The Big Xbox Interview — Aaron Greenberg Talks Xbox One X, First Party, Japanese Games and Much More
Xbox Games Marketing General Manager Aaron Greenberg chats with DualShockers about the upcoming Xbox One X, cross-play, Age of Empire, and a lot more.
The Xbox One X appears to have good potential to launch successfully in November; to learn more about the console and about Microsoft’s plans for the Xbox Brand, DualShockers sat down with Xbox Games Marketing General Manager Aaron Greenberg at Gamescom in Cologne.
Greenberg talked about a wide variety of topics, from the reception and expectations for the console, to cross-play, the upcoming Age of Empire projects, Japanese games, what first party studios are doing, and quite a lot more.
If you want to hear about all things Xbox directly from him, read on.
Giuseppe: Gamescom has been a pretty big event for Microsoft, with the Xbox One X being playable for the first time for the general public, and the opening of pre-orders. What’s your impression of the reception from the fans?
Aaron Greenberg: Gamescom is always a really important show for us, not only does it follow E3, but it’s an opportunity for us to take all the news and all the games we showcased at E3, and bring them to European fans. We tried some things differently this year. We are really trying to let people come in and meet the team, and get updated on all the projects. We had a lot of different news to announce, so we did two different streams.
It was fun. I think these streams went well, and it was exciting to be able to unveil the Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition, and see how fast the reaction was to the pre-orders. I think the team did a great job putting that together. It was good, with a little more informal setting.
Then of course we did the Age of Empires stream the following day, and I thought that was fantastic. We brought in fans of the Age franchise, PC gamers from the audience, and I think the response has been good.
We have a ton of games this year, and we have shown our largest and most diverse lineup ever at E3, then we brought all of those games to Gamescom. We have seventy stations of Xbox One X playable on the show floor, and the other thing people seem very excited about is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and the expansion of that partnership, which is something we’re really excited about ourselves.
G: Since you went into that on your own, I’m going to get right down to business: is there any possibility for Age of Empires on consoles?
AG: It’s Age‘s 20th anniversary, so we wanted to do something special, completely remastering the original game. We re-recorded with an orchestra, all the visuals are updated. That’s the idea of the Definitive Edition. We’re also gonna do the same for Age 2, Age 3, and then we’re just announcing that we’re making Age 4. It’s gonna be an AAA game, and we’re partnering with the best, that we can trust with the Age franchise, which is Relic.
Beyond that, we’re not saying much else, and obviously the original Age game was made twenty years ago for keyboard and mouse. We want to stay true to that, and we’re treating that with a lot of care. we know there are a lot of Age fans that are looking forward to playing that, and there are also a lot of PC gamers that maybe aren’t as old as you and I, and so maybe they haven’t payed Age.
The focus is on PC, but I think that if you really press Shannon Loftis (General Manager of Microsoft Studios Publishing), it’s her project, and we can see if we can get her to crack. I don’t know the answer to that question either, to be honest. I know that Relic is making the game and that it’s always been a PC franchise.
G: Ultimately, I believe Halo Wars 2 proved that the RTS genre can thrive on Xbox One.
AG: You’re right. The difference I think is that Halo Wars was a console RTS, and then we made a sequel to that, and we brought it to the PC as well. Age is one of the most loved franchises on the PC, so that’s kind of our focus. But don’t worry Xbox fans! We still have over a thousand games, over a hundred exclusives, we have a lot of big titles. Just because we’re making one PC game… It’s funny to see the social feed: people are like: “you’re making a PC game! What about Xbox, you’re losing the focus!” (laughs)
Ultimately, we want to unite gamers. We know gamers play on multiple devices. How can we unite games across devices, and allow their content to be played? It’s the whole idea of Xbox Play Anywhere. It’s what we have done with Minecraft, and it’s also what we’ve done with Rise of Nations. We have been connecting Steam with PC gamers on the Windows 10 platform…
G: I actually think that went a bit unnoticed, and I feel that’s a big deal, considering that there have been issues with other games in the past.
AG: We’re very “gamer-first” in the way we think about our business and our community, and we had a lot of great support for Minecraft on iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PC…
G: There is only one platform that’s not joining the party…
AG: We’re talking to them, and we’d love to have them there.
G: So you’re in talks with Sony?
AG: Absolutely. Sure. We want to be able to unite gamers. If you put the game, the franchise and the players first, and say “listen, Minecraft players want to be able to create, share and go from device to device. If they’re at home, they may want to play on their console. If they’re at their PC, they may want to play there. If they’re out on their mobile phone, they may want to be able to experience the same, and we shouldn’t block those experiences. That’s the idea.
G: Talking about the Xbox One X, of course you have your projections and predictions, and if I ask you how many you plan to sell, you’re gonna laugh at me.
G: Yet, I am going to ask you if you have any prediction on what kind of share the Xbox One X might get of the whole Xbox One sales.
