Q&A: Microsoft on Xbox Live turning five

XBL Arcade product manager Jeremy Wacksman reflects on a half-decade of Live-enabled consoles and what's in store for the future.

by

When Xbox Live first went online five years ago, $49.95 would buy gamers a year's subscription to the service, a headset, and a pair of demos. For that price, customers could play a relatively slim selection of seven titles online, more than half of those sports games.

Today, every Xbox 360 game released has Xbox Live support integrated in it, either in the form of full-fledged online multiplayer, downloadable content from the Xbox Live Marketplace, the full game's availability on Xbox Live Arcade, or even just incorporating the basic friends list, achievement, and messaging capabilities.

As the catalog of titles offered has grown, so too has the number of subscribers. With the introduction of the Xbox 360 in November of 2005, Microsoft staggered its service into the yearly-fee Gold and completely free Silver levels, with online play limited to the former set. As a result of the change, the Live user base has increased dramatically, so much that Microsoft last week announced that it has surpassed the 8 million mark.

With Microsoft celebrating the anniversary of its online endeavor, Xbox Live Arcade product manager Jeremy Wacksman took some time to answer a handful of questions about the Arcade and Marketplace aspects of Xbox Live.

GameSpot: What are the biggest success stories for downloadable content on Live Marketplace?

Jeremy Wacksman: We're very pleased with the success of Xbox Live Marketplace. There is incredible momentum behind Xbox Live Marketplace with 10 billion Microsoft points redeemed to date ($120 million). More than 290 million pieces of content such as high-definition movies, TV shows, games demos, and Xbox Live Arcade titles have been downloaded from Marketplace since the launch of Xbox 360.

GS: Two years after launch, we're typically still only getting two days' heads-up on Live Arcade releases. Will gamers ever get more advance notice about the release schedule?

JW: It is our goal to provide Xbox 360 owners with news on upcoming Xbox Live Arcade-related content on a regular basis, which is often in the week preceding the release of new content on an Xbox Live Arcade Wednesday. We've also started giving gamers a periodic look into upcoming titles by announcing several games launching in a given month-to-two-month period in advance.

GS: We've had fewer demos and Live Arcade games miss promised release dates due to hangups with Live Arcade certification issues. Is that because developers aren't having as big a problem with passing certification these days, or have they just learned not to promise a release date until it is set in stone?

JW: Game development is a complex business and there are multiple reasons why a title might shift launch windows. What's most important to us is that we never ship a title before it's ready in order to ensure great high-quality games for our community. And overall, as developers have become more familiar with making games for Xbox Live Arcade, they've become more accurate with their launch predications.

GS: Last year Aaron Greenberg told us that the Live Arcade business was shaping up to be antiseasonal, in that sales were up in the summer and down during the holidays. Have you seen the same spike in sales around the holidays that the retail business experiences?

JW: Unfortunately, we don't share specific sales/revenue numbers. What I can tell you is that we continue to enjoy incredibly strong growth on the service. Within that overall growth, whenever there is an increased amount of fantastic retail titles launched, like we are seeing this holiday, we see consumers balance their activities between all those new games and Xbox Live Arcade. And conversely, as a digital service we enjoy an increase in attention outside of those retail windows.

GS: Are you noticing Live Arcade sales going up when there are lulls in the big retail releases, or sales tapering off when there's a huge new release like Halo or Madden to compete with?

JW: Gamers have limited time to play, and the appeal of Xbox Live Arcade is that you can jump in and start having fun instantly, whether that's for five minutes or a few hours at a time. When Halo 3 launched, we did see less users on Xbox Live Arcade, and that's attributable to the immense appeal of that title.

GS: Sony is already selling stand-alone retail-caliber games through its PlayStation Network in Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection Online and Warhawk. Xbox Live Marketplace has Oblivion: Shivering Isles and Tomb Raider: Anniversary, but both of those are sold as expansions to existing 360 games. When will Microsoft offer newly developed, previously unavailable full-scale games through the Marketplace?

JW: Since Xbox Live Marketplace launched with Xbox 360 in 2005, the breadth of content available for download has evolved significantly. Now, Marketplace offers everything from high-definition movies, TV shows, trailers, game demos, and Xbox Live Arcade games, and in early December, full-length Xbox Originals. While the service will continue to evolve, we have nothing further to announce at this time.

GS: What did you learn from Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox? Was it a success as anything other than a dry run for the Xbox 360 service?

