothing about programming. We’re enabling consumers to unlock the power of our console, and I think people are really sitting up and taking notice of it.

What about plans for HDMI?

Major Nelson: We haven’t announced anything yet. Some people really got hung up on that! A lot of people can’t tell the difference between that and regular component video, but there seems to be a group of people who’ve got really upset about it. We’ll have to see how it shakes out.

And what about the HD-DVD drive? There’s been some negative feedback from the community about that…

Major Nelson: It’s all about giving people choice. We’re not telling gamers that they need to pay for it. I’m really worried that gamers are going to become collateral damage in a DVD format war. Do we want that? Of course not! We’re saying that you can get the Xbox 360 as a great gaming and entertainment console, and if you want to watch HD-DVDs on it you can buy an add-on. But if you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it! You can pick and choose. We’re not forcing you to pay for something you won’t necessarily use. And if you look at the transfer speed for Blu-Ray, they’re pretty slow. Gamers are impatient. They don’t want loading delays.

Any chance of getting a bigger hard drive soon?

Major Nelson: We could quite easily do that, but the research we’ve done on gamers shows that most people haven’t even half-filled their hard drive. You might have filled yours up, but then you’re not the average gamer. I do understand that the trailers are getting bigger, and as Marketplace expands we’ll think about a bigger hard drive. At the moment though, we’re not sure if we need it. We are bringing out the 256 MB Memory Unit for Christmas though. I have one right here and I’ve been amazed that no-one has written about it yet! It’s the same size as the 64 MB MU and I have one of the first in existence!

Are there any plans to drop the price of the console and make it available to a wider audience?

Major Nelson: We always have that opportunity. We just announced that we are moving into four new territories in Europe and the Core pack is perfect for those countries as it allows people to get the console without paying for all these extra things they might not need. Peter Moore [Global Xbox 360 boss] always talks about how the Core pack lets the wider audience get a hold of an Xbox 360. Again, it’s about choice. Sony are only bringing out one option for the PS3 in Europe and it’s the most expensive one! So are we dropping the price? No, but it’s certainly something we can look at in the future.

What effect do you think the Xbox Live Vision Camera will have on the community?

Major Nelson: I think it’ll have a couple of effects. I think developers like Ubisoft with Rainbow Six Vegas are coming up with some really cool ideas like putting your face in the game and showing your face in a video feed like in Uno. There are so many cool things you can already do with the camera like a Dashboard effect and an effect on Neon, the music visualiser. Then there are gesture-based games and we’re also doing them. They’re great as party games and for younger players.

Will we be able to use XNA Game Studio with the Vision Camera?

Major Nelson: I wouldn’t be surprised! I don’t know for sure, but the camera is just another input device so I don’t see why not in the future.

Have you had a chance to look at Sony and Nintendo’s stands, and what do you think?

Major Nelson: I think Nintendo’s stand was great fun. There was a lot of DS stuff there and I understand the DS has been wildly successful here in Europe, so that was cool. As for Sony, I’m really surprised that there were no playable demos on show. We’re getting pretty close to launch for that console, so it was strange not to see anything playable. That’s sending a message. And that’s pretty much all I can say about that…

Take off your Microsoft hat. As a gamer, what do you think of PS3?

Major Nelson: I’ve got a PS1 and a PS2, but as a gamer with PS3 I feel like roadkill. Sony seems so intent on pushing Blu-Ray forward that it’s going full steam ahead and not holding back on the torpedos. We’ll see what happens when they ship. I’m sure they’ll have a few good titles, but I don’t know if that will make me spend 7 or 8 hundred dollars. For that money I can get an Xbox 360 and a Wii! I hope Sony isn’t marginalising itself out of the market because it’s done some amazing things for the industry and we need a good competitor. Microsoft is at its best when it has a good competitor.

What do you think of the Wii’s approach?

Major Nelson: It’s going for a different market. It’s like the Mac in opposition to the PC. Some people love Macs, and some people will love the Wii. I’ve had great fun when I’ve played with it, although I’m worried I’ll get sore arms! Nintendo’s a very clever company and they’ve done some wonderfully original things like the DS, so I’m excited to see how the Wii goes.

Your GamerTag is extremely well known. Do you find it difficult to separate your real name from your GamerTag?

Major Nelson: Absolutely! In fact, around the office there are certain people I only know by their GamerTag! When we see each other in the cafeteria we’re calling each other by our tags! And then a lot of people make fun of me because I call myself Major Nelson, but your GamerTag is such a strong identity that it doesn’t bother me.

If you could change one thing about the Xbox 360 launch, what would it be?

Major Nelson: That we had more units in stores. There were so many disappointed people who couldn’t get one, so that really hurt for a while. Definitely more units in stores.

How much of an influence does the Xbox 360 community have on the console?

Major Nelson: A huge influence. You can see the fingerprints of the community all over the Xbox 360. A lot of discussions we had with the community influenced how the console was designed. Even chats we had with the community here at Leipzig last year affected the direction we were moving in. Everyone who works on Xbox 360 reads blogs, they read the forums, they read websites, they say ‘hey, this is a great idea,’ and they try to work that into what they’re doing. We’re all very open to great ideas. If I get one mailed to me I’ll mail it to the person who works on that part of the console. So the community plays a huge part in the evolution of the console.

The TV show Battlestar Galactica is available on Marketplace in the US. Is that something we’ll be seeing more of in the future?

Major Nelson: Yeah, because some of the film studios and TV companies are realising the power of digital distribution and how well the Xbox 360 can handle that with Marketplace. But we have to be very careful. Marketplace is a pristine environment and we don’t want to pollute that with all kinds of crap that gamers don’t care about. Do I want to have a download of the next episode of some home design show? No, I don’t care. Something like Battlestar Galactica is more relevant to gamers. Digital distribution is the future and we’re definitely looking at it.

So can we expect to see full episodes and films for download soon?

Major Nelson: It doesn’t take a genius to see what Xbox Live Marketplace is capable of. We haven’t made any announcements, but you can start joining the dots. Then we get back to needing a bigger hard drive…

Can you tell us about Zune?

Major Nelson: I’m not allowed to! I’m not allowed to say what it does. I’m not allowed to tell you that I have one with me. I am allowed to tell you that you guys will be happy with what we’re going to announce, and I am allowed to tell you that it’s going to be a fun autumn.

Do you keep an eye on the Community Developer Program?

Major Nelson: Yes, definitely. That’s huge for us and we’re going to expand it. Arming the community with developer information so they can build cool tools is a really unique thing, and it certainly sets Xbox 360 apart from the competition. They don’t think like that.

Where are you taking your blog next?

Major Nelson: I don’t know where else I can go! The blog is a massive spotlight and my job is to shine it on other people as much as possible. I want to point out the cool things people like you guys are doing in the community. That’s the most important thing I need to think about.

Many thanks for your time Larry!


Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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