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X10 Interview: Aaron Greenberg Talks Xbox's Past, Present and Future
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Underneath the hustle and bustle of Microsoft's X10 - yes, they shoved us in the basement... kind of - we got chance to sit down with Microsoft's Director of Product Management, Aaron Greenberg, to see what he had to say about everything from the competition, to the upcoming Natal. Interesting stuff if we do say so ourselves...

It’s a pretty impressive line-up of games considering that you’re obviously holding some stuff back for E3. Do you think that the Xbox is unique in this respect. Having such a strong line-up before the big show of the year?

We haven’t done this type of showcase this early on in the year historically, I think the fact that we’re showing what many believe as an E3 quality of game line-up in early February here at X10. I think it’s reflective of the type of year we expect to have. We said at CES at the start of the year that 2010 will be the biggest year in the history of Xbox.

We didn’t just want to say it, we wanted to back it up... we’ve got Splinter Cell: Conviction, we’ve got Alan Wake, we’ve got Crackdown 2, we’ve got Fable 3... we even have what people think will be the biggest game of the year, Halo: Reach. These games are all here and are all being shown and it’s only February. And these are all exclusive triple A titles that should sell millions of units, I think it’s a pretty clear sign that this is going to be a pretty huge year. And that by the way is only a glimpse of what we have for the full year. We’ll have more at E3, more for the holiday, it’s going to be a huge year for the platform.

Compare that to the PS3, there’s nothing in terms of numbers to match aside from God of War, Heavy Rain, etc... Is that your business plan?

I think that’s what we wanted to say... you know, “hey if you’re a gamer and you’re really interested in core blockbuster titles, there’s no other platform that offers more titles. No other platform that offers more exclusives.” Obviously there’s going to be great games on the PlayStation 3 and we respect that, but our goal is to have the most blockbuster titles and the most exclusives and I think we clearly have that this year. I think this is going to be a big year for us, not just for core games, but what we’re going to do with Xbox Live, being able to bring Project Natal to market this holiday and it’s really an exciting year for sure.
 

Did Microsoft miss a trick last year when failing to respond to the PS3 slim? Did you make a mistake in not counteracting it?

Well I think it’s a different perspective. I mean, we were already pretty cemented ahead of them as far as install base goes with the console. You know, we felt like we had a console that was already smaller than their console and we’re being able to innovate with things like Xbox Live, with a great games line-up, we were at that mass-market price point, roughly like €100 cheaper... Oh I should do pounds...  £79 cheaper than the PS3, so that price point is really where we made our investment.

What they were faced with was an entirely different perspective. You know, like... how do we get our price points down? How do we get more competitive? So they did that by releasing a different console. There’s trade-offs, right? They took out a lot of functionality by doing that. We feel good about our hardware and we’re really thinking about how can we continue to innovate with this console? We did it with the New Xbox Experience, we did it with Project Natal, we did it by a lot of the things we added like Facebook, Twitter, the move store, etc, this last holiday. I think there will be more to come, but who knows... we’re always going to have to respond to the competition and think about new ways to innovate.

Do you think the fact that Xbox 360 exclusives are appearing on the PC is holding back PS3 owners from purchasing an Xbox?

Well I can’t think of any of our big triple A exclusives that we’re showing here that is available on the PC, so if I think about for example, Crackdown, Alan Wake, Halo: Reach, Fable 3, all these titles as far as I’m aware are being designed primarily, if not only, for the consoles. The fact that some of these titles do end up on the PC, I don’t think impacts us that much. I think that we still have a larger exclusive line-up on the console.

Is this true Xbox 360 exclusive label the reason why Alan Wake isn’t PC bound and Fable 2 never ended up there?

I think that’s just more of a business case, like what’s the cost in having a team dedicated to making that game on the PC, how many units will you sell. I think the real market opportunity today with those types of titles is primarily on the console and so different types of experiences on the PC are driving that space.

There’s no, “we’re not doing it because we only want it on Xbox,” if there’s a business case for it to do well on the PC, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do that. We do have resource issues, so we have a number of people that work on these teams, and how many people can work on a game across multiple platforms, but beside those trade-offs, there’s no other real motivations.


You recently announced that you were cutting support for the original Xbox. How big a decision was it? Was it because numbers were dropping or because it was holding back the infrastructure?