JW: Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox had a few key successes for us. First, it was essential in proving that Arcade content was in demand with our audience. Second, we created strong partnerships with key developers and paved the way for the development and publishing process in place on the Xbox 360. And most importantly, we established what Xbox Live Arcade was--high-quality, pick-up-and-play games that are quick downloads, provide free trials, and leverage Live.

GS: XBLA has grown to the point where it typically has two weekly releases. You've talked about carefully managing the portfolio of games on the service, so it seems at some point you would want to cap the number of games available. Is there a maximum number of games Microsoft wants to offer? When will we start seeing older or unpopular games removed from the service? Will gamers get any warning before such games are yanked?

JW: We strive for a nice balance of content in the Arcade portfolio, and Xbox Live Arcade is and will remain a service that offers simple, pick-up-and-play experiences for everyone. We're committed to expanding the Xbox Live Arcade library and we just celebrated our 100th title milestone and plan to keep the games coming on the service.

We do not have any plans to remove games from our service. The beauty of digital distribution is that you can maintain a large library without the costs of the retail shelf, and the games on the platform can experience a healthy sales tail over time, which is highly attractive to developers. At the end of the day, consumers have shown the continued demand for more, high-quality content on Xbox Live Arcade.

GS: When the Xbox 360 came out, much was made of the opportunity it afforded independent developers to get visibility. But with the managed portfolio, there are fewer games being released for Live Arcade than are coming out in stores, and now developers are having to compete for approval with publishers like Electronic Arts, licensed games like SpongeBob, and advergames like Yaris. Is the indie community's chance to get on Live Arcade diminishing?

JW: Absolutely not. We have put tremendous effort into creating a platform that enables indie and professional developers alike to make great games for Xbox Live Arcade. Take the Dream-Build-Play game development contest, for instance. This was a program we put together to encourage experienced game developers and enthusiasts to create innovative and fun-to-play video games for Windows or Xbox 360 platforms using XNA Game Studio Express. Because of the amazing creativity demonstrated by the top winners, the Xbox Live Arcade team extended invitations to publish on Xbox Live Arcade to two of the winners. And look at our slate of great recent and upcoming games by indie developers. Alien Hominid and the upcoming Castle Crashers from The Behemoth, Cloning Clyde and Band of Bugs from NinjaBee, the new Mutant Storm Empire from Pom Pom, and the upcoming N+ from Metanet are just a few of the amazingly innovative indies on the platform, and we plan to see many more join in the future.

GS: What are Microsoft's goals for Xbox Live Arcade to accomplish by its third anniversary?

JW: By next November, we hope to continue the incredibly strong growth of the Xbox Live Arcade audience by bringing even more top talent and amazing games to the service. And we expect to see our development and publishing partners continue to raise the bar on quality, innovation, and gameplay. It is amazing to look back at how the service has grown over the past two years, and we are excited to see how much further it will go in the coming years.

Discussion

93 comments
sickside6
sickside6

Nice Work, Xbox Live is awsome

Fauij
Fauij

$50 isn't that much money, its a little over $4.00 a month which is actually a bargin

T070Y
T070Y

if Xb live isnt free, we all know that we will still paying for that service

cow102
cow102

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Moncada5
Moncada5

omrikk87 i think they needed to give more free stuff (they gave themes and pics) for this celebration...perhaps some XBL arcade games for limited time for free or half points or something like that.. They gave out a free xbox live arcade game. But it was for only 42 hours that it would be free

okassar
okassar

Xbox Live is the best online gaming serivce to date,but competition from Nintendo and Sony has been sparking up recently,especially Sony.Now that Sony is releasing Home for free,Microsoft has to work to match that and lower the price of XBL sooner or later.Xbox Live is good because our money is backing its success.But if Sony can back success with its own money,Microsoft's in trouble,and if it takes no action and Nintendo follows online in the next-gen,Microsoft is in trouble if it stays lazy.BUT,too bad Microsoft is the opposite of lazy and will continually improve its service and appeal to its customers.It better....

cheaterking2
cheaterking2

We dont need a free XBL just cut the price maybe 35 bucks for a year of service

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

I think their goal should be to LOWER the monthly fees. Canadian prices are still out of whack to US prices, and it's rediculous. On top of that, we don't even get video marketplace! How abuot getting VIDEO MARKETPLACE working in other countries? That's a good goal for MS. You pay for extra content downloads, AND monthyl fee, so it shuold be if your on gold, free (or cheaper) downloads.

omrikk87
omrikk87

i think they needed to give more free stuff (they gave themes and pics) for this celebration...perhaps some XBL arcade games for limited time for free or half points or something like that..