AG: Well, we don’t know what it will be. I think the fact is for us that with X we’re just trying to manufacture as many as we possibly can. The response has been overwhelming. If you’ve seen pre-orders, in many countries lots of top retailers sold out right away. For us the focus on X is that it’s our flagship. It’ our premium product and the most powerful console ever made, but we don’t want people to forget the benefits of the whole family.
All the games work, all the accessories work, there is full backward compatibility with over 400 Xbox 360 titles, and now with the original Xbox games we have three grenerations of games on one system. We’re really proud of the S, in fact we unveiled the limited edition Minecraft bundle that is great, so we expect to sell a lot of Xbox One S units still.
Yet, we know that core gamers are gonna want the very best. They’re gonna want the benefits of more power and more memory. And we know that a lot of them are gonna choose Xbox One X.
G: So you can confirm that Xbox One X is officially the flagship console for Microsoft?
AG: Xbox One X is our premium product. We’ll see how well it’ll sell. I would not be surprised if we still sold more S units. But we’ll see. We’re gonna make as many Xbox One X units as we can make. All the signs are that it’s gonna be the “hit” product this Holiday, and we’re gonna try to keep up with demand the best that we can.
If we think about it from a games lineup standpoint, the fact that we have full compatibility for the whole Xbox One family means that when Xbox One X launches, it will actually probably have the largest games lineup ever for a new console launch. Of course we’re going back and remastering a bunch of titles, we’re giving free 4K upgrades, we have the “enhanced” program with our partners, and there are over a hundred titles there… So we’re really trying to overdeliver on value for fans that are making that investment in that console. And hopefully, they’ll feel the same.
G: You did announce over a hundred titles that are going to be updated for Xbox One X, but I’ve been wondering: is that something you ask to developers, or it’s their initiative? Maybe it’s a mix? Are you in talks with more developers to expand that number further?
AG: Yes. In fact the list already went up to 118. The way it works is that we have put three labels in front of the new Xbox One games: “4K Ultra HD,” “HDR” and “Xbox One X Enhanced.” Enhanced means that they have done specific work to take advantage of the power and performance of the console. Not all games will do that. They have do that work.
Developers can decide that they have plenty of power and performance as we’ve seen with games like Forza that are delivering 4K, 60 FPS, some other developers may decide to optimize in different ways, but we’re seeing a lot. The Majority of those games are gonna be in 4K, the majority are gonna have HDR. We do have that program and we work with developers.
Back at E3 they had their devkits for a pretty short amount of time, and we already had forty titles that would be enhanced. Today we’re at 118 that are committed. By the time we launch, I’m sure there will be more.
I think the best thing we’re hearing is how fast developers are getting the games up and running, and how pleased they are with the performance. I remember the first developer that called us after they first got their devkits, and they were literally like “Holy crap! This is no bulshit!” This is what they said.
G: Who was that?
AG: I can’t say, but they were “This is no bullshit, this is so amazing!” They were so excited. You know when a developer yells that at you on the phone, that you’re on to something. Even our internal teams, like Turn-10… they had their game up and running, and they still had a third of the GPU unutilized. Now they have the ability to think how they can take advantage of all the extra power they have available, and they’re having fun with that.
I think it’s great for gamers, and I think when we get closer and games actually start launching, and you see what true 4K looks like, and you see the benefits of the power and performance, people will be pretty impressed. A lot of side-by-side comparisons will come up.
G: Are you going to do some of those?
AG: Maybe… I think it’s done so much already in the industry, and fans will do them as well. In many ways personally I prefer that, because it’s more independent and people can see on their own. If we do it, even if we fully disclose the method, people won’t always assume good intent. I don’t know if you have noticed that online.
But we’re confident that when people will see the side-by-side comparisons… We just saw Tomb Raider, and they have all the different platforms showing side-by side. People can see it on their own.
G: Yeah, and if you do it on your own, you can’t really put PS4 Pro in there, I imagine.
AG: We don’t wanna take shots at them, we don’t wanna take shots at their product. We want people to be able to decide for themselves. I think games look great on a PS4 Pro. Games look great on an Xbox One S. It all depends on the type of gamer you are and what matters to you.
G: Also the budget, right?
AG: Exactly! For me, I want the very best. I have an OLED 4K TV and I want it to look amazing on that, and I’m willing to pay for that. Other customers are going to be perfectly happy with S.
G: It’s certainly nice to have two different consoles serving completely different targets at different price points.
AG: Yeah, people that are going to buy an Xbox One on our fifth holiday, and maybe it’s their first console ever, they are going to have different priorities than a more core gamer who wants the latest high-end technology.
