Neil Thompson updates us on the performance of Xbox Live, and why movies are an important part of the content "mix"
Last week Microsoft announced that it had signed up another key partner for its Xbox Live movie download service - NBC Universal - and that it would be adding another 30 classic films to its rental list as a result.
Shortly after the launch GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Neil Thompson, senior regional director for Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, to find out how significant that addition really is in the wider scheme of things.
Q: Do you know the latest numbers for Xbox Live downloads in the UK?
Neil Thompson: I do, but I'm not going to share them, because we don't share download figures by country. What I can say is that we have 17 million Xbox Live subscribers worldwide that are very active, and all of our download content - especially in the UK - is above where our expectations put us.
So we're very confident that these sorts of services that we've announced are proving very popular, and will be very successful. Our consumers are telling us.
Q: Is it possible to identify the proportion of game add-ons to other things, such as film or television downloads?
Neil Thompson: Not really - it's difficult to do that, because it's somewhat dependent on what game extensions, or Arcade games, are coming at any point in time. It depends on what content is in the system. The only thing I can say is that we're very happy with both the game extension and the movie business - hence why the likes of Universal have come to partner with us, because they see the great potential we have to offer.
Q: Is there one side of the download business - be it games or non-games - that needs more attention, though?
Neil Thompson: The way I encourage people to think about this is that we're trying to make the Xbox 360 platform as completely compelling as a whole platform. What we feel you have to do is have a variety of different entertainment experiences that people will want to consume at different times, for different reasons. And different types of people will want to consume them.
So we tend not to look at individual pieces and ask if it's doing well as a piece. What we do is look at whether or not the range of what we're offering more compelling than anybody else can offer. If the answer is yes, and when we look at new content we can offer, does it enhance what the range of that offering looks like - and that answer is yes - that's how we think about it and how we focus on it.
In today's world consumers are incredibly demanding about what they get out of consumer technology, and technology services. Quite often it's just about having the choice, irrespective of what within the choice they use, they still want to see the choice. That's how I think about it - so therefore, what an individual piece does to the whole is quite difficult to judge specifically.
As a proposition as a whole, if you look at Xbox 360 in the past 12, 18 or 24 months - especially in the UK - it's been pretty phenomenal. We think we're getting it right with these sorts of content plays.
Q: In the presentation at the event there was a video sequence featuring [UK TV presenter] Vernon Kay in which he likened the Xbox Live video download service to visiting a video rental store - except better. However, Xbox Live features around 300 movie titles, whereas the local Blockbuster store will have thousands, so it's not really the same, is it?
Neil Thompson: That was Vernon's analogy. I think the convenience of having films there on-demand - and 300 is a pretty good range of content that we try to mix for genre types and content types. That's what we try to do in terms of deciding with the content companies what films we do put on the service, and I think that's a reasonably compelling film service for anyone that wants to kick back and watch a movie.
Is it more compelling than going to a video rental shop? I don't know. What our service is telling us is that people are finding it compelling, but I don't have comparative data to say whether it's more or less, but it is compelling.
Q: One of the problems is that there's no comparative service to Netflix in Europe - how difficult is it to work from the point of view of Europe, with all the different territories, as opposed to the US?
Neil Thompson: Well the US is somewhat unique. It's 250 million people with generically a common language, and generic rights, whereas Europe is a bunch of individual states where everybody claims their own rights in terms of content rights, and deals that have to be done.
So Europe is more complex, or as we like to say a more textured, region in terms of one, how you develop technology, two, how you make it culturally relevant, three, how you manage the language issues and distribution issues and come to agreements.
So it is more textured and that creates a challenge for companies in terms of how quickly they can roll things out simultaneously. We try really hard as a company to bring innovations to as many countries simultaneously as we can, but the realities of life are such that sometimes you have to stage things.
Q: Does the UK suffer from being part of Europe in that respect? Would the UK consumers receive more content, and quicker, if the rest of Europe wasn't factored in?
Neil Thompson: It depends what you're talking about really, but lots of things in Europe are having to be done on a country-by-country basis. We try to land those country-by-country things in a simultaneous way where possible, but the UK is advantaged in as much as the English language translation to this market isn't as complex as it is with some other markets.
We often get benefits from that in the UK, but it's not automatic. We do try to land as much as we can, across as many European territories in a simultaneous way as possible. That's the same for Microsoft be it on Xbox, be it on Windows, be it on any product that we try to put into a country.
Q: Just finally - Microsoft Points - with the currency fluctuations we've seen recently, are you still happy with the price point of those in the UK? Do they still represent the same value that they might have done perhaps six months ago?
Neil Thompson: Yes, I think the pricing strategy we have on the whole Xbox platform is still incredibly compelling, certainly versus the competition. And by the competition I would put in there any real entertainment format, let alone games consoles.
Neil Thompson is senior regional director for the Entertainment and Devices division at Microsoft. Interview by Phil Elliott.