We gave it a lot of thought and it was not a decision we made easily. We had a lot of people talk to us, our partners talked to us about cutting off Xbox Live support, you know, a long time ago, and it was really something that we didn’t take lightly. We knew that Halo 2 for example was one of those titles that was the first time millions of consumers really played multiplayer games online, but we are at that point now where that community has largely transitioned off and on to the Xbox 360, and now, by discontinuing that support, we’re able to add more functionality into the Xbox Live service on Xbox 360, so not having to think about the legacy of Xbox Live on Xbox 1, and really being able to optimise for the new service will allow us to bring new features to the market.

Is one of those a friends list extension?

It’s something that we get asked about a lot and we have heard from folks that they want to be able to extend the friends list. It’s something that we are looking at. We haven’t officially announced anything but it is something that we’re aware of.

The difference between the services as you probably know is that Xbox Live on Xbox 360 is built into the platform, so as we did things like the New Xbox Experience, as we added new features, we were able to add that at the platform level. With Xbox Live on the original Xbox, many of those features are actually hard-coded into the original games. So now we’re working in an environment at the platform level, we’re going to be able to innovate and add more features without having to necessarily support that... like that friends list integration where you could see your friends on Xbox 1 or Xbox 360. Having that new flexibility will allow us to bring more features to the Xbox Live community on Xbox 360.

So Project Natal, would you say it was aimed at the mainstream or core market?

So I think that Natal will bring an entirely new category of experiences to the platform. I think that who they appeal to will range. I think of it as additive. Controller-free gaming entertainment. The ability now to interact with games and have entertainment experiences where you don’t have to use a controller. Where it can see and track your body. Where it can hear your voice. These are going to be new things that have really just never existed before. I think that we’re focussed on delivering original high quality experiences, so I think that, when you think about those, I believe that many of those will appeal to the core and the much more broader consumer.

We absolutely believe that there’s an opportunity to allow consumers who maybe haven’t played games before or are much more casual users to interact with the Xbox and make it much more approachable. Without a doubt, that’s a key focus, for example, our vision is to allow you to navigate the interface and be able to do that with your hands... with your voice.

As we all know, you probably have stories with relatives or parents that, you try to explain to them how to play a movie on the Xbox and first they have to pick up the controller and it just starts to become an interesting process, but if they could use their hands to navigate or say “play movie” with their voice, these are things that now anybody can do. Really making it as simple and accessible as possible is one of the key tenets of it.

A lot of naysayers say that Natal is just a jazzed up Eye-toy, how do you respond to that?

I think we could have obviously done a motion controller if we wanted to do that. We really felt like that would be much more like an iterative experience. Our belief was that there was an opportunity here to really do something that’s transformative and to bring a whole new category of experiences to life. I think the fact that now we’re saying to creators, we can see when you move your hand, we can see when you move your feet, we can track your body... I can stand in front of the sensor and it can recognise my face and can recognise the difference between me and my brother, or my sister, or whoever it may be, so I think that the richness of the technology is going to really enable experiences that have never existed before.

We’re not just thinking about what we’re putting out this year, but I think 2, 3, 4, 5 years from now as this evolves. We believe that millions of consumers this holiday will be able to experience Project Natal and that this is just the beginning of something I hope will change the way that consumers interact with entertainment and change the way that our publishing partners think about game development.

Have you though ahead to whether you'd like to go one better in the future and create a Project Natal 2 if everything is successful?

That’s a tough question. I think for us it’s hard to think 2, 3, 4 years out, I think that what we feel like today is that we’re not even halfway through this lifecycle and so, we feel like what we’re doing with Project Natal, many people feel like that is a next generation experience, but we’re able to deliver that this generation, so that’s the exciting part about it. You don’t have to go and buy a new console to get this experience and it’ll be interesting to see how that experience evolves and what type of things get brought to market.

Are you planning on bundling Natal with the console?

We haven’t announced any of those types of details or where we’re at, we’re still in a codename status. We unveiled the technology last year at E3, now we’re heavy in the development process, working with our development partners. We’ll showcase the actual games and experiences and talk about what the consumer name for the product is later this year. Definitely make sure you come to E3, we will be announcing a lot of things there, but we’ll share those things when we’re ready.

Do you see this as a repositioning of the hardware? Should core gamers be afraid of this focus shift? Do you feel you are betraying them somewhat, like Nintendo did with their motion controller?

