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The Social Contract

Microsoft's Neil Thompson on the new networking features for Xbox - plus iPlayer, Sky Player and the MW2 launch

Buoyed by news of Xbox 360 hitting 10 million in Europe, Microsoft earlier this week released its autumn update for Live users, introducing Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm and a Zune-branded video marketplace to the service. With Christmas approaching and Sony launching its own video service for PlayStation users this week, the battleground between the two fierce rivals has shifted decisively beyond just games.

GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Neil Thompson, Microsoft senior regional director for northern Europe, at an Xbox launch event in London earlier this week, where he discussed the significance of the update, Natal, the impact of Modern Warfare 2, and the chances of seeing the BBC's iPlayer on Xbox 360.

GamesIndustry.biz You've just announced 10 million units sold in Europe, which you must be very pleased with?
Neil Thompson

We are very pleased, yes. We've seen really strong growth.

GamesIndustry.biz The immediate cynical response to that from some in places - such as Twitter - was to ask how many of those suffered RROD... But just to widen the point to perception, can you clarify the situation now: are you confident that it's only older models which are still failing?
Neil Thompson

We're very confident with all of the Xboxes that are being sold today. There are still some people who've had their console three or four years, and are still running on those consoles, so we're very confident of the reliability of our products.

GamesIndustry.biz The Modern Warfare 2 launch last week was tremendous for the industry. Did it benefit Xbox?
Neil Thompson

It did. It's a fantastic product. We saw fantastic results on our platform, both in terms of it selling into our installed base but also generating enormous growth in the console sales we saw last week. We think it was a well-needed shot in the arm for the UK industry.

GamesIndustry.biz Also, notably, your servers held up while Sony seemed to have a few problems early on.
Neil Thompson

I'm glad our servers held up! I haven't heard what other people are doing, but we've seen amazing online stats for Modern Warfare 2 from literally the first hour that it was sold, and yes - it's an amazing game and an amazing experience.

GamesIndustry.biz The other thing that came out of that launch was the controversial debate that ended up going as far as the House of Commons, with Keith Vaz and Tom Watson sparring. What's your view?
Neil Thompson

My view is it was an 18-rated game, it's a game designed for adults, it should be consumed by adults and as long as retailers are responsible when they're selling it to adults, and as long as parents are responsible in ensuring their kids who are under 18 don't get access to it and don't play it, then I think it’s a great product.

There are scenes in it that some people won't like, but you pay your money, you take your choice - as an adult - to make those decisions. And I think it was marketed in an appropriate way and it is appropriate content for an adult community.

GamesIndustry.biz There was also debate about the price when Activision announced it was going to increase RRP, but as it turned out there was a supermarket price war around launch, so consumers got great deals, Activision are probably quite happy as well, so maybe retail were the only losers in terms of margin. Would you agree with that?
Neil Thompson

Retailers have to make their own decisions about how they price in the market. I suppose the challenge when retailers do go aggressive on pricing in the way that some people do: is that sustainable over the long-term both for the industry and for themselves? Retail just have to make their own decisions.

As an industry, I think we want to ensure consumers understand the value of the products they're buying, because these products cost tens of millions of dollars to create. So as long as people appreciate that and understand that, as I say retailers have to make their own decisions on pricing, but we do want to ensure the value is created in this industry and this industry has a long and fruitful future ahead of it.

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Johnny Minkley avatar

Johnny Minkley


Johnny Minkley is a veteran games writer and broadcaster, former editor of Eurogamer TV, VP of gaming charity SpecialEffect, and hopeless social media addict.