34 Interviews

Interview: Phil Harrison on Xbox One's core games charge

By Rob Crossley on Wednesday 21st Aug 2013 at 12:00 PM UTC

After a calamitous and luckless five months for Microsoft, Phil Harrison just wants to talk about the games.

And understandably so. Despite the rattling consumer backlash over Xbox One policies, Harrison is still confident that his console has the stronger launch window line-up.

Corporate VP, Phil Harrison

"Getting into a Titan for the first time is one of the great moments of videogames," he says, referring to the Microsoft exclusive game Titanfall, which is scheduled for a Spring 2014 release.

"Seeing it in video is one thing, experiencing it for yourself is quite another. What we really want to do is show consumers how incredibly strong our launch line-up is".

To be fair, the Xbox executive has a whole list of exclusive games to flaunt, and speaking in an interview with CVG at Gamescom in Cologne, he also has a major free game to talk about.

But some important matters still remain up in the air, including the small issue of an Xbox One release date, so in the interview below CVG sought clarification on a range of issues, from console evolution to free games, exclusives, indie policies and release dates.

[ Xbox One at Gamescom: Xbox One launch games | Fable Legends revealed | Free FIFA for Xbox One pre-orders]

I don't want to focus on the past too much, but now that Microsoft has reversed so many of the Xbox One's underpinning policies, are you confident the console is unique enough?

So we hope we are being seen as a brand that is listening to consumers, and one that gives consumers a choice. People can buy games physically on disc or digitally through our marketplace. Both can co-exist on our platform, which supports both very well.

That's still a very important part of our strategy, but ultimately it's the games that make Xbox One stand out, and we have the best line-up of games - we think - in the history of consoles. We clearly have strong exclusive games, and we have partnered with EA to bring FIFA to Europe in a very meaningful way.

Football in Europe is the sport, and in some countries it's the religion. I think FIFA Ultimate Team is going to be huge.


"It's the games that make Xbox One stand out, and we have the best line-up in the history of consoles."

But how does the Xbox One differentiate itself from the Xbox 360? Is this just a hardware upgrade with new games, and is that enough?

The architecture of the Xbox One is completely different, the CPU/GPU combo is far more powerful, the visual fidelity is substantially more important. But I think where the console will differentiate itself will be the services that wrap around the console.

Kinect, SmartGlass, Xbox Live being redesigned for a new generation with Smart-Match, with recommendations, these are things that people will really value. And of course there's Xbox Live Cloud and our investment in that. That will give developers unique advantages.

That's what we were talking about on Tuesday at our showcase, and I hope people got our message from that.

There wasn't an Xbox One release date, interestingly...

We have said November, and we continue to say November.

Pre-ordered Xbox One consoles in Europe will come with a digital copy of FIFA 14

Isn't it a little overdue? Surely we're on the cusp of a release date announcement?

We will make an announcement in due course. There are a certain number of marketing reasons why we still haven't announced a launch date, but we continue to say November.

With regards to the free FIFA game in Europe, will there be a US equivalent deal?

So, we're in Europe at Gamescom. We're here to talk about games here, and FIFA is obviously key in Europe.

Yes, but with regards to the free FIFA game in Europe, will there be a US equivalent deal?

We're here in Europe, so I'm not going to talk about anything outside Europe right now.

Was the FIFA deal your final announcement concerning your partnership with EA?

We enjoy a very good partnership with EA, with Activision, with Ubisoft and with other major developers and publishers. There are many benefits we can bring to Xbox One players in the future, and we'll continue to explore that.

Brokering major third-party exclusives, from Dead Rising 3 to Titanfall, must be quite a financial undertaking. Is Microsoft still shopping for more exclusive deals?

So we wouldn't talk in a public forum about any commercially sensitive information, but the reason we do our own studio investments and investments with third-party publishers is very simple - we want to make sure the best games are on Xbox. We want to make sure the best developers bring their creativity to our platform.

