At Gamescom 2016 in Cologne, DualShockers had a chance to chat with Aaron Greenberg, who leads the Games Marketing Team at Xbox.
Greenberg talked about a wide variety of topics, from Project Scorpio to the aggressive bundling of Xbox One S, passing by the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, FanFest, Steam support and more.
Giuseppe Nelva: Talking about Project Scorpio, 6 teraFLOPS are certainly very impressive in terms of a console, but if we look at it as a 4K machine, some might actually consider it on the lower end of the power spectrum. How confident the team is of being able to deliver true 4K gaming with it?
Aaron Greenberg: We were really thoughtful about the specs we used to design Project Scorpio, and the focus was how can we deliver true 4K gaming in the console space. And you’re right: today 4K gaming exists on the PC, with people who spend a lot of money on super high-end PCs with a wide variety of specs… Thousands of dollars in many cases, can get 4K gaming, but it hasn’t existed in the console market.
How can we bring that at scale to a really big audience in the console space, is what I’m excited about. To be able to bring six teraFLOPS of GPU power to the console space, it’s a massive amount of power.
We’re confident that we’ll be able to deliver true 4K gaming with that, and that performance power is gonna bring great games to our fans in the console market.
A lot of those developers that are building those games today, are already doing 4K on PC. Our internal studios… We got Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2, Gears of War 4, all being built today as great graphical showcases on the PC, and so that work is already existing, but the performance power is not there yet in the console space, and we’ll obviously be bringing that next year.
G: I’m sure you can’t tell me how much Project Scorpio would cost to customers, but what kind of price area are you targeting? Is it going to be a premium product like the Elite controller, or you’re trying to keep it as affordable as possible?
A: Well, we think about it as a premium product. From that standpoint, it is going to be a very high-end product. With that said, we’re not talking at all about any more details about that, but what I can tell you is that what’s exciting for me is that the fact that we can tell people now “we’re gonna bring a whole new console, with a whole new set of capabilities” and be able to innovate with the hardware without sacrificing compatibility, is something that really hasn’t been done before in the console space.
So whether you own games and accessories from the Xbox One launch, whether you’re buying games and accessories today, the ability to talk about that forward compatibility of those products, it’s something we’re really excited about, and to promise that now and into the future.
And that’s when you hear us talking about gaming beyond console generations, it’s really centered on that point. If you put the gamer at the center of everything we do, the content that they own should be able to come with them from device to device. That’s why we’re bringing our games to Xbox Play Anywhere and across PC, with will also be able to come with them from console to console.
That’s really part of that vision, and we’re really excited to be able to innovate and to do that over the next year.
G: We were very surprised by the announcement of Quantum Break coming to Steam the other day. Is it a signal that Xbox is opening to other markets, or for now we should see it as an isolated case?
A: Well, from a fist party standpoint, over the years, we’ve always had titles in the Steam store, from Age of Empires, to Alan Wake, to even more recently we had titles like Ori and State of Decay. We have and we’ll continue to look where it makes sense to bring our titles to Steam. We’re excited to have brought Quantum Break there, we know there are fans of the Steam store, and costumers there that we can reach, that will enable the title to have even more success.
So we’ll continue to look to support bringing our titles to Steam when and where it’ll make sense.
G: I’m a big Final Fantasy fan, and last year I interviewed Naoki Yoshida, who is the Director of Final Fantasy XIV, which for the moment is only on PS4, PS3, and PC. He told me that he was talking to Microsoft, and as soon as you guys were ready to allow cross-network gameplay, Square Enix would be ready to bring the game to Xbox One. How is that negotiation going?
A: We have a great relationship with Square Enix, and of course we’re very excited about Final Fantasy XV coming this year on Xbox One. Any specifics around older titles, and cross-platform play, all that would be a better question to direct to Square Enix, as it’s their title [Editor’s Note: after this interview, we did ask Yoshida-san about the topic, and he gave us an update which you can find here].