I don’t think they should because what we’re saying is that it’s additive to the experience. I think what Nintendo did was they said, “we’re going to remove the controller and give you a wand and all your games you’re going to play with a wand.”

What we’re basically saying is, we’re going to have the best controller based blockbuster games that exist anywhere, the most exclusives. I mean we showed multiple rooms filled with games here at X10 and then, on top of that, we’re going to enable all these controller free games and entertainment experiences, so it’s not a matter of making the trade-off, we’re just saying this is just additive on top of what we already have.

I think our commitment to core gamers continues with the outline that we lined up for 2010. But we're able to say on top of that, in the same box, you can get all these great ways to play controller free which is fun for not just gamers, but for other folk in the household that aren’t necessarily going to play Halo: Reach, but may want to pick up and play games with other members in the household or access their entertainment in new ways. It’s an exciting time and I absolutely think that there won’t be any trade-off from a core-gamer standpoint.

"Social networking" seemed to be the buzz words for Xbox Live improvements in 2009, what direction are you planning in 2010? Can we expect to see improvements to the existing applications as well?

As you can see, the last couple of years our focus with Xbox Live has really been on this social entertainment type applications, you’re right: Facebook, Twitter, LastFM, bringing things like the Sky player to the UK, so we’re going to continue, every year to add new experiences, make new improvements to the experiences we have. The specifics around that we haven’t announced, but I know, in the US, there’s an example, when we launched Netflix, we had a certain level of functionality, the following year we added more functionality, we continue to already take feedback from our owners... if there are things that people want us to add or to change, we’d love to hear from them. We obviously try to prioritise and address as much of that as we can.

What about "tweeting" in-game?

We’ve had a lot of feedback on Twitter and I think that’s something that we’re looking at. More details to come, but nothing to announce today. Here we’re focused on core games, but know that the Live team are doing a lot of work and we’ll probably share those details closer to E3 time.

It seems recently that previous Xbox 360 exclusives are heading to the PS3 – GTA IV DLC, Netflix – and Microsoft are relying on 3rd party exclusives. Are these timed exclusives and are Microsoft trying to nail those down permanently?

I think what we’ve shown this generation is that we are the platform that has the most exclusive content and I think what we’ve seen is the way you define exclusives has changed, so there are: on the one end you have games that are completely exclusive, that will never appear on another platform, Halo for example. Halo is never going to appear on another platform, that will be exclusive to Xbox 360. You have exclusive game add-on content that’s only being made for the Xbox 360 and will not appear on other platforms. Then you have timed exclusives where you get things first and so, I think Netflix is one example... we had a full two years where we had Netflix before it appeared on another platform and in fact, today, we’re the only place where Netflix is native in the application so there’s no disc required to load, it’s actually built in. So I think whether these things eventually over time come to another platform is not as important as the fact that we want to continue to be the platform that gets more exclusive content and gets things first.

Sure we’d love to always have them forever, but in some cases some of these things do end up on other platforms and we understand that’s the nature of the business. I don’t think you’re going to see things like Alan Wake or anything that we do from a first party standpoint appear on competitive platforms, just like you’re not going to see titles that Sony publishes themselves appear on other platforms. I think that’s pretty safe, but the third party arrangements are case-by-case and some of those things have been disclosed and some of those things haven’t, but we’re obviously excited to have more exclusives in 2010 than the other platform does.




 
 

User Comments

Forum Posts: 59
Comment #1 by J Prime
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:16:42 PM
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whatever happened to shared video-streaming with friends???


Forum Posts: 23
Comment #2 by Freakydeaky9
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:17:20 PM
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cool news


Forum Posts: 10
Comment #3 by DEAD 3Y3 TBONE
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:19:25 PM
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Very nice. Answered a lot of questions in my head. Thanks Webb!


Forum Posts: 88
Comment #4 by Quartered Drummer
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:20:24 PM
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lots of info here


Forum Posts: 1386
Comment #5 by Elit3 m0nkey
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:20:27 PM
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Interesting. Don't care much about Facebook, Twitter etc so I hope we don't see any more social networking apps added. They are right about exclusives though, Xbox 360 has some of the best; Halo, Crackdown. Left 4 Dead, list goes on. If this is what they are show this early in the year, i can't wait to see what else they have in store.


