Interview - Stephen McGill, UK Xbox Boss Talks The Future, Halo, Rare & More

Richard Walker

Microsoft has achieved a hell of a lot in just over eight years since first launching the Xbox brand and likewise, Xbox Live has grown and flourished as an online service, adding new entertainment applications and games on a regular basis.

It's by no means perfect, but Microsoft seems to know what they’re doing and know it has a good thing going in Xbox 360. With the tail-end of 2010 seeing some of the biggest titles yet to hit the console (granted a lot of them are sequels, but they're high profile sequels nonetheless) and Halo: Reach now out, we caught up with Microsoft's Xbox & Entertainment Director, Stephen McGill during the huge Halo: Reach launch party to talk all things Xbox.

We asked what the future hold for the Xbox brand, the usual burning questions regarding Kinect and how its major first-party developers are going to be delivering big things in the future, with particular focus on Rare and 343 Industries with the Halo franchise.

Did our hard-hitting interrogation techniques and prodding with a big stick get us the answers we were looking for? Read on to find out...

With such a strong line-up for 2010 with the likes of Halo: Reach, Fable III, Crackdown 2,  Alan Wake and so on, what have you got in store for 2011? Obviously, we already know about Gears of War 3...

I'm not going to unveil any new releases tonight unfortunately, so we're very focused on Halo: Reach, then Fable at the end of October and then Kinect into November. But yes, April 2011, we're launching Gears of War 3 then, and that's going to be pretty amazing.

Obviously, we've got plenty of things up our sleeves. We've got things like Flight Simulator and Age of Empires coming out from a PC point of view and we've got lots of projects in the works from an Xbox 360 point of view. Watch this space. We've got things like the Tokyo Game Show coming up in the next few weeks and we've got plenty of events through the early part of 2011, so then we'll start talking about 2011, as soon as we've got this stuff out of the way.

Now that Microsoft own Rare and obviously, you work very closely with them, is there a chance that we'll ever see the developer returning to its roots in core gaming as they're associated with more casual games these days?
Rare has a huge and amazing heritage, and I grew up playing a lot of Rare titles. So, I had a lot of personal interest, a lot of personal history before I even started working at Microsoft and so I love their work. Rare has been incredibly busy getting ready for Kinect, so a lot of their focus has been – as I'm sure you're aware - to get things like Kinect Sports ready, so it's all hands on deck for that one. But they've got quite a few things that I'm sure we'll be talking about in due course.

With the Halo franchise now firmly in the hands of 343 Industries, are you able to discuss what they might have planned for the next game and whether we'll see it this generation or the next?

Well this generation is here for a long, long time. I think there's still a lot of legs left with the Xbox 360, so we're years away from contemplating what comes next. As you know, with Xbox 360 we constantly innovate with the current console you have, through extra services on Xbox Live that we can pump down the service, then obviously with Kinect; that's a massive game-changer for the industry, transforming what entertainment in games can be for friends and family.

343 is working really hard with Bungie to get Halo: Reach out the door, then they'll probably take a few days break to celebrate what's set to be an incredible launch and game of the year for 2010. What happens next? Well, they're not going on holiday away too far, so with Halo: Waypoint already on Xbox 360 and coming to Windows 7 mobile phones, we'll be keeping you up to date with lots of Halo information and news etc. So, watch this space!

Will Microsoft continue to work closely with Bungie despite them working with Activision now? Will the relationship between MS and Bungie be preserved?

You'd have to talk to Bungie about that. They've got some interesting and exciting projects planned for the next few years, but then we've got some incredible games planned and plans for the Halo universe beyond Halo: Reach, which we'll talk about in due course.

Do you feel that the DVD format is holding the Xbox 360 back in terms of its lifespan? A lot of people are saying that embracing Blu-ray would extend the 360's shelf life.