NinjaMunkey01
NinjaMunkey01

I agree with skirlnik, I dont pay for themes,or to play games online. Therer are some decent games to download aswell. There is literally no lag, and downloading times are reasonable. I personally dont care much for games on PSN or XBL. I just want to play games knowing that there will not be much lag and that I will have a blast, and if I need it, there will be some little games and videos on the PSN, I dont need hundreds of XBL games. Plus the 20gig hard drive would not hole much of this content would it? I see why some people dont mind paying. But I dont care anout some of the extras, all i want is onine games, and a video chat function and themes. PSN is perfect for me.

FueledByMusic
FueledByMusic

I agree that XBL is way better than any other online system but for me im not into the whole XBLA and the soon to come xbox original games that are going to be on the marketplace.

melo_211
melo_211

I agree it's definitely nice that PSN is free, but the quality of the service will never be as good as XBL. I mean, XBL isn't that expensive is it? Here in Canada, we sell it for $59.99 retail for 13 months. So like 70 bucks after taxes for 13 months of unlimited, high quality, user-friendly interfaced gameplay. The money we pay for XBL is what is making it so much better then the fee-free PSN. And I personally really don't mind paying the 70 bucks. (I mean..its like 5 bucks a month...thats like..a combo at McDonalds or Burger King....nobody ever complains about their pricing...so why complain about something that is this good?)

trick6952
trick6952

skirlnik you are an idiot PSN will never be as good as XBL, i would admit that playing games online shoud be free but not as many people want to develop for something that is free

Xrm150
Xrm150

I feel if you buy a game at the store you should get all gamer pics and themes associated with that game for free!

mooseman721
mooseman721

Free, or pay. Hmmmmm, let me think.....

mauro311
mauro311

skirlnik It may be free but because of the oppurtunity to makes some money Xboxlive will always have the quantity edge...things like NETFFLIX and a Tivo like service have been talked about with Xbox live... Which long term will allow you to get ANY MOVIE...as well as record any gameplay on any GAME you ever play making th ings like H alo 3's theater a reality for all games not to mention it will make going to rent movies virtually absolete I dont mind paying...I agree though that interview was impersonable... even though PSN is free it will never get quality just because t heres no money to be made...I pay for net flix right now but If I could just download instead of wait for it to be mailed...good lord...xboxlive has me hooked for life...

Thelmen
Thelmen

high-definition movies, TV shows are only for America ... -.-

b00003243
b00003243

Yeahy for paying for XBL, cheap enough that I dont care, and expensive enough to keep the kids off!! \o/

skirlnik
skirlnik

You guys are cute. What do you get with Xbox Live Arcade that you don't get with the PSN? We don't pay for themes or backgrounds, we get to play online, we get trailers and demos... and it's free. I'll get thumbs-downed until this comment disappears, but you gamers who "gladly pay to renew" their membership make me laugh. Make online play free, offer the HD movie & TV downloads as a subscription service... and you've got me.

ChickenHounk911
ChickenHounk911

There was Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox. I remember my Xbox Live Start Up CD came with a free copy of Pac Man. This was 5 years ago.

DonutTrooper
DonutTrooper

I think it's fair to say that XBL is as much innovation as the B.E./Cell processor or the Wii remote. Almost every game I've purchased outside of RPGs (and some RPGs at that like Two Worlds) have had online in some way or another, and I'm someone who makes a lot of friends outside the immediate area. As an ad in a Game Informer said once, "Distace takes friends apart. Live brings them togeather." As much as I hate agreeing with an idea which is not my own (sorry, but that's just how I am), I have to agree with that notion. High five, Microsoft, you've earned every finger.

qiwihead
qiwihead

What is this about XBL Arcade on the original Xbox? I've been an XBL subscriber since day one, and I don't remember there ever being Arcade games on the original Xbox. What are they talking about?

Hamwrath
Hamwrath

What's wrong with paying for a fully supported, common platform for going online? $50/year is nothing. I pay over $50 a week on gas. I'd rather stay home and rot with my xbox live. Stupid work.