Forum Posts: 223
Comment #6 by Copyright
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 09:57:11 PM
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Nice, I'd love to see the "tough" question though: "Why doesn't MS push/force devs to fix broken achievements?"


Forum Posts: 2
Comment #7 by devin the brain
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 10:27:21 PM
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they are soo right!


Forum Posts: 217
Comment #9 by ASJ07
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 10:41:07 PM
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cool


Forum Posts: 393
Comment #10 by BlackTitan666
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 11:02:31 PM
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@#1 there is shared video-streaming with friends.

I was hoping for a better answer about timed-exclusives. Cause the ps3 getting it is not the problem but the fact that they get it with more content and fixed problems of 360 version, then the 360 is the problem.Like the 360 owners are beta testers, perfect example it with Ninja Gaiden II,Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope and Tales of Vesperia, and then they fix it put it more content in ian put it on ps3.If your going to pay the company for a time-exclusives make sure the keep the game the same when the put it on the ps3.unlike me some gamers don't have both.


Forum Posts: 1541
Comment #11 by Schism
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 11:12:49 PM
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i recently got a Ps3 slim and was disappointed...yeah it does alot...but shit i wanted to play ps2 games. and i agree with #6....i just really hope that Natal isnt a "must"..they really brought it up alot.


Forum Posts: 270
Comment #12 by Levex817
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 11:13:33 PM
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@#6 FUCK YEAH!!! Thats all I can say to that.


Forum Posts: 393
Comment #13 by BlackTitan666
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 11:48:36 PM
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@#6 your right, they should also force them to put avatar awards into games


Forum Posts: 1707
Comment #14 by Emfulz
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 11:59:44 PM
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They should make it where EA can't shut down servers and have to keep them up online if at least 10-100 people play it online a week. :P

I'd like M$ to grab Ratchet and Clank, God of War, and some Uncharted but what would playstation have without those games? :)

It's nice to know that they are going to be working on better things for XBL since they are canceling XBL for original Xbox. Halo 2 will be missed, is there any way for them to make it where Halo 2 can still be played online through an Xbox 360? :(


Forum Posts: 12
Comment #15 by drake4k
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 12:03:42 AM
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well done mate! bravo!!
you really should have your own magazine.. we are in desperate need of a good one right now.


Forum Posts: 17
Comment #16 by LegendaryMSN
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 04:04:01 AM
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nice a great interview!


Forum Posts: 449
Comment #17 by II KaotiK
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 05:18:10 AM
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Wow, amazing interview mate. Loved it all.

~Bryce


Forum Posts: 20750
Comment #18 by Barad
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 05:36:40 AM
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interesting..


Forum Posts: 595
Comment #19 by ZanKioH
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 06:31:51 AM
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Very informative interview, nice work x360a.

Personally i'd say improvements in the field of Facebook/Twitter etc. on the Xbox 360 are unnecessary. I don't know about others, but in my friend list only 1/100 person uses these on the 360. Plus, when i went on it it seemed very backdated to current time on the pc, in terms of facebook updates.

The only thing i really like that has come out of the NXE is the UK Sky Player. It's been fantastic (If it's free :D )

Nevertheless great interview !


Forum Posts: 14
Comment #20 by iHux
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 06:43:58 AM
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good interview


Forum Posts: 561
Comment #21 by TheLastAntidote
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 07:16:03 AM
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Awesome interview! Very informaticve too. I'm in agreeance with everyone else that I don't care so much about the social networking aspect.

Also, it'd be great if #6's question got asked... I would've loved to have seen the response.


Forum Posts: 132
Comment #22 by Udak
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 08:53:54 AM
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I don't know if you guys are aware of this, but 360 has several blockbuster titles in the next year.


Forum Posts: 290
Comment #23 by FroZeNSouL
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 10:26:10 AM
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agree with #6

but also, as ive said before, even though they are adding services, im finding it still hard to understand why there isnt alot more, OR why we are paying for it.
Been paying subscription for 7 years now, and its making less sence now.
I havent got a Ps3 but the fact that the service is free says alot, when they are adding compareable services that are more relaxed. By relaxed i mean BBCi player, when we are given Sky player, that we have to pay for a chopped up service.
And same with Last.fm. Another subscription service. What about Spotify? If we're going to have to see commertial breaks, where they get revenue anyway, give us more functionality, like track listings.
I really dont see how £39 = 1vs100, and ability to access games and services, that you then have to p


Forum Posts: 290
Comment #24 by FroZeNSouL
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 10:27:05 AM
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I really dont see how £39 = 1vs100, and ability to access games and services, that you then have to pay more for :S


Forum Posts: 3
Comment #25 by SoC Steady
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 01:51:27 PM
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@6 I agree 100%


Forum Posts: 125
Comment #26 by Curtieson
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 02:04:51 PM
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"not what will come out this year but I think 2, 3, 4, 5 years from now as Natal evolves."

