We got a chance to speak to Major Nelson, Programming Director for Xbox Live during the Leipzig Games Convention 2006. This interview took place in the lovely tent Microsoft has set up for its employees and guests. The Major was more than happy to talk about Xbox 360, Xbox Live, backwards compatibility and more.
Xboxic: How are you enjoying the Games Convention here in Leipzig?
Major Nelson: Actually I love this convention, I enjoy this more than E3. And who knows what happens with E3 next year. This is a fabulous convention, I love the facility, itâ€™s really centric to the gamer.
Xboxic: Donâ€™t you think itâ€™s too crowded, compared to E3?
Major Nelson: The facility makes this perfect because itâ€™s so wonderfully laid out. The booths are wonderful and the stands are great. Itâ€™ll get a little more crowded in the weekend.
Xboxic: Do you speak German now?
Major Nelson: I do not, I have a little list of about 10 words that my wife gave me. She travels a lot, so she gave me the words, so other than that, nein.
Xboxic: Itâ€™s pretty normal here in Europe for a big convention to have stuff in English. So itâ€™s pretty weird donâ€™t you think?
Major Nelson: Itâ€™s been an experience.
Xboxic: Letâ€™s talk about the success of Xbox Live Arcade, itâ€™s doing quite well.
Major Nelson: Itâ€™s indeed doing quite well, itâ€™s one of the wonderfull stories of the Xbox 360. You have to remember, a year ago it wasnâ€™t even here. We made the announcements last year at the Leipzig Games Convention, the price and the date and the packages. Less than a year old, Xbox Live Arcade is just fantastic.
Xboxic: Free Poker was released yesterday, do you have any figures on how many times it was downloaded?
Major Nelson: I donâ€™t. I havenâ€™t been able to download it, Iâ€™ve got my MU right here, of course I have no one to call â€˜cause Major Nelson is right here (points at the memory card hanging around his neck).
Xboxic: Itâ€™s not in a vault then?
Major Nelson: Itâ€™s in a vault around my neck (laughs).
Xboxic: Speaking of the success of the Xbox 360, youâ€™re owning the convention, the only next-gen console is the Xbox 360.
Major Nelson: And even some of the other developers are showing the Xbox 360 in their booths!
Xboxic: Most of the demopods are Xbox 360s, we havenâ€™t seen any Gamecube pods, and a few Playstation 2 pods.
Major Nelson: PS2 is a great machine but itâ€™s time to send it up to Pasture.
Xboxic: Are you afraid of coming to Leipzig again next year with all three next-gen consoles?
Major Nelson: No, I think the Xbox 360 is really gonna shine the quality of games, this time next year, you wonâ€™t be able to find football at any other platform.
Xboxic: Yeah itâ€™s one of the major announcements, especially for Europe, football is really big.
Major Nelson: Absolutely, we know how big it is, so itâ€™ll be a great year next year. There will be well over a 100 games available for Xbox 360. Itâ€™ll be fantastic.
Xboxic: Speaking about these games, we saw Viva PiÃ±ata at the Microsoft booth, itâ€™s was practically a slide show. What happened?
Major Nelson: Yeah, I know theyâ€™re working on that. Itâ€™s the first time theyâ€™ve ever had hands-on demo. Theyâ€™re not using the same equipment that weâ€™re having in the States. It wonâ€™t be like that in the final. I think theyâ€™ve actually fixed it, you may want to check it out again. You should go back there, cause I was in the technical room and they were looking at it.
Xboxic: Back to the Xbox Live Arcade success. Is it easier to get publishers now ’cause it started with a lot of first party titles.
Major Nelson: Itâ€™s been much easier, Microsoft makes fantastic tools for our developers and itâ€™s scalable with Live Anywhere. The ability to bring games to Xbox 360 and then Windows or vice versa, itâ€™s a beautiful environment.
Xboxic: Live Anywhere and Vista, is that going to be a launch â€˜titleâ€™ for Vista.
