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Interview: Aaron Greenberg talks Xbox 1 Live shutdown, hard drives, and Games on Demand


If you thought the jam-packed Xbox lineup on display at the X10 event was exciting for you, imagine being one of the people in charge of it. Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg got to watch reactions to the lineup at the event all day -- except, of course, for the time he took out to speak to us about the crowded game schedule, Project Natal, and more.

Greenberg remained genial even when faced with familiar questions about the ramifications of the removal of Xbox 1 Live support, and with random, odd questions generated from Joystiq's interview brainstorming session, such as:

Joystiq: Can you make Kudo in Kodu?

Aaron Greenberg: What?

I don't know. Don't worry about it.

Does not compute.

Will whatever the technology that Project Natal eventually is named be bundled with Fable 3?

(Laughs) Why would that happen?

When will we learn the actual name for Project Natal?

To answer your question, I would say to expect us to share a news around E3 time. But right now, we're obviously in a codename status. We just unveiled this thing about seven months ago at E3, so it's an entirely new category of games and entertainment. We are still in codename status, and we haven't shown any of the actual games. There's a lot more to share. To be honest, what we're really focused on here at X10 is showcasing our blockbuster core games lineup, and you can see, it's early February, but we already have more games than we've ever had in a single year and this is like an E3-quality lineup in February.

This is just a glimpse of all the types of games we'll have coming throughout the year. We'll have more stuff at E3, more stuff at holiday -- but a pretty good start to what we think will be our biggest year that we've ever had.

Going to skip over questions about Xbox 720 ... like, seriously. They went a little nuts.

That's crazy.

You guys will never make another console!

This thing is going to last forever. Just kidding, of course.

The big thing that we've been interested in lately is Live going offline for Xbox 1 stuff. When will we see the fruits of Halo 2 players' pain? Basically, it's another way of Chris asking "When will I get to have more than 100 friends?"

(Laughs) Well, one of the nice things about what we're doing with discontinuing the original Xbox Live functionality is that it does allow a lot more flexibility to think about new features and stuff for Xbox 360. We don't have to think about supporting backwards, and so, we haven't announced any specifics, but we are, obviously, now able to bring new experiences, and I'll be excited to share those throughout the year, but right now we haven't given any specifics.

Regarding the 100 friends specifically: we've heard the feedback from the community, we've heard the feedback specifically from Chris Grant, over and over, and it's something that the team is looking at, but we don't have anything specific to announce.

Regarding Xbox 1 games whose Live functionality is no longer there: could there be any chance of seeing them launched as Xbox Originals with reworked Live components, to work on Live.

The way that Originals works is that it's just the digital distribution of the retail game, so we're not retouching those games. They're pretty much as they were. And now we're obviously doing the same thing with Xbox 360 games, so it's more just the distribution. It's not actually changing the bits of the game.

How have the Xbox 360 Games on Demand been doing? That was a big deal when it was launched, and I've noticed that the catalog keeps growing and growing. Is that something that's working well?

It's done well. I think that it's a nice complement to what we have with the games that are sold at retail. I think we obviously really believe that the retail experience is very important. It's where you go in on a regular basis, where you buy your console, where you buy your accessories. In many cases you have a relationship with the local retailer, the people who work there. And so I think that experience -- you can't take away the value of that experience. But I think the convenience of digital distribution has been great, so I think we've seen a good response to that -- not having to put a disc in, being able to store those on your hard drive, is nice. I find that I even rip a lot of mine to the hard drive.

Your retail games?

Yeah. It's nice. It's quieter, it's more convenient. It's one of the things I've always liked about Arcade games. So you know, there's a lot of benefits. It has absolutely done well.

Are we nearing a time, or do you even see a time right now, when we have day-and-date releases on demand and retail?

Right now, we feel like we've struck that right balance between having the new releases sold at retail and being able to offer the titles outside of that. I think if you think about other business models -- think of the way movies are distributed, where you have movies that run first in the theaters, and then you have video on demand, you have the DVD release. In many ways, we're going through the same experience when you think about the games business and how you distribute content, and the right balance of the ecosystem. I feel like we're doing pretty well right now. You never know how it will change, what we'll toy with, but for now we feel like it's working well.

Like you said, you have a really solid, in some ways E3-caliber showing here in February. Can we expect some really cool announcements, software and services-wise, at E3? That's the next big thing -- and GDC.

GDC's a developers' show, so usually what we do is talk to developers and not make that many big announcements. But here's what I'll say. We started the year off at CES -- and we've never said this before -- and we really believe that 2010 will be the biggest year ever in the history of Xbox. And I think if you just look at our core games lineup: it started with Mass Effect 2 in January, we've got Splinter Cell, we've got Alan Wake, we've got Crackdown 2, we've got Fable III, we've got what many people refer to as the biggest game of the year, Halo: Reach, those are all triple-A blockbuster titles, all exclusives, all coming this year.

And that's before you get to all the multiplatform titles, things like Final Fantasy, Dead Rising 2. So there's tons and tons of great blockbuster titles there. And then, what we're going to do with Live, the entertainment, more social entertainment functionality, Project Natal coming this holiday, so clearly this is going to be a huge year for us and our business. That's why we're here, showcasing so much content so early in the year. We haven't done this before, but frankly, we have a massive amount of stuff to show now, we have a massive amount of stuff to show at E3, we have a lot more stuff at holiday. It's going to be action-packed throughout the year. We have never had a year like this.

And so we're excited. We think that's great for our current owners, we think it's great for the folks that are going to be buying Xbox 360s this year, we think it'll be good for the Live service. Just tons of innovation, tons of new experiences, month after month.

Like we talked about, I rip my games to the hard disk. I'm kinda running out of space. We're seeing the 250GB drives pop up in more and more bundles, like the Final Fantasy bundle. Are we going to be able to buy that separately at retail sometime?

Right now, the only way we are doing that is with the special edition bundles. We did it with the Modern Warfare bundle, which, as people know, was a huge success, completely sold out. We're excited to bring it back with the limited edition Final Fantasy bundle. We cannot tell you how excited we are to have Final Fantasy ... this franchise and its history for the first time ever, not just in high definition, but on Xbox 360. So being able to celebrate that with a special edition bundle -- it's part of what makes it special, is with that bundle, you get the larger hard drive. We're excited about that. Right now, that's the way we're offering it.

Most people, unlike yourself, Randy, aren't running out of space with 120GB. Especially when you think about -- our movie store is instant-watch, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, all these experiences that don't really require hard drive space. That said, we understand that game demos, a lot of the game add-on content does take up space. We're always evaluating, but for now we feel like the 120 is serving us very well as the standard offering, and then having the 250 as a limited edition is a good balance.

Editor's note: Interview conducted by Randy Nelson.

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