"That’s a tough question. I think for us it’s hard to think 2, 3, 4 years out."

Anyone notice those two statements? 1) I like where it will be 4 years from now...then 2) I can't think about where natal will be in 4 years. HUH?

Good interview though, good read!


Forum Posts: 127
Comment #27 by t3wargamer
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 02:20:42 PM
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alot more announced at e3..... ANyone think we''l get a gears of war 3 this year???!?


Forum Posts: 2
Comment #28 by sircaradoc
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 03:02:11 PM
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damn... i just typed something in and clicked back. lol. anyways @26, i was abot to post that.

why was nintendo only mentioned just to bash them? nintendo is a way bigger competitor than sony after all in terms of actual sales of system...


Forum Posts: 14797
Comment #29 by Webb [STAFF]
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 05:02:40 PM
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@#28 - They cater to a different audience though. MS & Sony = core gamers. Nintendo = mainstream (with a few core titles).


Forum Posts: 1
Comment #30 by Accel Dance
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 08:13:45 PM
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I remember the days when it was Nintendo that aimed to appeal to the 'core' gamers...*sniff*
I guarantee 80% of people here played N64/SNES, primarily, as apposed to PS1 or Megadrive/Genesis


Forum Posts: 111
Comment #31 by lildevilbmxer
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 09:11:15 PM
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good news story its goign to be a good gaming year


Forum Posts: 2781
Comment #32 by graf1k
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 10:44:31 PM
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Nicely done. Only question you didn't ask that I still want to know the answer to is why they decided to gimp Natal and offload processing for it onto the 360 instead of an internal processor like they originally said. Obviously it's a money issue and they want to hit a certain price point with Natal, but it pretty much guarantees that any Natal games will look inferior to non-Natal games or be very simplistic. I wonder if Natal as it exists today is even capable of that Burnout Paradise demo they showed off a while ago.


Forum Posts: 893
Comment #33 by DaChiefOfOwnage
Friday, February 19, 2010 @ 11:59:30 PM
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Hopefully at E3 they can announce that they've fixed many things to do with LIVE. Firstly, Last.fm and Zune compatibility in New Zealand. Next, make it so you can purchase MSP regardless of your country (I have a UK account so it's VERY hard for me to get MSP here in NZ). And finally, kick developers' asses if they release games with glitched achievements.

So far, Mercs 2 and Mass Effect were the worst in terms of glitched achievements. I know Mass Effect has a perfect track record but for some reason chose me to glitch itself to.


Forum Posts: 174
Comment #34 by speed gun
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 01:55:35 PM
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what happened to more free stuff
they could have given free xbox live like ps3 have given and they could have given that thing ps3 have where they can walk around with their avatar and meet people without having to buy a game


Forum Posts: 174
Comment #35 by speed gun
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 02:06:44 PM
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good job with the interview
but i think that the question
why ps3 exclusives are released on the 360 should have been asked


Forum Posts: 14
Comment #36 by mtbdude641
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 02:50:12 PM
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i think that it is going to be a great year for the 360, ive had like since 2007 and i never regret getting my 360, i have a ps3 also but i havent touched it at all in months, meanwhile i use my 360 just about everyday , cant wait for REACH


Forum Posts: 6
Comment #37 by BruceLee408
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 04:05:01 PM
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Very Nice!!!


Forum Posts: 12
Comment #38 by pvtkjoe117
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 07:26:14 PM
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@#23 You are so right.


Forum Posts: 51
Comment #39 by Tw YellowHawk
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 10:22:04 PM
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If Halo 2 is no longer going to work online they should port it to the 360 for people who still play it online.


Forum Posts: 129
Comment #40 by Xx NTAEndar xX
Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 11:30:47 PM
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Original Xbox forever!!!!! Find another way Microsoft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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