I think people may have spoken about that originally, but that's long gone. I think people now recognise what a smart decision it was to keep the pricing low, and actually Blu-ray is going to be passed by as a format. People have moved through from DVDs to digital downloads and digital streaming, so we offer full HD 1080p Blu-ray quality streaming instantly, no download, no delay. So, who needs Blu-ray?

In terms of Xbox Live, what have you got planned in terms of additional services to add extra value to a Gold subscription?
Xbox Live is a phenomenal heart within the Xbox 360 and it's been built from the ground up. I think people were surprised when we brought broadband gaming in the box from the word go, and we believe in that and have proven that the model works; it's a great success and everyone's enjoying it.

It's moved from being a purely online gaming service to supporting gaming and broader entertainment. It's moved to movies and it's moved to TV, so you'll continue to see us move down that path as well as continuing to enhance all the gaming dedicated focus, like for fans of Halo and core gamers. They need great gaming experiences and we're going to keep delivering that in spades and keep adding great entertainment for friends and family, so something for everyone!

On the topic of core gamers, a great deal of them are crying out for core games on Kinect. What are we likely to see in the way of core games for Kinect?
I think you're going to be really impressed and really amazed. Obviously, gamers of all types – casual or core gamers – they love sports games, they love driving games and having fun with their friends with music games and so on. When we launch Kinect on Xbox 360 in November, we're delivering all of those kind of things: driving, sports and other fun games, but we're only scratching the surface. Over the next few months and years to come, you're going to see an incredible line-up of great gaming experiences that you really honestly can't even dream of right now.

The technology has been in developer's hands for a while now, so you're going to see some incredible stuff. Something for everyone, as you'll see when we start showing a bit more detail about Kinect Sports, Joy Ride and stuff, you're going to recognise that there's actually a ton of fun for core gamers and casual gamers alike, where you'll be able to scratch the surface or go as deep as you like. Then obviously from a technology point of view, being able to control your 360 experience through hand gestures or playing a movie just with your voice, that's some really cool stuff that core gamers are going to love.

Where do you see the Xbox brand being in say, five years or so?

The heritage of where Xbox has come from is clearly a gaming background. I think the key to whatever we do with where Xbox goes we have to keep that and be true to that and keep delivering amazing gaming experiences for gamers. But we are more than just that. In the last few years, we have broadened as a product, as a brand, as an experience to more members of the family and different age groups, so we'll continue to do both. It's not a case of, we have to make a choice.

If you're smart and you have great developers with great ideas – and we have those – you can service the core gamers with incredibly great core gaming experiences and still go for a broader, casual, more family-friendly focus. The two are not mutually exclusive in their own right. People have possibly done it wrong in the past on other platforms, and I'm looking forward to showing what can be achieved this Christmas.

So you don't think it's a delicate balancing act to please both the core gamers and casual audiences?

I don't think it's particularly like a balancing act. Core gamers are very sure about what they want and I think we're servicing them with things like Halo, obviously FIFA's looking great, Call of Duty (Black Ops) is looking great, Force Unleashed II is looking great, Gears of War 3 is going to be great, Fable III is amazing, obviously Reach is incredible and so we have an incredible line up of games that people are familiar with and we have new IP for gamers, so there's plenty for them and I think they're going to enjoy Kinect as well. We're thinking about both audiences, all the time.

There's been an incredible influx of top quality games on the XBLA lately. Has this been a conscious business decision as they're quicker to make and cheaper to produce?

They're often quicker to produce than some full retail games, but some are incredibly deep, incredibly innovative and often smaller teams can work on them so they can come out a little bit faster for people. And some of the ideas we come across for the Arcade are amazing and then there's lots of heritage, lots of great IP that people want from the past that are able to come back on Xbox Live Arcade. I think it's a great development platform for publishers with new ideas and some great heritage content.

And so that's something that you'll continue to nurture and support then?

Absolutely, yes!