Major Nelson: Well, Live Anywhere is a vision, itâ€™s not really a title. You need to think of it as something separate. Itâ€™s going to be a work in progress over time. Much like Xbox Live has. Xbox Live has changed since weâ€™ve launched it 2002 to 4 years later. Weâ€™ve revised the system many many times and changed it for the Xbox 360. Live anywhere is coming in the future and I donâ€™t have anything to announce at this time.
Xboxic: Is it possible that Live Anywhere is also coming to Windows XP.
Major Nelson: Thereâ€™s gonna be a lot of dependencies within Vista and so forth. I donâ€™t want to rule anything out but itâ€™s not really our focus right now.
Xboxic: Speaking of the future, when are you going to announce the future plans. We know what youâ€™re going to do this holiday with the accessories and the games but when are you announcing the next step?
Major Nelson: Obviously weâ€™re focused on the holiday, we donâ€™t want to confuse messaging. We donâ€™t want people going to the store and canâ€™t buy it. So we need to be really true to our messaging for the next few months. We have a lot of things in the pipeline. Weâ€™re focusing on the holidays, getting 10 million units out.
Xboxic: Speaking of those units, youâ€™ve got the Core Xbox 360, is it doing as well as you hoped, is it a selling point?
Major Nelson: Absolutely, I mean, you have to remember we announced yesterday that weâ€™re gonna be expanding into some of these other areas like South Africa, Poland, Czech republic and so forth. Having the Core system is an entry point. So while we knew up front it wasnâ€™t going to be the majority of our sales, eventually itâ€™s going to make up for a bulk of the sales.
Xboxic: Yeah but, since itâ€™s a great idea to have multiple SKUâ€™s, you donâ€™t have a hard drive on every Xbox 360, you donâ€™t have a wireless controller on every system.
Major Nelson: Yeah, but you can!
Xboxic: Yeah but you canâ€™t develop with the hard drive in mind at the moment, is that something you regret.
Major Nelson: Not really, look at the games, they speak for themselves.
Xboxic: Yeah, but for instance Saintâ€™s Row, they wanted to have airplanes, but they couldnâ€™t because they needed the hard drive for that.
Major Nelson: I donâ€™t know, I havenâ€™t played the title that much. But I think if we look at the great titles out there, I think theyâ€™re pretty extraordinary. Theyâ€™ll just get better as developers unlock.
Xboxic: Do you have any plans for bundles or discounts?
Major Nelson: No, we havenâ€™t announced anything yet. Itâ€™s a little too early to talk about that. The Xbox 360 is going to be in 10 million homes this holiday season. Weâ€™re in our second year. We got some great things, over a hundred games already, 50 arcade games. So we donâ€™t have anything planned.
Xboxic: The next dashboard update, anything planned?
Major Nelson: So we do dashboard updates twice a year. The spring one is really about user interface and features. The fall one is really about behind the scenes stuff. Weâ€™re enabling new things in games that will be available that holiday season. So itâ€™s coming out this fall, but I donâ€™t have a date
Xboxic: Are you planning on doing RSS feeds or podcasts, because the PSP has this feature.
Major Nelson: Not at this time, thereâ€™s unfortunately so few people that use RSS. We do, but weâ€™re geeks! Does your mom use RSS? My mom doesnâ€™t!.
Xboxic: Itâ€™s starting to come though.
Major Nelson: Itâ€™s starting to come, and I think weâ€™ll do some thinking when it does get to that point. Never say never but thatâ€™s definitely not coming for the next few months.
Xboxic: When youâ€™re doing updates, are you going to look at how Nintendo and Sony are doing their online features.
Major Nelson: Sure.
Xboxic: Sony has some pretty interesting stuff…
Major Nelson: Like?
Xboxic: Like recording the stuff youâ€™re doing and then share them.
Major Nelson: Like weâ€™re doing with PGR3 today?
Xboxic: Yeah but thatâ€™s photos though, Sony wants to do that with videos.