G: Phil Spencer has gone to Japan, and you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Japanese games…
AG: I know, I know! (laughs)
G: I was very pleased to see the effort from Xbox in actually bringing more Japanese games to the platform. Personally, I always felt that one of the weak points of the Xbox One is that it lacked variety, which Japanese games can provide. Now we’re seeing quite a few announcements, including support from some for Xbox One X. This happened in the past at the beginning of the life cycle of the Xbox 360, with a bunch of Japanese exclusives, but that proved to be short-lived.
So now I’m wondering. Are you guys committed now? Is it going to last, or it’s more an experiment to see how it goes and then, if it sells, you can decide if this effort will continue?
AG: Yeah. I think we’ve always had a really deep respect for Japanese creators. We’ve been fortunate to work with them on a number of projects both internally and on the third-party side. I know Phil cares a lot about Japanese developers, and working with them is a personal passion of his, as shown by the fact that he regularly goes to Japan, and meets with the creators there.
We had some on stage at E3, and we have a great partnership with Square Enix on Final Fantasy. We’re also working with Bandai Namco on a number of titles.
There are many, many creators there, and I would say expect to continue to see more and more Japanese games, and we’re gonna do as much as possible.
The other thing that I think is great about Japanese creators is that they’re always some of the first people to adopt and experiment with new technology. I think with Xbox One X we’re working with creators there and we’ve definitely heard good things. We’ll wait until it’s time to announce more, but I would say it’s important to us, and it’s important to Phil, and we know it matters to our fans. So we’ll continue to spend time and bring as many of those games as possible to our platform,
G: Another announcement that pleased me quite a bit, since I really like the game, was Black Desert Online.
AG: Yes, from Korea.
G: … And that’s another country that joins the party. Was it their pitch, or it was Microsoft’s initiative?
AG: We have a team internally that evaluates games, and it’s a mix. Sometime they come to us, sometime we go to them. We believe there is an opportunity to have more MMO games on the console, and Black Desert in particular has a strong following, but isn’t yet very well known in the west. So it’s a great opportunity to bring a great game to the console and give it more visibility in the west.
We’re excited to be working with them, and this was actually the idea behind the E3 show: showing a large and diverse line-up of creators from all over the world. We showcased The Last Night that is made by two guys in Paris, we shown titles from Korea, we shown games from all over the world, Japan and more. It’s been great. I think we really want that diversity. We pride ourselves on loving games and really wanting to honor the creators and artist that make these titles.
You know, Phil Spencer himself was a developer and grew up in the industry, and I think he has a deep appreciation for that. It’s not always about “hey, this game is going to sell millions of units.” We want to be able to make sure that we have a good variety and a diverse lineup for our players.
G: Let’s talk about first party. The folks at 343 Indutries and The Coalition have been fairly silent. What are they up to? Tease me a bit.
AG: (Laughs) I think being quiet is good. As a fan, I know that The Coalition is there, and they’re hard at work on “something.” I know 343 is there. For us, I think there is the question on how far in advance do you announce and tell people what you’re doing?
Frankly, we have so many games right now. We have, over the next twelve months, so many big exclusives. We’re the only console where you can play Forza Motorsport 7, Cuphead, Super Lucky’s Tale and PUBG, just this Holiday. And then into the spring we have Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2… All different types of games, all great exclusives, in addition to the fact that every type of game you like, your games are gonna play better on Xbox One X.
I’m a sports fan. Sports are not generally broadcasted in 4k, as an example, so the first time you can actually experience sports in 4K, for many people it’ll be on Xbox One X. I get to play Madden NFL 18, and being able to experience that in 4K is just pretty amazing.
So I think we feel good about our first party lineup, and it’s nice to be able to have a strong lineup like that, and to just be a little quiet about what else we’re doing. But I can tell you, I was recently up at The Coalition, and ‘m “very excited” about the future of the Gears franchise. I’m very excited about the future of the Halo franchise.
The Halo team actually has news. They have a whole new expansion, they are updating Halo 5 in 4K for fans. So there is a lot.
G: This may be a little painful for the both of us, but I need to ask. Recently Microsoft renewed the Scalebound trademark, so I’d like to know if there is a possibility that you’re still going to do something with it.
AG: I know that people watch what happens to the IP and things like that, but the game was canceled. That is the reality of the issue. I can tell you that I have a lot of respect for Kamiya-san. I think we all believed in the partnership that we have with them, and in the vision that he had.
Some times you just put the ingredients together and for whatever reason things don’t work out. It happens with movie projects, and music projects are the same. It’s a creative process. At the same time, there are other things where ingredients are put together… Look at what PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds has done in five months, and they’re still an early access title, and they’re already over 8.5 million units sold. It’s just incredible.
Some times you just have to move on, and it’s better for everybody, but we’re excited about our games lineup. We’re excited about the big third party titles that are coming, and of course about the back-to-back exclusives we have over the next twelve months. Trust me, there is more beyond that.
Xbox One X pre-orders have been made available on August 20th, and they sold out almost everywhere really quickly. Luckily, a second wave is coming. The console will cost $499, and will launch on November 7th.