Xbox Live subscribers in the US have been enjoying the ability to download movies through the Video Marketplace service for over a year, and today the functionality launches in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, and Canada. A launch event was held in London yesterday, and we took the opportunity to catch up with Stephen McGill, head of gaming & entertainment for Xbox UK, about his highlights of 2007, what Video Marketplace will offer in the UK, and why haulage companies are benefiting from the popularity of gaming.
GameSpot UK: 2007 has been quite a year. What are your highlights?
Stephen McGill: It's been a really good year for us. Obviously, we launched Halo 3--on my birthday, back in September, so that's why I was quite generous [McGill announced at the launch event in London that there would be free copies of the game for everyone who attended]. It's been a great, great year, and obviously Christmas isn't over yet, and there's still a few more weeks... People are out there manically trying to find parking spaces to buy their Christmas presents, and it sounds like Xboxes are on the list for a lot of people.
GSUK: Are you pleased with the fact that Xboxes, which as you say may be on many people's lists, are actually available in stores? Is that something you've worked hard towards?
SM: It is. We're struggling to meet the demand from every retailer every week. I think we've probably done it better than some of our cohorts out there, but it's a weekly thing--we're getting stock in, we're getting it straight out to the retailers who need it. Obviously we've got three different varieties: We've got the Arcade, the main 360, and the Elite. They're going to different types of customers, and different retail outlets.
It's a fun time, Christmas; part of the difficulty is actually finding enough vans to ship it all around, so a lot of planning goes into that.
GSUK: So someone's making some money from this?
SM: There are a lot of vans on the road, that's for sure.
GSUK: And how's the rollout of the Fall Update (which we seem to have to call it) going?
SM: [Laughs.] The Autumn update, almost the Christmas update! Yeah, it's gone really well, I think people have been pleasantly surprised by some of the new features and experiences that we're offering--obviously, things like Xbox Originals seems to have hit a really nice chord with people, and [the new friend network system] that's trying to create a more social dynamic for the more than eight million people around the world seems to have resonated really well. I think a lot of the enthusiasts have enjoyed the new video codecs that we offer.
I think for parents, offering the family timing and adding more family settings allows them to control the experience of what their children are seeing and playing; I think this is an important thing that I try and talk about as much as I can because not everyone knows about it and they should.
And then obviously we are getting ready for tomorrow [December 11], getting ready for the launch of the video store.
GSUK: How has the delay in downloadable content for Silver members been received?
SM: It's actually something we've been doing for around a year now. There have been some cases where we haven't, and that's been a conscious choice for some of the content, but on the whole there has generally been a delay between a Silver user and a Gold user getting content for some time. It's something we announced about a year ago; our intention was to ensure that we added the value to the Gold membership. I don't think it's seen as too much of a problem; obviously consumers are going to say "I want it all now, and I want it all free," but that's not necessarily the case, so I hope they understand why we are doing it, and I think it's still a great experience for people.
GSUK: Best feature of Xbox Live Marketplace? What's your highlight?
SM: On the Marketplace, I think the Arcade, for me, is generally something I quite enjoy. Seeing a few classics--I think there is such a buzz around next week's launch of Sensible [World of] Soccer, so looking forward to that--I'm personally not, I'm useless at football games. Football games and driving games aren't my cup of tea; I wish they were, I wish I were better at them. But I think the Arcade is particularly, with snack-size gaming, you know, some classic board games, puzzle games, some arcade stuff, and some brand-new IP.
GSUK: In terms of the movies, you mentioned there will be 40 titles by Christmas. For the rollout next year, will it be one movie at a time, or will it be big chunks? How do you see that happening?
SM: It's difficult to say--it probably won't be as organised as that. We're starting with 27 for tomorrow, and then over the next week or two, we'll be adding more and more stuff. Some of the team--they'll have Christmas Day off, but then they'll be back in the office ingesting more content for us. I think we'll have, obviously, things like Ocean's 13, and some more Harry Potter stuff, early in 2008. There's kind of a window between when you can go and see a movie, rent it on DVD, then it can go on video-on-demand, then when it goes onto satellite [TV], then when it goes onto normal free TV, and then when it comes back as back catalogue for anyone to use.
We've got an amazing partner with Warner Bros, and they've got a great back catalogue of stuff, of great movies ready for launch. We'll have more of that content from them coming on board and then we'll have more partnerships as time goes by.
GSUK: I was going to ask about that--you're planning more partnerships next year?
SM: Oh, you could... It would be safe to say that we're talking to a lot of people. Obviously Warner Bros. are the guys we're talking about today; we'll announce more stuff when we have more to announce.
GSUK: And what about television shows? Is that on the plan for next year?
SM: We're focused on movies right now. You know, for us, over here, we've got movies and music videos--in the States, they've got movies and TV. It's slightly different audience profiles, so we've got what's right for our audience--movie and music stuff at the moment--and we'll see where it takes us.
GSUK: Thank you for your time.