Microsoft on Xbox One: some things haven't worked, but we are learning
Microsoft’s UK marketing head Harvey Eagle concedes that aspects of the Xbox One haven’t gone as planned, but says a system update and big E3 announcements will help in the battle against PlayStation 4
Monday 24 February 2014 14.36 GMT
Microsoft has learned its lesson from elements of the Xbox One launch that did not work, says Harvey Eagle, the UK marketing head of Xbox. Speaking before the announcement of the Titanfall bundle deal, which will see the sci-fi shooter included with the console, he conceded that aspects of the service, especially its social functionality, need improving.
“I want to be honest: there are some things that haven’t worked as well as they were intended to - we’ve had a lot of feedback from our community about that,” Eagle told the Guardian. “The March system update will improve party chat; it will be turned on by default, you’ll be able to chat with friends across different games, you’ll be able to get to your friends list much faster - that will now be on the homepage of the Friends app.
“We’re also adding an ‘invite friends to game’ option to the multiplayer titles and that will be available within each game’s menu so it’ll be much easier and quicker to set up multiplayer games. The last thing is we’re adding a ‘recent players’ list so you can quickly call up who you recently played with, making it easier to stay in touch and add new friends. All of these things will be implemented in time for Titanfall to make sure it’s the best multiplayer experience it can be.”
Hype and Hype-ability
So far, a key problem has been that Microsoft has had to fight on the backfoot, the victim of a sometimes chaotic pre-launch build up. The machine’s controversial announcement event concentrated on live TV and multimedia functionality rather than games, and its digital-first agenda obfuscated the sharing and selling of software between players.
However, Eagle says that Microsoft has clearly moved on. “The original thinking behind what we did at the time was to make some announcements about the entertainment features that we were building into the box that we felt were unique and special, and then very quickly afterwards move on to gaming,” he said. “We’ve been consistently talking about games since E3 2013, that’s what we’ll carry on doing, reminding people that this is a games console for gamers, that just happens to have some incredible entertainment features built in as well.”
Another much-discussed aspect has been the arrival of ‘paymium’ titles on the Xbox One – full-price games that also offer purchasable items and features in the form of microtransactions. Forza 5 was heavily criticised for its inclusion of an overt in-game real-money mechanic.
“We’re trying out a number of different business models to understand which are best for us and best for gamers,” said Eagle. “You’re not going to get everything right first time – we’re still at the stage of experimenting and trying new things; everything we learn from our community we put into what we do going forward. There is still a huge appetite for big commercial triple A titles if you get it right - look at GTA V. But obviously developers are looking at other ways to monetise and I think that will carry on.
The HD conundrum
There have also been technical questions over the Xbox One hardware, with several early multiplatform titles running in full 1080p HD definition on PlayStation 4, but only 720p resolution on Xbox 360.
“Let’s be clear about this: Xbox One fully supports 1080p at 60 frames-per-second,” said Eagle. “Forza Motosport 5 is an example of a game that delivers on that. It’s up to individual developers to determine what is the best balance in order to deliver the best experience to gamers. No longer can you measure or talk about power in terms of pixels and polygon counts. Performance in this era comes from three areas: hardware, software and the cloud.
“The reason the Titanfall beta has been so successful is that it is powered by dedicated servers – that makes the game run smoothly without interruptions. You need to think about what power really means in the next generation.”
So will other developers, outside of exclusive deals and first-party studios, be supported in using Microsoft’s vast server network to ensure multiplayer games run as smoothly?“We’re committed to allowing developers getting the maximum out of the investment that we’ve made,” said Eagle. “We said at launch that we’d built a server farm of 300,000 dedicated servers to support multiplayer games - it would be foolish of us not to work with developers to ensure they get the maximum from that power.”
As for forthcoming games, Eagle has said that Microsoft understands the importance of original and exclusive content – as well as supporting the indie development community – and predictably promises that more will be announced at the E3 video game exhibition in Los Angeles in June.
“We’ve made some exclusive announcements, including Project Spark, Kinect Sports Rivals and Sunset Overdrive,” he said. “There will also be a significant pipeline of new games coming from Microsoft studios, some of which have been announced, some you’ll hear about at E3.
“Look out for some very exciting game announcements, both from Microsoft studios and also our third-party partners... We’re very excited about E3.”