  • Wasn't it Rare who made Banjo Kazooie? a next gen game would be amazing.
  • prety sweet err kinda
  • I like change as long as it's good change
  • I hope Rare is working on a new game worthy of the name Banjo-Kazooie. Let's go back to it's platforming roots baby!
  • "Rare has a huge and amazing heritage" Not on the planet that I live on Earth!!
  • @ #1 yes it was Rare who did that, and they made a next-gen Banjo almost 2 years ago...I'm not sure how well it ACTUALLY did, but Microsoft did make it a platinum apparently it sold quite a few copies...there was even DLC and 250 additional gamerscore for it
  • Rare should just do a next gen Conker, it would be epic!
  • @6 most fans consider it an unfulfilled franchise- it was exactly a return to the good old simple platforming days. The concept was staggering but it just wasnt Banjo-Kazooie at heart.
  • @5 your either being sarcastic, or do not know an awful lot about video games. True it has been many years since their n64 glory days.. but still..
  • @8 very true, nuts and bolts just didnt have the B-K soul in it. @5 which Earth have you been living on because it clearly isn't the one the rest of us are on. Hopefully Rare will make a return to the good old days, here's one vote in for something made of pure awsome from them...
  • @9 he is just stating facts. no where did #5 say that the game is good, just that it sold well apparently. I like how McGill avoids the questions such as "Now that Microsoft own Rare and obviously, you work very closely with them, is there a chance that we'll ever see the developer returning to its roots in core gaming as they're associated with more casual games these days?" and the one about the Blu-Ray Drive.
  • I love how these corporate guys never directly answer a question. It's a real skill, when you think about it. BK:N&B was a decent game but no, it wasn't the Banjo Threeie we were all hoping for. For a developer that once churned out so many AAA titles, I do wonder what their excuse for stagnation really is...
  • "We've got things like Flight Simulator and Age of Empires coming out from a PC point of view" Hold on a second. There's another Age of Empires coming out!!? Why is this the first I've heard of this? Since Ensemble was disbanded after Halo Wars who's making it? "I think people may have spoken about that originally, but that's long gone. I think people now recognise what a smart decision it was to keep the pricing low, and actually Blu-ray is going to be passed by as a format. People have moved through from DVDs to digital downloads and digital streaming, so we offer full HD 1080p Blu-ray quality streaming instantly, no download, no delay. So, who needs Blu-ray?" This is a laugh. We are a long time away from digital downloads and streaming from becoming the main way for most people to get movies/games/etc. Internet speed is not anywhere near fast enough for most people yet.
  • There are way too many sequels about. Instead of pissing about with Kinect they should try and come up with some original games instead of the same old shite all the time.
  • Kinect? *yawn* im sick of reading about it. Its not even out yet and its becoming old. I hate how they never answer a question, they just go on about the same thing in every answer.
  • I like the response about digital downloads over Blu-Ray.. This is the UK Xbox boss... although he doesn't seem to understand that the UK doesn't have free internet access, not everyone has an unlimited download cap and some areas of the UK still don't have access to service providers who can offer a service which would provide for uninterrupted streaming. Add to that the point that a lot of people still would like to have a physical item (game/movie disk etc..) when spending their money. Who needs Blu-Ray or even normal DVD's? Well more people than he apparently thinks.
  • It makes me laugh when they go on about all these so called extra services for Gold members like facebook and twitter. 99.9 % of gamers also have a pc so can get all this crap for free anyway. So whats the fucking point? Why not just make cheaper arcade games, or DOTWs which are actually worth having.
  • Typical PR response, but the again that is whats to be expected with any company.
  • #5 "Rare has a huge and amazing heritage" Not on the planet that I live on Earth!! Err Rare was reponsible for Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Goldeneye, Blast corps, Conkers bad fur day, Perfect Dark, just to name a few. Im gonna assume your 10 and never played a console before the 360.
