Gamescom 2010: Xbox Live Interview - Robin Burrowes, Head of Product Marketing, Xbox Live
Written Wednesday, September 01, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
When Kinect arrives in November, Microsoft is planning to launch a new, alternative dashboard, designed to work specifically with the hand-waving, motion-sensing capabilities of the device. With a Kinect hub and gesture controlled navigation, flicking through content on Xbox Live will be like browsing the pages of a magazine, Robin Burrowes, Microsoft's Head of Product Marketing for Xbox Live, tells us.
Kinecct is also set to be a big part of Xbox Live's strategy moving forward, with a Video Kinect service rolling out to coincide with the launch of the glossy black camera. That's not all that's planned for Xbox Live though, with the service set to launch in an additional nine countries in a bid to expand its 25 million-strong audience and more “experiences” (that word again) are in the pipeline too, apparently.
We sat down and then stood up, and sat down again with Burrowes, who was on hand at this year's Gamecom to answer our probing Xbox Live and Kinect questions, and what the future holds for both the service and the device.
Can you flick through the new dashboard pages and use Kinect's motion-control functions while you're sat on your couch?
Yeah, absolutely. You don't have to stand up. There was a lot of scepticism at E3 and there was an article on 1UP that spread some unfortunate rumours about the set-up. Well, I can show you that we've improved things in terms of set-up. The new dashboard for Kinect is completely complimentary too, so you can either carry on using the controller, or you can jump in and start using the motion-control as well. I would stress that it's optimised for sitting on a couch, but again, users will have choice, so if I still want to use a controller to surf and navigate through my movies or dashboard, I can do that.
Is adding Kinect Video chat services and talks of integrating Bing search capabilities the first step towards an Xbox Live web browser?
There are no plans for any browser-based services. We certainly believe that in having things like enhanced social entertainment and gaming experiences cater more for the living room versus a classic browser, so no typing a URL. Our mission is to continue to bring living room-centric experiences to Xbox Live, so no, there are no plans for a browser.
There could be a number of usability scenarios we'd have to sort before we tackle that and it's fair to say that we have a very complex set of variables for that, but voice functionality for a kick off will be used to very much enhance gaming and entertainment capabilities and enhance the navigation throughout various services. What we're working on now is the specifics of voice and how we roll that out and so we'll come back and address that in due course. But it's not our plan to introduce any kind of browser-based service on Xbox Live.
Are there plans to keep expanding the vocabulary of words that Kinect will be able recognise with updates?
Sure. Xbox Live as you've seen – if you rewind back to 2002, 2003 and look at where we are now – we've very much scaled our business globally and in terms of the services that we now provide. Voice will have the opportunity to be scaled in many different ways, but it is a very complex beast to tackle in terms of accents, dialects and regionalisation, but we're very considerate towards the individual user experiences and there will be very, very stringent user scenarios. But of course yes, we'll have a lot of research for that usability to ensure that we're doing the right thing at the right time in the right countries.
Will Sky and ESPN see any enhancements for Kinect?
There's nothing specific in terms of how exactly we're going to enhance Sky with Kinect. Certainly, that's something that we're working on right now and it's part of our 'road map' to continue to enhance the Sky service with more suitable offerings for it. But yes, there's nothing specific at this stage. ESPN will be US-only in terms of the environment that's available in and Sky has gone down very well with our audience base in the UK, with things like 'party mode' for watching live sports together with friends over Xbox Live.
Will these new dashboard and movie navigating elements be marketed as part of the Kinect launch strategy too?
Absolutely. All of the Xbox Live enhancements coming with Kinect are well and truly part of our framework. Other things that will be happening in the UK at the time... We're actually launching a family subscription, so you can get four subscriptions for the price of two and there are enhanced family controls that will come with that. There'll be behaviour monitoring controls on Xbox.com, as well as a bunch of family programmes and stuff that we're working on right now.
Do you think that Kinect's navigational capabilities and movie functionality will gravitate more towards core gamers?
I think entertainment consumption doesn't have to appeal to a particular disposition, and it's – and I use this term loosely – mainstream entertainment content that both core gamers and more casual gamers will respond to.
But how about more in terms of the device itself? These are selling points other than the software, that could convince core gamers to adopt Kinect.
It's definitely an opportunity to provide core gamers with that natural user-navigation as a technological innovation, I guess. Browsing content that they like in a way that they want to from a motion perspective, and the potential for gaming scenarios that we should be dialling up a lot more. You've got an alternative the headset, the ability to talk through the microphone and sound effects and voice effects from people when you're playing collaboratively or competitively, available through the microphone.
