Q&A: Microsoft on Xbox Originals

Xbox Live group marketing manager Aaron Greenberg fills in the blanks on the plan to make last-gen's best and brightest downloadable on Xbox 360.

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Yesterday, Microsoft announced Xbox Originals, a new program that will see entire retail games from the first Xbox made available for download on the Xbox 360. Set to debut with the system's next firmware update on December 4, Xbox Originals will offer gamers a selection of offerings including Halo, Crimson Skies, Fable, and Psychonauts, with each one selling for 1,200 Microsoft points ($15).

Although it will arrive several weeks after the fifth anniversary of Xbox Live, Microsoft is still including the launch of Xbox Originals on its list of celebrations to mark the occasion. In addition to the new program, Microsoft will allow Live users to download a free game from the Xbox Live Arcade for 48 hours, beginning on November 15, the actual fifth anniversary of Live. Most Live subscribers will be able to grab Carcassonne for free, whereas Korean users will get a complimentary Hexic 2.

This morning, Xbox Live group marketing manager Aaron Greenberg answered GameSpot's questions about the service, from how often new games will be added to how they're chosen in the first place.

GameSpot: Why offer downloadable Xbox games when they're already backward compatible?

Aaron Greenberg: We've always said we felt like online and digital distribution was the future of this business, and I think this is the next step in that evolution, to be able for the first time ever to allow people to digitally download and own full retail games. We've never done that before. Frankly, I think with the exception of Halo, almost all these titles are next to impossible to find at retail anymore, so we're making them very available to consumers who would like to purchase them.

GS: How frequently will you be releasing Xbox Originals?

AG: [It will be] a very regular flow. Obviously we have a large library of backward compatible titles, so we'll have access to that library, and over the coming year we'll release a very steady flow. Ideally, it will be close to a weekly basis. We haven't ironed out exactly the flow, but it should be similar to what you see for Xbox Live Arcade game releases.

GS: So the work you've done on backward compatibility is the basis for the Xbox Original releases?

AG: Exactly. You basically download the bits of the game and they have to have passed all our backward compatibility certification and testing. We're only going to make available the ones that we know perform extremely well and have a high quality, if that gives you an idea of some of the titles you may see. To start, I think we have a good lineup. To be able to download them, own them, and if you delete them you can download them again, it's very similar to how Live Arcade games work.

GS: Beyond having a game that runs well, what are the criteria for selecting Xbox Originals?

AG: We look at sales of the titles, which is obviously important, and we look at the performance of the game. We also look at a third criteria--if it's a cult classic. Psychonauts is a great example of that. It's a title that maybe didn't sell extremely well, but we know is very popular with our community and is something people would like that is not available at retail anymore. We'll continue to make those titles available.

GS: What steps are being taken to resolve the known in-game issues with the downloadable titles?

AG: We're selecting the titles that have the best performance, so ideally there should be very little to no issues with the games. I understand there may be small things with certain games in certain regions and settings, but we're not changing the games. Whatever's a known issue if you buy the game at retail on a disc is the same known issue if you buy the game as a digital copy.

GS: So there won't be enhanced content or added online play in Xbox Originals?

AG: No. What we're basically doing is taking the games as they were originally created and maintaining that. We want to preserve the integrity of what that original game experience was like. If they have online multiplayer, it's there. Whatever functionality was built into that original game is what people will get. We're not going back and getting the teams that made the game and having them open the vault and recode them or anything like that.

GS: Will achievements, in-game messaging, and the rest of the Xbox 360 trapping be integrated somehow?

AG: It will perform just like a backward-compatible game, so you'll have limited access to those things. You'll be able to hit the guide button to get into the dashboard, but you won't have access to in-game messaging and things like that.

GS: You've already got games from Vivendi, Majesco, and EA set for the service. Which other third parties are on board with Xbox Originals?

AG: My understanding is pretty much all of our top publishers will be part of the program. I'm not aware of any publishers that are not participating; it's more an issue of picking the right titles and the time that they will launch. These publishers have already made these games; I think it's pretty straightforward that they would want to rerelease them digitally.

GS: How big will the game files be?

AG: They vary. I think original Halo ran close to 2GB, to give you an idea. To be fair, there are games that will be bigger than that, but that's the one I downloaded and tried.

GS: We know about Xbox Originals and the Family Timer controls. What else will be included in the December 4 update?

AG: At this point we haven't gotten into any of the other details. Just like any other update, there will be changes to the dashboard and the blades, cosmetic stuff. We always have fine-tuning of playback of movies and music. But at this point, we're going to wait closer until that date--probably the last week of November is when we'll do a lot of show-and-tell with everyone in the media so people can see what they're getting. The reason why we do that mainly is because the team is still finalizing and testing a lot of the functionality. There are always a couple of things that are on the bubble.

GS: Is the 1,200 Microsoft points ($15) price set in stone for all Xbox Originals in the future, or might we see some higher or lower?

AG: Set in stone. We decided to keep it simple. Rather than have some games at $20, some at $10, we kept them all at 1,200 points. Every game will be at that price, set in stone, at least in the foreseeable future.

GS: Is there any way Xbox 360 owners can suggest new additions to Xbox Originals?

AG: Yes! That's one of the things we really do want, because we have this catalog of titles [to choose from]. We'd love to hear feedback from the community on what titles they want, because frankly, we're doing this for them. It's easy to pick Halo and maybe a Fable, but it would be great to know if people prefer Psychonauts or Dead or Alive. Do people want ToeJam and Earl? Jet Set Radio? I know there are a lot of cult classics that were popular, and it would be helpful to get an idea of what people's appetites are for those games today.

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