  • Rare needs to make a new Banjo platformer. Something amazing & none of that Nuts & Bolts crud.
  • why is it when someone form MS gets asked something about the future they always talk about old shit and don't answer the originally question.
  • i lol'd at "who needs blu-ray?" yeh sure you can download a film in 1080p on the (imo substandard) zune player, but you can only watch it once in a 24 hours period before having to pay for it aqain. do me a favour!?!
  • i love rare, hope they make a 400 hour long platforming banjo game.
  • Bring back Conker's!
  • Rare used to be amazing, but I thought most of the devs left and set up elsewhere when they were bought up by microsoft. I don't think we'll see the relative quality of what Goldeneye, Donkey Kong or Blast Corps were back in the day.
  • Good read. But I really do hope they will not put too much focus toward Kinect, neglecting games without support in the process....
  • #25 I agree. Rare used to be big but severely died down. Still, how sick would that be if Rare re-made Goldeneye 007 for the 360 (They have one coming out for the wii, but cmon... really?)
  • He basically dodged every question with a vague, "We've got something planned, but we can't tell you" answer. It's quite obvious you have something down the line, unless you want to see Xbox majorly fail and die. T_T
  • "we've got some incredible games planned and plans for the Halo universe beyond Halo: Reach, which we'll talk about in due course." please do something as epic as Halo: Reach and Halo 3
  • Rare should make a new Viva Pinata :-)
  • New Viva Pinata would be great, but I wouldnt doubt if they made it for kinect. Rare is responsible for some classic games, I personally thought Nuts and Bolts was amazing.
  • I don't think that Rare have that spark that they had during the 90s. Don't get me wrong, I loved Nuts and Bolts but with Avatars and Kinect should Rare really be doing this? The guy said himself that Rare have an amazing heritage so with Microsoft tasking them with doing the more casual stuff is a bit of an insult to that history.
  • lol i fucken knew it, it was never gonna stop at reach LOLOLOLOLOLLL
  • Gears Of War 3 yeah! kinect no...
  • Ugh, not totally convinced by that interview... still sounds like they're wanting a big piece of the casual pie, and it seems to the detreminent to the people who bought the console in the first place... TO PLAY FUCKING GAMES! Also, #5 I hope your either really oblivious or young enough to still be wearing diabers. They made: Banjo Kazooie/Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye 64, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, Battletoads, Killer Instinct and CONKERS BAD FUR DAY (best game ever)! All off which could be considered top of their genre. They 'were' amazing back in the day, the best developer around BAR NONE.
  • Agree with the first part of comment #35. Microsoft really seems to be focusing on the casual market, if that means the core market gets a beating then I'll stop being loyal to the xbox and will try to find my core games on a different gaming platform. And Stephen McGill also claims that the xbox still has a huge lifespan, however I highly doubt that. PC is becoming more and more superior to the console so I think it's about time a new type of console will be released.
  • Every company, even Sony has said they're focusing more on the casual and younger market, because Nintendo has shown that's where them money is. I see 2012 as another great year for core games, but I think we're going to see a drought in 2011 for games. Unless you consider the over 9000 Call of Duty titles planned for 2011.
  • this guy answers questions like my ex. riddled with avoidence and vague as fuck lol
  • More somewhat-old-school (see: N64) style platformers, please. Microsoft needs to pump out a few Mario quality games for those of us who are too cheap to buy a Wii.
  • "Rare has a huge and amazing heritage" He must be talking about a different Rare than I've heard about. To me, Rare has maybe one or two great games, a handful of mediocre games, and at least two that are absolute shit (Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Tooie). I will never understand the attitude people like #35 have, the LAST thing I would say about Donkey Kong 64 was top of its genre. Donkey Kong 64 could be the only platform game every and it'd still be the bottom of the genre. And while some of the other games he mentioned are alright, by no means are they the best of the best. Rare stopped making really great games once the SNES went away... They had some passable N64 games but it was clearly the start of their decline, not when Microsoft acquired them like people love to QQ about.