I can’t talk specifics to that, but I think you’ve seen our commitment to innovate with Play Anywhere, to keep supporting developers where it makes sense to enable cross-platform play across the console and PC, and yes, in cases like Rocket League, they’re looking to link across both Xbox and PlayStation. We’re supportive of that, and we’ll continue to support that.
It’s all about putting the gamers at the center of everything we do, and yeah, it’s exciting to see where people will take that.
G: Speaking about the games you’re bringing next year. You had to delay a couple of them, like Scalebound and Crackdown 3. How difficult was it to take this decision? Or it’s something that you guys freely embrace to give developers more time to create great games?
A: For us, we work with some of the greatest creators in the world, to bring these amazing games and experiences to life. As you go through that creative process, some times things happen fast, some times they take longer than you expect.
For us making the games great, making sure the stories are great, the graphics are great in these immersive experiences, is a priority.
In some cases that takes more time, and often whenever we announce a title or we share when we think when a launch will be, we do that based on the information we have at that time, and then later, when we get more information and we learn more about the game, that may change the timing of the release.
But I think we have a good track record, If you look at how we delivered last Holidays’ game line up, we shipped a number of great exclusive titles within the Holiday window. This year again, we’re doing the same.
Some of that is about the timing and when the games are ready, and some time we also wanna be able to spread our releases out. It’s too much stuff in one holiday. So the fact that we have Gears, Forza Horizon 3, we have ReCore, we have Dead Rising 4 all this Holiday, plus the big third party titles, like Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and all that, there’s more than enough games.
Look at Halo Wars 2 as an example. We did not need to force it into an already crowded holiday season, so to have Halo Wars 2 in February was a very deliberate decision about when that title made sense.
We make the same evaluations on the other games as well, and I think you’ll see us being a little more thoughtful about spreading that portfolio out throughout the year.
G: We have seen a lot of bundles for the Xbox One S. You guys are really, really pushing a lot. Of course, you can’t tell me what kind of bundles we can expect for the future, but can you tell me… are you guys done for this year? Or there is more coming?
A: Here’s what I can tell you: You’re right, the focus of the Xbox One S… We have a whole new model for a lot of people and it’s an opportunity to introduce a whole new audience to the console. We want to be able to give them tremendous value.
We have got a Halo Bundle, the 500 GB, with Halo 5 and the Master Chief Collection included. If you don’t own an Xbox, and you wanna get immersed in the Halo world, at 299, that is insane value.
And to be able to add to that, the FIFA bundles that we announced today. And yeah, we might have some more surprises, but you’ll just have to wait and find out.
I will say, having a great console, having it as a great value for our fans around the world, is a big focus for us. It’s great to see Xbox One S selling so well initially, and I think we’ll have great value and great bundles to continue to drive that through the Holiday.
G: One thing that actually did not surprise me all that much, was the Xbox Play Anywhere program. What impact do you expect on the sales of the games, on the adoption of windows as well, and on Xbox’s sales?
A: We’re building this games and we want to bring them to as broad as an audience as possible. And so to be able to bring all of our big exclusives, traditionally console exclusives titles, to the PC, is opening those up tp a whole new audience. That will enable more people to play Forza, to play Halo Wars, to play Gears of War, Recore, and a lot of these titles.
So that is absolutely exciting. To be able to do that and to say: You’ll be able to play both versions on both platforms without having to pay twice… I think is a tremendous value.
At this point it’s too early to know how the reaction has been. We haven’t even launched our first Play Anywhere title yet, ReCore will be our fist title when it launches in September, but I expect these titles to sell pretty well on PC. I think we will see that a lot of gamers, despite us putting them in already pre-defined buckets, most gamers play on multiple devices. They play on the console and on the PC.
For me as a gamer, the benefit of “hey, if I’m at home and I wanna start playing Gears, but them I’m at work, at school, on the road, wherever it might be, and I can continue where I left off in my PC,” is a tremendous benefit. It gives a lot more value to the games for fans. So we’re excited and we’ll see. It’s something that we’d like to hear people’s feedback about, and hopefully they’re excited about it and they’ll support it, so that we can continue to do it, and other partners will see the opportunity there as well.
