With the Xbox 360 playing a big part in Microsoft's plans at CES 2010, there has been plenty of new topics for discussion at this year's show. I was able to chat with Xbox spokesman Aaron Greenberg about Game Room, 3D gaming, and the status of CES itself. Here's what he had to say.
GamePro: It seems as though the Xbox was a bigger part of your press conference than the PlayStation 3 for Sony's. How do you think that reflects upon both companies, both in terms of CES and their consoles?
Aaron Greenberg: Well, because it's a consumer electronics show, Sony's a consumer electronics company, so I think it makes sense that they're gonna have a lot to talk about in that space, whereas for us, as we think about our consumer business for Microsoft, for 2010, Xbox is clearly a big part of that.
I've been on Xbox for 10 years, and I've been coming to CES since we unveiled the original Xbox with Bill Gates and The Rock many, many years ago, and this was, I think the biggest role we've played at CES as a part of Microsoft. I think it speaks to the year we think 2010 is gonna be. As Robbie [Bach] said, we think it's going to be the biggest year in the history of our business, and I think our blockbuster game lineup is going to be a part of that, what we're going to be doing with Live is going to be a part of that, and confirming Project Natal for this holiday is another big reason why we're expecting to have a huge year.
GP: How does your strategy for a show like CES differ from an E3, TGS or PAX?
AG: As the "Xbox guys," if you will, we're really a passenger here, not the driver, so that's the biggest difference. This is more of a corporate show for us-it's not a gaming show. There's also the timing of it-it's the end of the year, so we usually talk about how things went at the end of the year and we talk about the outlook for 2010. We don't typically announce and unveil a lot of new products at this show, because that usually happens closer to E3, but with that said, we did announce some pretty big news at the show and we unveiled a new product with the Game Room. We're pretty excited about that and some things happening in the Spring, and we obviously have a lot of games that we brought that are all launching soon-Mass Effect 2 coming this month, Splinter Cell: Conviction after that, and we're excited about things like Alan Wake and Crackdown 2 all coming in the first half of the year, and then the games coming later in the year like Fable 3, and what we believe will be the biggest title of the year-Halo Reach. All of those are just the exclusives-it's a pretty big year for gamers for sure.
GP: It seems like one of the biggest trends at CES is 3D-there were 3D televisions and one of PlayStation's biggest parts of Sony's press conference was 3D PS3 games. Where does Xbox stand on 3D gaming?
AG: We support 3D today-we're a fully compatible 3D console, and I think it's just a matter of developers wanting to make 3D games and consumers wanting to bring 3D into their homes. I think it's unclear how much demand there is for that. I think it's clear that the technology is here, and I think we're seeing a lot of that, but it's a pretty big investment to buy a 3D TV. I mean, it's exciting technology, but when it will ever reach mainstream adoption is unclear to us.
One of the things we love about project Natal is that it works with every Xbox 360-we're able to add that experience to this generation without requiring you to have to buy a new console or new TV. The simplicity of that makes it so that we know millions of consumers will be able to experience that this holiday. We do 3D-the Scrap Metal game we have for Xbox Live Arcade is on the floor, and it's a fantastic title, I suggest you check it out-it's made by the same guys who made N+-it has a 3D mode that you can use with any TV. If 3D becomes more popular with consumers, we'll adopt accordingly.
GP: The Xbox 360 already has a pretty wide slate of old arcade games. Are those going to be integrated into Game Room in any way?
AG: What we've done with arcade-for the most part those games have been retouched and enhanced with new features, whether it be graphics or new multiplayer modes to bring it up to today. The magic of what's happening with Game Room is that it's like taking a classic Beatles LP exactly as it was when it came out-we're taking the actual games as they were on the arcade cabinets with exact sound emulating. The way they run, they don't even know they're on an Xbox. They run as if they're still in the arcade cabinet. The team has spent a lot of time ensuring the authenticity. We've actually been buying cabinets from all over the world on eBay to make sure we get all the right sounds. Even when you walk into Game Room all the ambient sound will be the kind from arcades. So it really has that look and feel of what we grew up playing in the 80s. To be able to play Asteroids or Centipede or another of those classic games the way they were is what I think makes it cool. I think the fact that we've integrated Avatars, the multiplatform capability with Games for Windows Live as well as the medals and Achievements-it's stuff we thought consumers would want. I think we've done some really fantastic work with that product.
GP: There seems to be quite a few pricing structures in the Game Room. How does, say, the single play purchase differ from trying friends' games and the free demos for the arcade games already on Xbox Live Arcade?
AG: What we've done is include a single trial built into every game-so if I invite you into my game room, say I have all 30 games-you can play all of the 30 games, once, for free. Then, if you want to buy and own the game on both the console and on the PC, that's US$5 a game, and it'll be added to your arcade, and you'll own it forever. If you want to just buy it on single platform, we also enable that for a $3 purchase. There is a pay to play-you can put in $.50, just like you were in an arcade-if you wanted to, but we hope they'll find that it's worth the $3 to buy it on the console or PC. The other nice thing is that if you're on my friends list, you can come into my arcade, whether I'm online or not, so it doesn't require me to be online. If you have multiple friends who all want to play the same game at the same time, they can do that-there's no waiting or anything like that.
GP: To go back to the single play option do you get the same benefits as someone who bought the games in terms of getting achievements and getting on the leaderboards?
AG: That, I'm not sure about-the achievements are tied to medals, and the way to earn medals is through a variety of things; one of them is time played. Obviously, we're not touching the games, so the achievements are not built into the games-they're built into the Game Room itself, if you will. From that standpoint, I don't know if it treats the trial any different. I think it's just as if you were playing the game-there's no difference except you can play the game for free, only once. That's my understanding.
GP: Do you know if the achievement point structure will be any different for the Game Room games?
AG: Right now, Game Room has 1000 Achievement points.
GP: And that's spread across all of the games?
AG: So Game Room itself is the experience, and within Game Room are all the individual arcade games, so it's tied across all of Game Room. We could eventually add more to that past 1000.
GP: Is it dependent on having to play certain games, or is it just like "You've played for five hours, you get this specific achievement."
AG: There's a medaling system within Game Room that's unique to Game Room. So, I don't know the specifics of how those medals are awarded, because I haven't played with it that much yet. I do know that time is one example. I don't know if it gets tied to, for example, if you unlock Intellivision and Konami. I know there's a variety of different ways that they do it, but I don't have the specifics for that.