Online gaming on consoles has been a stop start affair in Europe,
but the launch of Xbox Live last Friday across Europe looks capable
of providing a service that can drag the online gamer into the
living room, with a fast growing selection of games. But will it
just be an exercise in expanding your swear word vocabulary or is
this really the brave new world of gaming? We sat down with
Microsoft's head of Xbox platform, Michel Cassius, and reminded him
once again that while France may have good players, they were
shocking in the last World Cup...
What is the number one goal of the Xbox Live service?
Michel Cassius: To make Xbox live the best possible customer
experience. The number one rule we have across Europe, and actually
worldwide, in launching Xbox Live is, sure, deliver the best gaming
experience but as well to make sure we deliver the best customer
How do you intend to achieve that?
Amazingly, I think we are achieving that already. Just in terms of
numbers in numbers; right now we have over 350,000 customers on
Xbox Live worldwide, of which 20,000 are in Japan, around 15,000 in
Europe (on the Test Drive phase). The bulk of it is definitely
North America, and those guys are playing more than two and a half
hours per day, on average, at one time.
Customer satisfaction is just huge. The recommendations, for
example, for the Test Drive phase in Europe, 96 per cent would
recommend the service to their friends. These people have
recognised voice as being a key element of their experience and
they say that social aspects of gaming is the element they most
The accessibility; the fact that when you go in, you set up once,
and then it's done. You're done and dusted for the service - not
for one game, but all the games that are available on the service.
We want the best possible gaming experience, and that's what we're
about, and we're doing exactly that.
The second thing we want to make sure is to make a business out of
it. Beyond customer satisfaction, we've got another type of
customer which are our publishers. And the publishers have backed
us with their development resources, by putting Xbox Live capacity
in many of their games.
And how many games are Xbox Live enabled now?
There are around 60 games in development, and that list is growing
every day. Every time we receive a concept submission for Xbox,
most of the time it's Live enabled as well.
EurogamerWhat's the split between multiplayer games and ones that
just have downloadable content?
At launch we have nine games, six of which are multiplayer and
three have downloadable content. But the bulk of the games coming
out after are going to be multiplayer. But one is not exclusive of
the other - you can have downloads and multiplayer in the same
The second aspect that is a success is the number of publishers
coming onboard, and they see the benefit of that, just by the
number of games they have sold. Ghost Recon is an example in the US
where the Xbox version is outselling the PlayStation 2 version by
two to one, and is one of the most played games on Xbox Live, along
with MechAssault and Unreal Championship and the US sports games.
In Japan, Phantasy Star Online is doing very well.
How do you feel about EA's stance on Xbox Live?
Firstly, I think you should ask EA again what it thinks about Xbox
and Xbox Live, because I think you will have an answer. EA is the
number one publisher worldwide. EA is definitely one of our top
publishers on Xbox. It's one of our key partners, and we're working
pretty closely with them, so you can see all the best franchises
are coming to Xbox, and when you look at them, they look better on
Xbox as well. EA is making a big big effort, it has a big
commitment to making Xbox games, and it is going to deliver strong
franchises on our platform.
But can you get EA and other publishers to really maximise the
capabilities of the Xbox? At the moment it seems most publishers
are leading multi-platform development on the PS2, and it's clear
they're not taking advantage of the Xbox at all.
EA is a fantastic production company. It has a very good way of
developing games that makes sense for them. It can do an extension
of the game, better graphics, and that's what it's already doing.
Of course we want to have more, of course we want EA to push the
machine - we know it can do more, but that's fine. Of course we
want EA online.
But is EA coming online with Xbox Live?
We are coming from interesting paths. We have made a strategy on
how we want Xbox Live to be rolled out and how Xbox Live is
conceived as a unique service and EA has made investments in the
past in dotcom that gives it some assets, and it's a question of
how the two work together. There are discussions; of course we're
discussing it. Can I give you a date; can I give you a time? No I
EurogamerIs that because there's an announcement to be made at a
It's not about that, it's just about relationships and the time
that it takes, and that's all. Think about it: EA is developing
games for all consoles; it is a very strong independent company
that is doing extremely well, therefore it is looking at how to
allocate resources in a way that makes sense. You've got to respect
that, because at the end of the day its results are good, and
that's what it's about. Do we want to have EA on Xbox Live? Yes we
do. Is it a great partner to work with? Yes it is.
When are you going to let people use a keyboard and mouse on Xbox?
If publishers say "this is the way to do things" and it
particularly makes sense, then we'll do it.
Is there a clear leader in the Xbox Live gaming 'chart'?
They're pretty close to each other. It depends on how you look at
it: either the number of people playing, or the number of minutes
played, the length of the session; there are many ways you can look
at a game. It really depends on the game itself. Some games, gamers
go in and play for more than one hour on just one game. And some
people have multiple sessions on one game for a few minutes. Some
games you can play a session for five minutes - some just want to
go on and have a race, or to blast or whatever. For MechAssault,
for MotoGP, the session is usually faster. Once you've tried your
quick match, you might want to send an invitation, and start
calling your friends. I just jumped in a session one day, saying
"fantastic I want to play for five minutes" and I had to play for
half an hour because I was number two, and didn't want to be number
three. That's the type of thing that happens; after half an hour on
MotoGP, you're tense at the end, I can tell you!