G: One more about Xbox Play Anywhere: how did it happen? Did it come from the Xbox side of the company or from the Windows side?
A: First of all, you gotta realize that we’re one company. We do take a “One Microsoft” kind of view to how we do things. We have a leadership team at Xbox that evaluates our strategy and makes a lot of key decisions.
The first thing we did that really drove this, we said: “we wanna put the gamer at the center of everything we do.” If we make our decisions based on that as our guiding compass, we’re gonna make a different set of decisions.
First, we thought about today, these games, making them available on the PC is a huge unlock. Two, what if we made these games available and you didn’t have to pay for the PC copy. That’s never been done before. Let’s do that. Why do I have to pay for the game twice. If I buy digital entertainment content today, movies, music, etcetera, it streams across your devices. So we wanted to enable that for gaming, and that’s a consumer benefit.
With Xbox Live we’re able to have share saves, progress, achievements, all of that stuff is automatically linked across all of your devices. This is something that as a team we really believed in, and the team did a lot of work on it. There’s a lot of technical back end work, things in the store that we had to do to enable it, but this is something that came from the heart of the Xbox leadership team, and I think it’s great. I think it’ll open up our franchises to new players on the PC that maybe we haven’t been able to introduce before, and at the same time, it has a lot of great benefits for consmers, that we know do largely play games across multiple devices.
G: Let’s talk about Fanfest. It’s in its second year now. We talked about it before, and it’s basically your brainchild. Now that it has been over a year, what are your take aways. How do you think it can evolve as an initiative?
A: It’s really exciting for me, because so much of what we do, particularly as a guy that leads our games marketing team, we do this for our fans. We have incredible game creations, and how do we bring them to market, how do we announce these new games, how do we share more information, how do we launch, and even after launch, all the new content and updates… All centers around our fans, and to be able to listen to them and interact with them every single day on Twitter, and read things they post in the forums, on Reddit and what have you… none of that can replace what you get by being able to talk to real fans and seeing their real reactions.
So you’re right, we did that at E3 last year, and it was a huge hit. We did it again this year, and at Gamescom, and we see it adopted around the world, which has been really exciting. Involving the fans in our community… that’s what makes Xbox so special. That’s what Xbox Live was built on. That’s what people like Major Nelson are all about.
I think that’s just in our DNA. What we’ve learned is that there’s this balance of how much of this is “I want access to people on the Xbox team, I want access to games,” versus “I just wanna go to a party.”
We’re learning there, and I think what we’re largely found, is that our fans are big gamers: they wanna talk to us, they wanna meet us, they wanna play the games… And we want to hear their feedback, so this is truly about providing those in-person experiences and access to the games and the people. So that’s what we focus on, and I think you’re gonna see us do it here this week at Gamescom as well.
G: You guys always wear these shirts with the Scorpio, the Xboss shirt and more. When are we going to get an Xbox brande lines with shirts and dedicated apparel?
A: Most of that is actually community-created. The shirt I have on today is a Project Scorpio shirt, with an actual scorpio made of Xbox logos, and it is awesome. We embrace it, we love it, and part of what makes our job so much fun, is to see the passion that our fans have, the passion that people have in this industry.
We probably could do a better job allowing people to sell these things, but some of the fans do have their own stores. This one I think is actually for sale. I can’t speak to how the branding and licensing stuff works. Obviously there are licensed products and there are things that people create that are fair use.
We have done some things with our franchises and our brands. With ReCore now we have our own official store with case covers, shirts and gear. Gears has its own store, Halo has its own store. We are creating more stores for fans of those franchises, and I think we’ve seen some growth there. And if people have other ideas and feedback we’re definitely listening.
G: You should do a general Xbox apparel line, I’d say.
A: That’s a good idea. I’ll take it back to the team.
G: All right, I want royalties for it, though.