How will Kinect get around the problem of being able to control what goes through to the person on the other end without a headset? One of the advantages of using a headset is that you're in control and you can perhaps listen to music too while you're playing without it interfering with the voice chat.
Users will have options in how they control their experiences. If you want to play games and listen to music, you can still absolutely do this. If you want to use the microphone with Kinect to enhance your experience within a room, you can do so. Or if you want to continue to use the headset, then it's up to you.
What would you do with the controller then? Would you put it in your pocket? The headset has to be plugged into a controller.
Yeah, of course. I didn't think of that one. Again, we're learning a lot right now from a functionality perspective and I think in terms of that initial functionality and how people respond to which features and navigation from the dashboard perspective, which are popular, what people get and what proves to be intuitive or isn't intuitive, we're going to continues to learn from that and the audience will tell us what they want us to do with it, to be honest with you.
Presumably both Kinect and the dashboard can be patched then?
We're on a journey where for instance, early 2011 will see the free (for Gold Xbox Live subscribers) Video Kinect service, which will connect with Windows Live Messenger, so from a webcam enabled PC to Kinect through the TV will give you cross-platform compatibility. That's just one example for 2011, and there will be a lot more enhancements coming as we scale up Kinect more and more and scale up the services as well.
Will we see BBC iPlayer coming to Xbox Live any time soon although it conflicts with Microsoft's Gold service? Will it perhaps be available for both Silver and Gold subscribers one day?
We acknowledge and appreciate the unique scenario with the BBC in the UK and the service they're offering, but I'd say first and foremost from an Xbox Live perspective, we want to continue to enhance the value proposition of Gold. So, again if I rewind back in time again to 2003to the launch of Xbox Live in the UK and Europe, it was really only a core gaming proposition with the headset and a limited set of game offers and seven and a half years later, we've completely transformed the experience to be far more immersive. We've got more social, more entertainment and more communication capabilities and so we want to continue to drive activity behind the Xbox Live Gold proposition, so we are looking to scale the right partners at the right time. We'll continue to work on that, whether it be with Zune or whatever. But with the BBC, there's no plan at this present time to bring it to the Xbox Live service in the UK.
People don't mind paying for their Gold memberships so much, but when they can't get access to something like iPlayer like on the PS3, it seems like it would make good sense to put the service onto Silver for free and then enable it for Gold subscribers. It would strengthen both Xbox Live Gold and Silver packages as a unit.
We understand that scenario and we do want to make sure that we do listen to our audience and deliver the kinds of experiences that they want. However, our business model in terms of Gold will remain intact and there's no plans to review it at this present time.
What about YouTube functionality, being able to share and watch videos, like say Just Cause 2 on PS3? Could that be something that might be implemented on Xbox Live in the future?
I can see some scenarios for that in the future, but first and foremost, we're building our global base, launching in nine new countries this year, launching all the new enhancements that we've come up with, launching Zune and ESPN in the US. But we're being very careful with the types of experiences that we introduce. We have to be sure that any new experience we adopt has a usability and capability that protects the user experience by being stable and usable.
We do realise the potential popularity of something like YouTube on Xbox Live, but there's nothing specific for now, but we are always looking for ways to enhance the video service and I know that there's going to be some announcements regarding some partnerships towards the end of 2010. We recognise that our audience want to move at a particular pace, and we are listening, but we are also moving at our own pace as quickly as we can and there are a number of complexities for the enhancements and services we're creating, like the Windows 7 phone for instance, which has taken a lot of work to incorporate gamerscore, achievements and avatars.
In terms of adding extra value to Xbox Live Gold memberships, would you ever consider giving away free content like Sony has been doing via its recent premium PlayStation Plus service?
I can only talk to our own audience. We've got very high customer service results and we believe that seamless stable online gaming and the other services we provide, is great value for money. And we continue to enrich it with things like Sky, Video Kinect, Facebook and Twitter for Gold subscribers, as well as the stability within our gaming platform, with matchmaking, TrueSkill and Xbox Live Party capabilities enhancing connectivity with friends. Those are the IP that we've got behind our service and that's why it's the most robust service today. I can't really talk about the tactics that Sony has deployed, but I think users will move with their own habits. We run a rapid growth progression and if you look at our gaming propositions starting with Halo: Reach and finish with Gears of War 3 over a course of several months, and our exclusivity window on the DLC for Call of Duty: Black Ops, I think all those things point to an effort to keep our audience happy and our audience continues to grow. We're moving to our own rhythm now and continuing the journey to keep adding value to Xbox Live.
Kinect is due out in November 2010.