  • "A lot of people are saying that embracing Blu-ray would extend the 360's shelf life." All I can say about that is a lot of people aren't too bright. All blu-ray offers is more space on a single disc... That's it. Having a blu-ray drive doesn't suddenly increase the power of the CPU and GPU and add a 15% boost to the RAM. All it does is allow more storage space per disc. And that's not something that's desperately needed right now, is it? I can't find a concrete list of every 360 game that comes on multiple disc, but I'm willing to bet that it's not a whole lot in comparison to the entire 360 retail game library. And hey look, there you go. If the game won't fit on 1 DVD no matter how much you compress it... Use another one. Problem solved, blu-ray not needed for increase of the 360 as a game console. (Cry all you want, changing DVDs once after hours of play in order to have many more hours of play is not that big of a deal. Get over it.) As for movies, I think Mr. McGill already answered that aspect more than adequately.
  • *increase of the life of the 360 tucking fypos :p
  • @#37 - Rage, Deus Ex, Dead Space 2, Dragon Age 2, Crysis 2, Bulletstorm, Ghost Recon, Gears of War 3, Dirt 3, Batman: Arkham City, Duke Nukem Forever, and the list goes on.
  • @#43 Does Mass Effect 3 belong on that list as well? Because if that's true, 2011 could become the best year in terms of gaming for me.
  • Anyone who is defending the lack of bluray these days should be looking back at the CD/DVD age. It wouldnt be any issue if there wasn't some sort of dispute between consoles. Blu-ray is part of our future and for the increased resolution on textures and videos what we are now seeing, it's pretty much a solid answer to the need of digital space on disc. Also it is much more scratchproof than DVD. Nothing more I hate is playing multidisc DJ on a console.
  • @44 Nah, expect it on 2012 i think it would be too early to release it on 2011. But damn i wish they did hahaha :)
  • put Diddy Kong Racing on XBLA!!!!!!!
  • When it comes to the Rare thing, give us a next generation Jet Force Gemini, life will be good.
  • @41 more & more devs are complaining of the limited space of DVD its holding back what can be done on games. the whole point of blu-ray is space what are you talking about cpu & ram for, you would to be a fool to think it adds more power its about SPACE. plus blu-ray 2.0 will be out next. so is the next Xbox going to be download only I don't think so. PSP GO has proved that peps are not interested in a download only service for a long time yet.
  • Same old bullshit :yawn:. What else is new. Always trying to cut from the casual pie. And avoid answering anything directly or with substance..
  • @13 I would agree, with regards to blue ray it is a mistake by MS as I dont download games or movies as my Hard Drive is only 20GB. I'd rather have some new games than fork out for a new Xbox or HD. And renting movies sucks when you can buy Blue rays and DVDs ever more cheaply these days. Blue ray is where its at its just a shame MS is up its own ass. Xbox is about core gaming for me and I hope they do keep that going cos things like Kinect and all this other shit is a waste of time when my computer and Sky box do the job far better.
  • @41, I guarantee you that Halo: Reach's lack of character development and other features lacking in campaign would've been addressed if they had more storage space. Storage space IS important, any tech savvy person could tell you that.
  • Sweet. More Age of Empires and more Halo. Epic Win. Though, I'm just a little worried that they will eventually start to milk Halo and Age for all they're worth, and start shoving out crap games with the brand names on them, especially since both Bungie and Ensemble are no longer involved in these games.
  • Wouldnt conkers bad fur day be a nice next gen game? i would be really excited if they made it or at least an arcade game from the xbox version
  • Rare, needs t bring back classics to the 360 Arcade! Can anyone say Jet Force Gemini?!
  • Wow. This guy talked a lot and didn't say jack.
  • The only old school games i would love to see from Rare is Killer Instinct 1&2. Countless hours in the arcades playing KI, yes great memories of those i have. Bring em back with hi-def graphics and audio on XBLA, oh yeahhhh!!
  • @56 This guy should be a politician.
  • cool
  • Rare - Redo Jame's Bond Golden Eye!!!
  • cool
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