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

XBLA is great for certain reasons and bad for others (*DRM*) I really think that the Arcade compliments the console, but could never carry it. Though; MS could release an $80 system that only downloads and plays XBLA games and people would probably flock to it. One thing I really think MS needs to do is start a pricing structure that will allow them to discount games once they have reached a certain sales mark or a certain "shelf" life. It is strange that some of the original releases from 2 years ago are still being sold at the same price as when they released. Same goes for Gamerpics and Themes. These should eventually go down and price as well (although IMO, most should be free anyway for reasons I won't mention here).

Chief_Kuuni
Chief_Kuuni

too bad we have to pay but I really enjoy it

Pie_FOREVER
Pie_FOREVER

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Holopaw
Holopaw

XBL = Unmatched Awesomeness...Keep up the good work MS

Yuck_Too
Yuck_Too

---HCMF- -- LOL...Your biggest complaint about XBL is it's been slow to grow and doesn't have a browser? 5-years ago Sony was offically stating that there was no business for consoles to be online.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

XBL is pretty damned awesome. Its the only reason I would consider a 360.

yeah_write
yeah_write

Man this guy has to have a degree in public relations. 90% of this interview was regurgitated PR junk.

RELL1K
RELL1K

Zerosumgame "Didn't you realize that most things will smell bad for a prolong period of decay, look like it is rotten to the point that it will smell soon. Stick around." What are you talking about? You can't smell XBL, you can only experience it.

MasterChief725
MasterChief725

well, games for mac are basically ignored. The latest titles dont go to them, look at COD 4 and UT III. All I have really seen is madden 08, doom 3, and halo 1. Dont worry matt, GFWL isnt dying, they rnt going anywhere

matt_dangelo
matt_dangelo

see xbl is 5 yrs...psn jsutturned 1yearold, kudos to MS and their 8 million guys thats a large landmark, and i still think that the serviceshould be free...gmaes for windows live is a smart serviceto, and the interoperablity between them is such a great feature, but with more games going to mac..i hope the gfwl thing doesnt go out the window....darn those macs..lol

jcloverboy
jcloverboy

Best online console service bar none.

darthzew
darthzew

Happy birthday Xbox Live.

HKBrad
HKBrad

I love Xbox Live, but that interview was terrible. Not only did he not answer any questions, but he even wouldn't confirm things his predecesor had said. Totally useless. I hope for it's 5th birthday XBL gets a manager with the authority and cojones to actually state what his vision for the next 2 years is.

HolteEnder4Life
HolteEnder4Life

I dont mind paying for such a brilliant sevice, i mean, the more they make from it, the more they can spend on it

wedgeski
wedgeski

He could have just said, "I have nothing to share, no opinions of my own, and am also an emotionless robot" and it would have saved us all some time. :) Besides that, XBL is still the best online games offering out there. It's worth every penny of my membership and I renew without hesitation.

zidan4000
zidan4000

@ Gr33npixie xbox live is available world wide , you can play at XBL as long as you have a good broadband connection and an xbox or xbox360.

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

missing the point... XBL is a good service, but it has been slow to develope. MIA - dreamcast games, old PC fav's, internet access, more content released at a faster pace, etc. This service is a seperator from the compitition - If it stays stale, it will be stale - what they need is an overhaul, meaning, I can access the web on my phone... In 5 years the service truly has not grown all that much, this is disapointing - but what is there is strong and good.

Gr33npixie
Gr33npixie

Great, now how about bringing XBL to South Africa? it's been 5 years now!? Can't Wait!

zidan4000
zidan4000

ok why he didnt mention a game called the dishwasher dead samurai , omg if you see that game videos on youtube you will be amazed from it , i just wish it releases anytime soon. just keep up the good work M$

Darkside7972
Darkside7972

Bleh, this guy spouts almost as much spin as Jack Tretton. But I digress. Happy Birthday Xbox Live! Thanks for the good times, and here's to another 5 game filled years.

p_angelofdeath
p_angelofdeath

Happy Birthday Xbox Live!!! Hope it's a great anniversary.

frozenchimp
frozenchimp

@chupamelo yea ure right man they should make it cheaper

chupamelpo
chupamelpo

Now that they're five, how about lowering the price. people will get tire and move to the much cheaper or free services.

DKTP
DKTP

I believe if it was free, the quality wouldn't be up to par as it is now. I would gladly pay for a team to build and maintain a network for gaming this robust. XBL will only get better in the future!