Xbox One's New Update Possibly Most Significant in Console History, Microsoft Says

"It's arguably the most significant release we've ever made to a console--and that anybody's ever made to a console."

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Today's the day. Microsoft on Thursday released the long-awaited New Xbox One Experience. It makes significant changes to the divisive user interface and introduces, among other new things, Windows 10 as the console's underlying OS and backwards compatibility support for (some) Xbox 360 titles. The update is so large that Microsoft has been testing it with Preview Program members for months now. In fact, Microsoft's Mike Nichols tells GameSpot in a new interview that it's not only the largest update to an Xbox console ever released, but possibly the most significant update made to any console in history.

"It's arguably the most significant release we've ever made to a console--and that anybody's ever made to a console," he says.

Apples-to-apples comparisons to other updates for Xbox and PlayStation consoles isn't easy. But it's clear that the New Xbox One Experience marks a major change for the Xbox One--and it comes at an important time. With more than 29.4 million systems shipped, the PS4 has been the overall sales leader since launch. But Microsoft is expecting that this update--along with the company's lineup of exclusive games and 13 different console bundles--will lead to a "massive migration" of Xbox 360 players moving forward to the Xbox One and in turn help narrow the gap between it and the PS4.

"The combination of these two things, the new interface as well as support for Xbox 360 games, launching those along with the best games lineup that we've ever had, it's an exciting one-two punch if you will of great games and enhancements to our platform," Nichols said. "These two kinds of enhancements at one time probably make this the most significant improvement to an Xbox console that we've ever done at one time. Together, all of that stuff makes for a fantastic holiday."

"We really pride ourselves on listening and prioritizing feedback from our audience." -- Nichols

Nichols explained that the NXOE's primary goals are to improve the dashboard's overall speed and intuitiveness. He admits that the Xbox One's dashboard is at times too difficult to navigate; some functionality is too hard to find. That's changing with NXOE, as you should now be able to find things with fewer button presses--in some cases, you'll see a 10X improvement in this area, Nichols claims. And once you get into games, performing popular actions like starting a party, seeing what friends are online, and communicating with them should be faster, too.

"There are certain features that have been on the list that the team and I have been working through that we really wanted to make available to people," he said. "Certainly an updated Guide with quicker access to common things you try to get done is certainly something that we've been thinking that we'd like to add. Making sure that the more social elements are more readily available."

Nichols also points out that the Activity Feed--the console's Facebook newsfeed, of sorts--is a feature that users love...if they can find it.

"When people find it today, they love it," Nichols said. "It gets fantastic engagement but it's just a little too buried. So we want to make sure that those really highly satisfying features that are not as discoverable as we'd like were available to the broader audience. We don't want you to have to hunt and peck for those things. We really pride ourselves on listening and prioritizing feedback from our audience."

We chatted with Nichols about a lot more as it pertains to the NXOE. Check out highlights from our interview below.

On the Benefits Of Adopting Windows 10 on Xbox One

"On the straight performance side, as a result of adopting Windows 10 as the underlying operating system powering Xbox One, we do see just straight performance improvements. But I would say that the bulk of the performance improvements that customers are going to enjoy with this rollout were improvements to how intuitive the user experience is and how few steps are required to accomplish things that you want to do in any one time."

Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols

"On that front, in some cases, there is a 10X improvement...with the way that experience has now been designed where it's an overlay on the game, only a click or two; you can do those things so much faster than you previously could. I think it's really going to make a big difference. Satisfaction on Xbox One today is really high, and we're really pleased to see the satisfaction with it. But we push ourselves all the time to make sure that it's fully optimized and getting as good as we can possibly make it."

On Xbox One Backwards Compatibility

"We recognize that people have invested so much in terms of buying games and they have established friendships with people that they don't want to leave behind. And so, what we've set up to do with backwards compatibility is really remove that concern or alleviate that concern that somebody has to leave something behind. It was the number-one most requested feature among Xbox 360 owners who did not upgrade to Xbox One yet. And so we're really excited about starting the rollout of that in November."

Backwards Compatibility Was Not Always a Sure Thing

"I do remember when the new Xbox leadership team came together; myself, Phil Spencer, and the other members of the team. We did talk about this. Phil challenged his engineering team to go take a look at it. As I recall, it was a little while before they came back and said, 'Gosh, I think we might have cracked it.' We weren't sure it was possible to get it done. And the team managed to come back and crack it."