Microsoft announced its indie and self-publishing policies yesterday, and the company said that it isn't asking for exclusivity but "we do ask for day-one parity with other platforms". Looking at the abundance of indie games announced by Sony as timed-PS4 exclusives, what happens now that all these games have not met that requirement?

So we think there's some incredible talent in the industry that wants to self-publish on our platform. There are developers who tell us they would love to self-publish on our platform and would like our support and together we have crafted a platform that gives them access to tools and devkits, and we have levelled the playing-field in terms of discoverability, so that developers can connect their games with gamers.

The reaction we've been getting from developers has been extraordinary, it's been very gratifying, and I'm pretty confident that developers will chose the unique attriributes of Xbox One to build unique experiences.

SLIDESHOW: Xbox One at Gamescom 2013

But what happens now that all these PS4 games have not met your release date parity requirement?

It's a good question. I don't know the answer to that.

Okay, so the focus is currently the games and I completely understand, but just for a second I wanted to talk about TV. Has Microsoft finalised a content deal with Sky for the UK, are you still in discussions?

We will make announcements on media partnerships in due course, Gamescom is a games focused event and we've come here with our truckload of games, and when it's time we'll come with our truckload of media services at another appropriate event in the near future.

Okay, well with regards to Microsoft's ambitions: The Sky app on Xbox 360 is very popular, do you have ambitions to build something that is richer and deeper than this? Do you want such TV services integrated into your system?

So without talking about any particular partner, let me just talk about what the platform is capable of. The HDMI-in port on the back of the Xbox One allows the system to take in a feed from another device, and then feed that through our system and send it out through the HDMI-out port. The architecture will allow for instant switching between games, TV and other forms of media and entertainment.

And one suspects you want to fulfil that potential.

Yes of course.

A quick word on Kinect - I presume there will never be an Xbox One sold without it. You are doing this for developer-related reasons as much as your own. You want all developers to know that they can always implement Kinect technology because it always comes with every system. Would that be correct?

Correct. Xbox One is Kinect. They are not separate systems. An Xbox One has chips, it has memory, it has Blu-ray, it has Kinect, it has a controller. These are all part of the platform ecosystem.

What we have shown really well at Gamescom is the magic of games that use Kinect. We have shown the power of voice control. I'm probably going to piss off your readers unintentionally when I say this; I have an Xbox One at home, and being able to walk in and say "Xbox on", and for the system to recognise me, launch and load my profile, and put my choices of content on the font page is a very magical experience. It makes you think about your relationship with technology in a slightly different way. It's personal. It makes you think, I wish more devices would do this.

"Xbox One is Kinect. They are not separate systems... What we have shown really well at Gamescom is the magic of games that use Kinect."

I still think that in the future there will be games that make far more significant use of Kinect, and in particular I think indie developers are going to stand out by using it in unique ways.

I agree. And we've heard from some of the developers who want to self-publish on our platform, who say they are particularly interested in exploring Kinect in very creative ways.

Have you tried Oculus Rift?

Yes I have.

Is that a technology you would like to see on your platform?

Yeah there's high-speed USBs on the back of the console that allow for high-speed data transfer, and our platform is designed to be open and extendable. But we have no particular plans at the moment.

There has been a recent debate on the overall profitability of games consoles. The claim is that these machines, over their lifetime, don't make money. I thought you would be in a good position to comment on this.

Well the Xbox 360 continues to make a profit, and we hope a substantial contribution not just to Microsoft but to the industry as a whole. There are various stakeholders who are publishing, developing, retailing, distributing, manufacturing - there's still a very substantial economy around the console business, and it still generates the majority of the money in the computer games industry.

Hardware is a significant part of that, and it's significant because of how much consumers spend on Xbox Live and the amount of games people spend every year. We see games with multi millions of unit sales going on for a very long time

I don't wish to misconstrue what you're saying - has the Xbox 360 business made a lifetime profit?

We don't break down the specifics, but if you look at Microsoft's public statements you can see a lot of details about our business, and that would be the only place where you would get the facts.