X10 Interview: Ken Lobb Talks The Xbox Live Arcade... Past, Present & Future

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Chances are if you've been round the site for the past few days, you'll have noticed that we've been featuring a lot of news and quotes from our interview with Microsoft's Ken Lobb from this year's X10.

The final part of our X10 interview with Ken Lobb is now here as we turn our attention to the Xbox Live Arcade service as a whole.

Are you already looking at other games that you really want to bring to the service after Perfect Dark? Games that won’t be plagued with licensing issues...

We love the Rare old IP. There’s definitely a place. We haven’t announced or started any yet to be honest, but we had success with Banjo and Banjo-Tooie, I expect we’ll have similar success – or better – with Perfect Dark, so it makes sense for us to say, “what other games can we pull back from the past?”

Maybe Killer Instinct?

Ahhhh, Killer Instinct, another one of my babies. I have obviously personal feelings about Killer Instinct, but I do think it’s got a place and again it makes that sort of sense... "Let’s bring something that people loved in the past and see how it does on the Live Arcade." Again, we haven’t started anything yet, so don’t freak out, but  Killer Instinct is something that we’re constantly talking about.

What about a true sequel to the title?

Actually after KI2, we started KI3 so there was some early work done on it. Someday, maybe. I think in some ways – again, we don’t have any plans – but if we were going to do a KI3, we’d probably start with KI1 on XBLA, you know to a.) see if everyone is still interested in the IP, but also as a reminder of what it was like. Street Fighter is a great example of that, right? They obviously did Street Fighter 4 last year very successfully, but right before it, Street Fighter HD. It sold very well. I’ve always been a huge fighting game fan so I never really “got out” of Street Fighter, but when Street Fighter HD came out, I played the crap out of it. I was excited to get Street Fighter 4. I think the same thing could work.

Are there any limitations with the Xbox Live Arcade service these days?

Not really. I mean we don’t have a memory limit anymore. You can basically do whatever you want. Try and build something though that obviously doesn’t cost $20 million to make, so I guess you could call that a limitation. At the same time, I think the advantage of Live Arcade is that we get to be a little more experimental. We get to do things that you wouldn’t necessarily green light for disc.
We’re all kinds of experimental with Live Arcade, just look at the two games next to us [Toy Soldiers and Scrap Metal]. They’re both triple A games easily. Look at some of the things we’ve done last year like Splosion Man, Trials, Shadow Complex; all obviously triple A games. We’re super happy that we’re able to make them and the reality is that we can only make those kind of games because of Live Arcade.
Do you think that’s what separates Xbox Live away from the competition?

Yeah I do actually. I mean, I know that PSN had a nice start with a lot of kind of cool, artsy games... you know, I really love Flower, some of the other stuff they’ve done on there is good. WiiWare is a little bit different, there are a couple of decent WiiWare games, but we’re pushing 300 XBLA games now. And we’ve got at least 50 that, you know, as a gamer, I’d say “everybody should be playing these games.” So you know, I think that we really are above and beyond the competition.

I also think that the XBLA, you could say is a peak at the future; it’s an all digital distribution system that’s making a lot of money. So while other people - everyone - is aiming towards some future where content is delivered digitally, we have a digital distribution marketplace that’s succeeding.

Do you think the low entry price is part of the success of the Xbox Live Arcade?

Absolutely. It’s a combination of low entry price, unique content you can’t get anywhere else and I’d also attribute it to trials – not Trials HD. Every game has a trial, and they’re not demos. When you look at a disc, you get a demo, you decide “maybe I’ll buy that” and then you’ve got to get off the couch and go to the store. With XBLA, you play the trial and you’re like, “that’s fun!” Do you want to keep playing? “Yeeeeaaah!” You know, and you push a button and you download the rest of the bits and away you go. Trials definitely help us.

We have a huge conversion rate compared to everything else in the world. If you think about successful digital distribution on the PC, the best games will convert at 2% or 3%, we see all kinds of games converting at over 20% and we’ve got some games that are close to 40%. So 40% of the people that download the trial go, “this is fun!” and then they buy.

The other thing that’s great today about the Xbox Live Arcade, as opposed to a few years ago, is that people are becoming more comfortable with digital purchase. We were kind of at the right place, at the right time to help the community and the industry move towards people being okay to spend digital bucks to get access to some fun.

Do you see as we get more advanced and the titles get bigger, that memory storage will become a problem?

Realistically, this game [Perfect Dark] is 200 megabytes. It’ll fit on a memory card. Although we weren’t trying to make it small, that’s just all it is. We’ve got Summer Arcade games that are 600 or 700 megabytes, so if you’ve got a 60 gig drive, you can buy 75 games before you run out of space.

The other thing that’s nice about Live Arcade is, you own the bits, but what you really own is the license. So you can delete it as many times as you want and re-download. You can even take your memory card with your gamertag on it and go to a friend’s house, download the game on to his box and you’re playing it at his house... you own it. You take away your memory card, he’s left with a trial. So he can go and play on his gamertag with a trial and decide if he wants to buy it. It is really the ownership in the sky. It’s another thing where people are heading in the future that we’re doing today.

The XBLA Block Party, can you just tell us a little more about this?

Block Party is our late winter version of Summer of Arcade. Now we love Summer of Arcade. It’s a campaign that’s been successful for us twice, but we just don’t have great games in the summer, we have great games throughout the year, right? We just came to a point where we were like, "we’ve got a set of triple A games, it’s time to do another campaign."

So Block Party starts on March 3rd with Toy Soldiers – phenomenal game – then the next three weeks will be Scrap Metal, Perfect Dark and Game Room. What I also like about Live Arcade is, we like the little, “hey it’s Wednesday, BAM!”

Can we expect a similar campaign in the fall?

We have Summer of Arcade coming – we haven’t announced the games yet – but yeah, I think that this is something that we like doing... take a bundle of great games together and build a campaign around it, so yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if as we go forward through the next several years that it becomes more than just about, “this time of the year or that time of the year” and more about, “here’s a set of games that we want to advertise together.”

Is the ultimate aim then to have a triple A title released every week then?

Yes. Absolutely. The quality of Xbox Live Arcade games is an interesting conversation because we like the experimental nature of some games. This week is Darwinia + [Ed: It's out now], you know, a fantastic game. Again, it deserves to be on Live Arcade and as we get more and more games like that, yeah, it would be cool to get to the point where it’s, “Wednesday is arcade day, every week is “Week of Arcade”” if you’re a fan.

I urge people just as a hardcore gamer that you should at least every Wednesday go and take a look at the trial. Make the decision yourself, but play the trial. It’s good content, it’s free and you can make a solid decision on your own whether or not you should buy it.

There seems to be a shift from the normal price-point of 800 points for a good title to 1,200 in recent weeks. I presume that reflects the increase in development costs for the higher quality games. Do you think that price shift will continue to rise as we see bigger and better games?

Well, again, I don’t want to make any concrete statements about price-point, but we feel like we’ve settled at the moment with this smaller things at $5 and most games at $10 or $15 based on, partially how much they cost us to make, but also on the value that we think the game offers.


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