"I remember the meeting where they showed a single game running--it blew all our minds. Holy smokes, this thing is real. That happened a while back at the first meeting I saw it demonstration of it. And then in the few months leading up to E3, we briefed publishing partners that we were going to introduce the capability; we had to make a decision as to whether or not we could scale it up. And of course, we want to make sure we can support it with our own first-party titles. So that's where the ultimate decision was made, in the couple months leading up to E3 and then we felt confident that we could do it and have the right kind of density and games for it to make a difference for customers."

"And publishers were supportive of it--publishers of critical games were supportive of the concept and we decided to go forward with it. The response then and since then has been really great and that's been very motivating for the team to continue to work through technical issues to deliver it."

On the "To-Do" List for Future Xbox One Updates

"We always have a to-do list [laughs]. A little less on user experience redefinition and more just on features we want to add that we think would be cool or customers have asked for. We'll continue to work through that list as part of our regular releases. What is the unique thing about the system we built and the engineering cadence we're on is that we really in general don't want to wait to give value. When we have a new idea, we want to roll it out right away. When we hear that there's feedback, we want to address it right away. The release cadence that we're on on a regular basis allows us to do that."

"Competition is healthy for everybody. It's resulting in some terrific gaming systems and terrific games and hopefully a lot more fun for customers; ultimately, that's what we're all in this thing for." - Nichols

"In this very special case, the Windows 10 operating system being available, us wanting to offer backwards compatibility, a new UI; in this particular case, we're having one big, monster release. It's probably the biggest release we've made. It's arguably the most significant release we've ever made to a console--and that anybody's ever made to a console. But that's not going to stop us from continuing to innovate on a monthly basis. We probably won't do anything in December because that's kind of the time when people are playing games and you just want to make sure the system is locked down. But when you get into January, February, March, etc. we'll be back on regular updates."

On the Release Schedule for Future Xbox One Updates

"The answer is there no set schedule for major user experience changes. We only really want to introduce a lot of changes when we have incredibly high confidence that the upside from the change is really going to deliver fantastic results for people. Because once somebody gets used to something, it can be disorienting to have a change. So we really want to be thoughtful about when we do that sort of thing. And we feel really good about the layout that we are introducing with the new UI and hopefully that layout continues to remain and still intuitive and well-designed that we won't have to make a lot of changes."

"We'll just add more features and tweak things as opposed to a more fundamental re-think. If we find, over time, that there is a better way to navigate information then we will go ahead and try to do that on whatever time frame we find and is necessary. We feel so good about this experience that we want to see how people react to it. There's no set frequency; we'll do it when we feel like we can make a big improvement to the experience for people."

On Why Competition Is Good

"I definitely think it's going to be a big holiday for Xbox fans. Our primary focus is on our own pace. Our primary focus has and has been and remains on really delivering great products for consumers. We do feel fantastic about the lineup we're delivering. We have chosen really to focus on delivering new value and when you put together the exclusives, backwards compatibility, and all the great third-party games coming, and the new experience innovations that we're introducing...we put all of that stuff together with [bundles]. We really feel good about the value we're delivering per dollar spent.

"And certainly we feel it is probably the strongest value message we've had of value per dollar spent. I feel like it compares very favorably with other alternatives in the market. But ultimately, customers are going to decide. And that's one of the really great things about our industry--is that competition is healthy for everybody. It's resulting in some terrific gaming systems and terrific games and hopefully a lot more fun for customers; ultimately, that's what we're all in this thing for."

On Steps Being Taken After Last Year's Christmas Day DDoS Attacks

"It's certainly something that's concerning for us. We take it very seriously. Our obligation to our customers is to deliver not only great games, but a great service behind it. And so, that was a pretty unfortunate situation there. We are doing a lot of work on our own to anticipate different things and to work with the industry, other platform players, to share best practices and discuss how it is that we can do a great job for fans together. We are taking a look at that."

"We do have several things that we are doing to continually improve stability of the service and we'll see what happens. Of course, the challenge...there's kind of a scale challenge and then there's an attack challenge. We try to put measures in place for both of those. But that's something that will be a continued effort for our service team and we have a great set of people who are very committed."

Further reading: All 104 Xbox 360 Games Playable on Xbox One Via Backwards Compatibility

Note that the NXOE is rolling out today, November 12, in waves, so you may not get the update right away. In addition, support for backwards-compatible Xbox 360 titles begins at 12:01 PM PDT.

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