Do you have any intention of making old Xbox titles Live-enabled?
Perhaps with an add-on disk or patch?
Firstly, Halo 2 is going to be Live, Gotham Racing 2 will be also.
Those games are going to come. The second iteration will be even
better than the first. Going back to the future? Adding something
on top of what you've already got? No. I think it's better just to
conceive the game as an online game from the beginning rather than
going back and adding something on top, and that's basically what
we are doing.
EurogamerHow will you bill people after the 12 months? What
incentives will there be to renew?
The first incentive is the service itself. With the level of
satisfaction we've got on the service, which is a key measurement
of success, we expect a lot of people to renew their subscription.
It's true that the people who have bought the starter pack will
already have the headset etc, so we're going to have renewal offers
that will be without the headset. There are many ways we can think
about how we go about getting people to sign up again. We can think
about it as automatic renewal, changing renewal to three months,
six months, and 12 months - as many offers as we can. Another thing
we need to think about is retail; retail is definitely a good part
of what we do, and has an important part to play in the
distribution of Xbox Live.
Do you intend to change the cost of annual subscription?
Yes, no, maybe. There will be renewal offers, and yes there will be
different prices because of the fact that there's no headset for
Will the content you make available for download ever be available
to Xbox users offline?
Well, that's a publisher's choice. It really depends how you use
the downloadable content. In broad terms there are two ways to use
downloadable content; one is something that helps your product and
is going to extend the life of your product - refresh the
experience and make sure people play and carry on playing your
game, playing your franchise, enjoying it, and then guess what?
When the next product arrives they come back.
The other way to look at it is to say "downloadable content is
adding so much to the experience it's got a value all of it's own,"
and that exists today in the PC business, right, where you can have
expansion disks that you buy at retail, or it can be downloadable.
Looking at it this way, I've got X number of people who've got an
Xbox and Y number of people who've got Xbox Live. I'm selling my
game and Xbox Live people are my primary target audience, therefore
I'm going to make it downloadable. But in the future I also don't
want to miss the people who don't have Xbox Live. Guess what? Maybe
I'm going to pack it into something that then becomes a Gold
edition of the game. It's more of a marketing decision. It really
depends on how you see it at the beginning, and I expect to see
both of these methods adopted.
Will the Official Mag be covermounting Live demos?
That's up to publishers, if they want to do that, but yes we will
see some demo versions of online games, yes. There are other things
we can think about, in terms of demonstration. There's nothing that
precludes people in the future - I'm not saying today - to watch
Watching games as a spectator? How would that work?
There are many ways to make it work. Ok, we'll come back to
reality in moment, but let me dream a bit…. When there is a
match between Arsenal and Chelsea, I'm thinking about not only
what's happening on the pitch, but what's happening as a player,
what's happening, around the game, and what's happening with the
people watching it in front of their TV. And that starts to be a
big big event. So you can play the game, or you can be a spectator.
Amazingly, the entertaining part is not only to play, but to watch
as well. And you can create a different dimension just by adding
There's three elements to this. One: you need a tournament, either
a co-operative or competitive element added to your game. And that
could be football, or MechAssault, Unreal Championship, or many
other types of game. Then there is another element; the real fan
that's probably playing football at a grass roots level. They buy
their season tickets, and are the real premium guys. They are
sometimes going to want to go and play. And then you've got the
other guy. They want to watch. They probably don't want to go in
competition mode but it would be great to figure out how the best
in the world - i.e. the French - do this type of thing.
There's another model that's probably more accessible and basically
is close to what TV games are today. I'm taking very simple things:
Quiz games - they've existed on paper, on radio; they've been
played and played again in any way, shape, form with any type of
incentive. On TV, for example, the prize is now it's one million
pounds, in the past it was ten thousand. Ok, it's a quiz game -
it's very simple. But what about a quiz game that many thousands,
or even millions could play Live, at one time. You just say "ok,
it's happening at 8pm" and with a good incentive for you. The
incentive could be one million pounds.
Would Microsoft ever push that?
Yes we would. Because I think that's part of the entertainment that
we want to provide with Xbox Live, which is broadening as well.
Gaming's not just about the core target audience, with specific
games that we all know about. It's all about participation into an
interactive, social entertainment. There are some very very simple
games, like quiz games, that I think will come on Xbox Live and
will broaden the audience.
What about online Bingo?!
Why not? But going back to where we are today, we haven't got that,
but I think it'll happen with time. It will happen quickly on
accessible games, and I think by doing that, we will have a
demographic that will be wider. Right now, what we've got is the
core gamer audience; one that basically bought the Xbox at the
beginning, has got broadband at home and are looking for the next
type of entertainment 'leap', in terms of gaming, and they've
definitely got that with Xbox Live.
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