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Joystiq interviews Greg Canessa of XBLA

Joystiq Staff

Today, I sat down with Greg Canessa, the group manager for Xbox Live Arcade, and we spoke about the service as a whole and what was in store for this successful extension of the Xbox 360. We touched on everything from what effect Nintendo's Virtual Console might have to the fact that Texas Hold 'Em poker will not be free -- despite previous statements that it would.

We hear that it takes quite a while for the approval process a game must go through in order to make it onto Xbox Live Arcade. Is this true and if so, how will it affect Microsoft's ability to come through on the promise of at least one new XBLA game every Wednesday?

The process does take a while. Some developers and publishers just underestimate the amount of time it takes in the approval process. As far as making sure games come out every Wednesday, that won't be a problem. We have over 80 titles that are currently in development and have been cuing up releases in secret. What we're doing with our new XBLA Wednesday program is merely bringing structure to the whole process.

What happened with Street Fighter II? Why the delay?

Capcom just needed more time. Simple as that. They wanted to make sure they got it right because they knew the expectations were going to be very high for that game. There were a lot of multiplayer aspects that needed to be perfected so there wouldn't be any unnecessary lag and things like that. We wanted that game to be as smooth as possible.

When can we expect an announcement about the next batch of games coming to XBLA?

In the next week or so we will make that announcement.

How do you decide what specific kind of title to release when?

Well, the big thing is that XBLA is not a dumping ground for old or new games. We want to make sure we are spreading out the game releases and giving the gamers out there quality.

What sort of gamer are you trying to attract with XBLA?

We attract both the hardcore and casual gamer. In a lot of ways hardcore gamers are a superset of casual gamers. We all grew up with casual games. The first games we played as kids were essentially casual games. We were casual gamers once, so really, we all like casual-type games and not just hardcore ones. These type of games resonate with gamers just as much as Halo does. The hardcore gamers are buying these things in droves.

Any titles that surprised you with their success?

Geometry Wars was never a surprise to us. We knew that Geometry Wars would be our Halo. And it has ended up being that. The one thing we didn't know was the success Arcade would have in general. Uno was a title that a lot of people didn't think would be very big. There was a lot of debate internally about that. Some of us thought it would either be the biggest thing since sliced bread or it was going to be yawn, who cares. Uno is our fastest selling Arcade game in history and it has actually, last week, passed Geometry Wars as our best-selling title. They're both now neck and neck for number one.

What would you attribute Uno's attraction to?

Uno is all about a known game that everyone grew up with and doesn't require a lot of mental horsepower. You can sit there and chill out with your buddies and play a game. Also, it's cheap. People just really really love playing it online.

Are you guys worried at all about the competition with Nintendo's Wii and their Virtual Console?

We invented this space. We're the iTunes of games and we've been in the space for two years now. It took us a long time to build up Arcade and the platform and the service and hundreds of developers and relationships. So, we take a proactive approach to this market. What Nintendo does or doesn't do is up to them. I have a lot of respect for Nintendo, I'm a personal fan, but I can tell you that we're going to be exhibiting leadership and not reacting to what they do. We are going to maintain leadership in this space because we are so far ahead.

Why do you think you guys are "so far ahead," as you put it?

I think we have the right view on this. We're not just looking at retro. Retro is just one part of this. It's about the Sundance of games, which is about innovative indie game development. That is our longterm sustainable advantage. We are going full steam ahead on that space. Lumines Live! is the perfect example of quality original titles on Xbox Live Arcade. You're going to start to see more large, well-known designers in the industry doing original development for Xbox Live Arcade.

What's the process like for developers contacting you and getting their games on Arcade?

We are constantly getting contacted by developers. Frankly, we're pretty overwhelmed with the volume and quantity of submissions. We have a developers submissions alias where they first contact us by e-mail. They establish an initial contact and if we're interested we contact them back. They submit a concept and we review it and how it fits into our plan. We never know when the next Geometry Wars will walk through the door, so we make sure we keep enough spare cycles for the cool new game coming.

Besides Lumines Live!, one of the other games people are looking forward to is Texas Hold 'Em poker. Talk about what's in store for that.

First of all, it won't be free. We haven't decided on what the final price will be, but it will not be free. As far as incentives, we want to make sure gamers play with a purpose with a game like this that doesn't have any actual risk/reward. We will have a persistent bankroll system tied to your gamertag that will allow those who have built up enough money to enter higher-quality tournaments. Then, if you run out of money, you have to enter the freebie tournaments to build your bankroll back up.

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