Why Microsoft's Phil Harrison was "actually really happy" at the reaction to the Xbox One

Microsoft’s corporate vice president on the passion of gamers, what the Xbox One's cloud computing will mean for games, and why Titanfall is a “defining moment” for the next generation of consoles

There are now just a few months before the Xbox One and the PS4 go toe-to-toe and HDMI port-to-HDMI port in the battle for another few years of gamer loyalty.

And while the first blow may have gone to Sony, Microsoft's been working hard to win gamers over – it's wooed indie developers, changed its stance on DRM, and calmed those who fretted that the new Kinect could be an Orwellian telescreen.

The initial announcement of the XBox One may have been met with a torrent of ire from the internet, but Microsoft’s corporate vice president Phil Harrison tells Stuff that he's "pleased" with the Xbox One's reception – because it highlights "the passion of our fans and players." We sat down with Phil for a chat about cloud gaming, the console's killer titles and why the Xbox One has the edge over its rivals…

What’s going to give the Xbox One the edge over the PS4 and gaming PCs?

Games. The best games, the best exclusives. At E3, Xbox One and the games that are going to be on it received over 100 awards, more than twice as many as our nearest competitor. Titanfall, which is exclusive to Xbox on console, is the most awarded game in the history of E3. It’s all about the games, and we’ve been recognised for having the best lineup. 

So, if you’re looking for a reason to buy an Xbox One, the answer is ‘Titanfall’?

You said it. I was playing Titanfall this morning, and you can appreciate the design and the tech by seeing the videos, but none of that prepares you for actually playing it, and that moment when you go from being a soldier on the ground to being scooped up by the Titan. When you get inside the Titan and start playing as one, and the scale changes, that is a magical moment in video games, and it’s one that I think will be one of the defining moments of this generation [of consoles]. 

What’s going to make Xbox One more attractive to indie developers?

Today, if you want to develop for any console you have to purchase quite an expensive piece of kit, which functions much the same as a consumer machine but does some extra stuff as well. Those are expensive, they’re not widely available, and there are some practical challenges with getting them out to people. Our goal is that every Xbox One will be able to be turned into a dev kit just using software, and we’ll get to that point next year. Until then, we’ll be giving two free developer kits, to every qualifying developer who joins our programme. 

We take it that’s been pretty popular?

We announced the programme yesterday, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve been inundated. But in a good way, we’re delighted with that. And we’ve done this because we’ve listened to what independent developers want in a self-publishing programme.

They told us they wanted tools and technology, so we’re giving them dev kits. They told us they wanted access not just to the platform, but all of the platform - so they could develop for SmartGlass, Kinect, Live services and Achievements. But the number one thing they wanted was help with discoverability: what’s trending, what your friends like, and the ability to share video of what you’re playing with others.

Independent developers love that because it helps people find their games, we love it because it brings more games to the platform. And gamers love it because it helps them find more games. 

More after the break...

Which indie title are you most looking forward to playing?

There are so many on offer, but probably Cobalt. Mojang have such an amazing ability to capture tens of millions of people with games that have depth and playability and longevity, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with Cobalt. 

How does the Xbox One’s cloud processing work?

Think of it as dedicated CPU performance that is available to games over the internet. So, in Call of Duty: Ghosts, a dedicated server means that the multiplayer experience will be faster and it’ll have more performance and less interruptions, so it’ll feel like a better game as a result.

Forza Motorsport 5

The other thing it does is it allows for things like the Driveatar in Forza 5. Basically, the game that you play on your console at home trains an artificial intelligence in the cloud. So, when you’re not playing Forza, your friends can still play against a version of you: the way you drive, the way you play the game, will persist online. We’re doing a similar thing in Kinect Sports Rivals, so even when you’re not online, your friends will be able to see a version of you in the game.

Slightly longer-term, but still completely feasible with this architecture, is being able to have real changes made to games by the server. So it could update a game with better lighting, better graphics, more sophisticated physics or audio. Those will get unlocked over time, but we do have some things in development that are going to demonstrate that relatively soon.

What kind of bandwidth is all this going to be using?

Surprisingly little, because the programme sits in the cloud, and the data that’s shuttled between the Xbox One and the server is relatively small. 

Were you disappointed by gamers’ reactions to the Xbox One when it launched?

You may be surpised to hear me say this, but I was actually really happy at the passion of our fans and players. It demonstrates that they care deeply about the way we build our platform, and we quite rightly made some adjustments to give players a choice between games on physical discs and games delivered digitally.

We got the feedback, we made some changes. It doesn’t change our strategy long-term, which is to build the 21st century entertainment platform, but I think it allows us to keep our fans committed, and to keep them part of our story.

1/2 next last
You have to login or register to comment.