The X Factor

Aaron Greenberg, Group Marketing Manager for Xbox, chats about Microsoft's continued struggles in Japan, the pressure of holiday expectations, the future of Xbox Live, and more

GameDaily BIZ: What was your reaction when you heard that Sony postponed its European PS3 launch and will only have 500K units on launch day? You must have been thrilled...

Aaron Greenberg: We know how challenging it is to pull off a global launch, so it's not surprising that Sony has backed away from their previously announced launch plans.

It seems that Europe always gets the shaft in these situations. Why do you think that is and how important do you think this delay will be in advancing Microsoft's Xbox 360 lead in Europe?

Europe remains a priority for us and that is why gamers have been able to experience Xbox 360 from day 1 and why we're confident we're going to have a great holiday, regardless of what competitors are or are not in the market. Xbox 360 will have more than 160 high-definition games including next generation exclusives like Viva Piñata from Rare, Gears of War from Epic, Pro Evolution Soccer 6 from Konami and FIFA 2007 from EA, a robust and continuously growing online gaming community in Xbox Live, fantastic entertainment capabilities, optional HD DVD movie playback capability and a great-value price.

At E3 MS repeatedly told us that Blu-ray was a mistake for Sony. I guess you feel your opinion's justified considering that their launch troubles stem from a shortage of blue laser diodes needed for Blu-ray...

Game developers have been delivering amazing high definition Xbox 360 games on DVD since launch and will continue to deliver high definition games in that format. Games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War and Dead Rising clearly show that it doesn't take a Blu-ray disc to deliver stunning high definition graphics and huge, immersive worlds to explore. We're continually improving compression technologies and asset management tools to allow game developers to deliver expansive game experiences without requiring an excess of disc space. It's also important to remember that while discs will always be important, digital distribution is taking off as a key way to continue to extend the game experience - and the possibilities of online are limitless.

There seems to be some buzz out there that Microsoft will bundle the HD DVD player for the 360 with the console and possibly even some HD DVD movies. Is this something that MS is considering?

From the beginning we have taken the approach to let consumers choose how they want to spend their money in regards to high definition entertainment. If a high definition movie experience is important to them, we offer a great option with the HD DVD player. We also realize that for a lot of gamers out there, they would prefer to have the option to spend their extra money on more games or accessories for their Xbox 360. We plan to continue to leave this choice in the hands of the consumer, instead of forcing them to buy something that may not be important to them.

When will MS announce an official price and date for the HD DVD player? Can you give us a hint at what the price range might be?

Right now there is a lot of excitement around our Xbox HD DVD Player and a lot of speculation. Unfortunately we can't go in to details today on the pricing and offer details. We can say it will be available well in time for holiday and that it will be the most affordable way for the millions of Xbox 360 owners to get into high definition DVD.

What are your expectations for the Xbox 360 this holiday season?

This holiday we will have shipped in excess of 10 million units worldwide and an expected catalog of 160 high-definition games, and gamers eager to hop into the next generation of gaming entertainment will have plenty of Xbox 360-only experiences from which to choose: from Viva Piñata's family-friendly fun to the bone-crunching world-saving action of Gears of War. There's one place to be for the most freedom of choice in console gaming, and that place is Xbox 360.

How's development on Halo 3 been going? Any word on when we'll "Finish the Fight" other than just 2007?

We have nothing new to announce at this time, but trust us, it will be worth the wait.

Why is Microsoft suddenly offering a Core pack version of the 360 in Japan? Do you really think that will actually help sales?

We think it is strategically important to increase the price options of the Xbox 360 package to enable a greater number of customers to purchase from the lineup of next-generation quality titles at a less expensive price. Rather than view it as a strategy to increase sales, this release is intended to enable a greater number of customers to enjoy a lineup of next-generation quality titles at a less expensive price. We think it is important strategically to increase the price options of the Xbox 360 package.

According to Enterbrain, only a little over 158K Xbox 360 units were sold in Japan through early September. Are you worried that the console is already dead over there? Is there any way to salvage the 360 in Japan?

We are not off to as strong a start in Japan as we are in North America and Europe, but that wasn't a surprise to us. Our focus is on building long term success in Japan and to do that around content.

In Japan, the thing that will win the hearts and minds of consumers is great games - and we have them. Japanese creators like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshiki Okamoto and Tetsuya Mizuguchi; and leading publishers like Square Enix, Bandai and Namco are committed to Xbox 360 and are showing their support by bringing more amazing games to the Japanese market.

The next major Xbox Live Dashboard update is expected to roll out this November, right? What cool upgrades can we look forward to?

We are excited to share the details about the Fall update closer to when this will roll-out, but for now we cannot provide any specifics.

Is there a possibility that Xbox Live may be offered for free in the future, possibly with more ad support from companies like MS-owned Massive Inc? Both the Wii and PS3 will have free online play...

We're always considering options for gamers and listening to our customers' input. It's also important to remember that a "Live" network is more than just providing connected gaming; it's about providing a community. Xbox Live is now in its 4th generation with 6 million members expected by June 2007. We have seen the online connectivity jump from 10% of owners on the original Xbox to over 60% on the Xbox 360. High definition and rich online experiences are clearly the two things that are defining this new generation. By offering an always on integrated online experience, we are seeing a new social network develop in the living room. With digital distribution via Xbox Live Marketplace and a micro transactions model in place, we are enabling a new world of on demand gaming and entertainment. The response has been tremendous with over 50 million downloads from Xbox Live Marketplace to date, an average of 1.3 million voice and text messages sent every day on the Xbox 360 and life to date more than 2 billion hours spent online with Xbox Live. Anyone can get connected to this community with a free silver membership to Xbox Live, this gives them full access to message center, Xbox Live Marketplace and Xbox Live Arcade.

What's the latest on the Xbox Live Anywhere initiative? When can we expect to hear more?

We expect to announce more details about the Live Anywhere initiative soon. Stay tuned for more updates.

Finally, does Microsoft have any surprise gaming-related announcements up its sleeves this year? Perhaps at X06?

We'll have some great news at Tokyo Game Show next week and I think you will be really surprised by what we have planned at X06. Stay tuned for lots of news over the next couple of weeks!

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.