Major Nelson: Good for them! Iâ€™ll wait to see it. Cause theyâ€™ve announced a lot of things that havenâ€™t played out in the past. All I can say is weâ€™re in our fifth generation of Xbox Live, weâ€™ll continue to innovate and build. I welcome the competition.
Xboxic: Speaking of updates: Backwards compatibility, are there still updates coming?
Major Nelson: Absolutely, very soon. Iâ€™d say a big one, pretty soon. Canâ€™t say how many games, and how many days, weeks and months.
Xboxic: X06 is coming up, people were saying this (Leipzig) was sort of a build-up for X06, like they were calling rolling thunder. What specific things are considered rolling thunder at the moment?
Major Nelson: X06 is really just going to continue building on the success weâ€™ve already had. We had a lot of great things, we announced the football exclusives. I think youâ€™ll be blow away by the titles.
Xboxic: Itâ€™s going to be even bigger than Leipzig?
Major Nelson: Oh yes! I think a lot of people will be surprised.
Xboxic: The booth babes, how did you like them here?
Major Nelson: The boothbabes are phenomenal, theyâ€™re much better than E3. European women alone are just beautiful, thereâ€™s a different sense amongst them then the American ladies. American ladies are very standoffish, European ladies are very approachable.
Xboxic: Whatâ€™s the future for you blog, since youâ€™ve had a big overhaul
Major Nelson: Iâ€™m thinking of a separate part of the blog which is just marketplace announcements. Iâ€™m implementing and testing a system right now, where people can register their gamertag, youâ€™re going to claim your gamertag. Weâ€™re going to confirm youâ€™re actually that gamertag. So Iâ€™ve designed a system that does that. Brilliantly simple if I say so myself. My job is really to point to sites like yours. I want to be a jumping off point, I donâ€™t want to compete. Iâ€™m on top of the pyramid, and want to say, look at this, look at that.
Xboxic: Viva PiÃ±ata, the show airs tomorrow for the first time, are you going to TiVo it?
Major Nelson: Yeah Iâ€™m going to, but weâ€™ll be home.
Xboxic: We canâ€™t receive it (in Europe).
Major Nelson: Youâ€™ll get it next year, Iâ€™m sure itâ€™ll be on youtube.
Xboxic: Your announcement on the XNA thing: are there any specific things on how youâ€™re going to distribute it?
Major Nelson: What we announced was this vision that we had, Iâ€™m just really excited about that. Nothing can unlock creativity like giving tools to the community. We are just so thrilled about that and you know weâ€™re going have the club where you have to pay and can develop and so forth. Over the coming months youâ€™ll gonna start hearing more and more details of how that works on Xbox live.
Xboxic: Are there any plans on safety? I can imagine exploit thingies.
Major Nelson: Absolutely, that is one of the key things. Just making sure the code is safe from day 1, that was our biggest concern.
Xboxic: Xbox Live vision, are there going to be full Xbox 360 titles like Eyetoy?
Major Nelson: You have to remember eyetoy is really about gestures. On the 360 you already have a game that works with the camera, Uno and the dashboard.
Xboxic: And the TotemBall game, just a gimmick?
Major Nelson: That will come out with Vision, and yeah itâ€™s a gimmick. But itâ€™s really about video messaging and sharing photos, sending and receiving picture messages. And then the gesture based stuff. And then of course, some of the developers like Ubisoft is going to be putting face in games with Rainbow Six: Vegas.
Xboxic: But are there concrete plans for specific retail titles made for Xbox Live Vision.
Major Nelson: Not right now that weâ€™re announcing, there are a few in the works. Weâ€™re just figuring out how itâ€™s going to work, how many people will pick it up.
Xboxic: Are you planning on doing a revision for the Windows drivers for the gamepad.
Major Nelson: No weâ€™re not considering at this time, itâ€™s up to the game developers.
Xboxic: Thanks a lot for this interview.
Major Nelson: Thank you!
The interview was a bit bumpy, the Major got called away a few times (not his fault) so there’s a bit of chaos going on in the line of questions. That’s what you get when you don’t schedule your stuff in advance. Sorry about that.