"Xbox, Bing, Batman"

 

Discussing the Future of Xbox Live with Xbox Canada’s Glenn Purkis.

 

Microsoft’s Xbox Live dashboard update is old news – premature stories about the debut of the cloud save service were even appearing earlier this week – but many hardcore gamers still aren’t sold on the benefits of Kinect. Microsoft is hoping to change that. The peripheral will be featured during this year’s Summer of Arcade and – more importantly – Kinect can also narrow the distance between you and Batman, so it may yet prove to have some applications beyond Dance Central. At E3, we spoke with Xbox Live Canada Product Manager Glenn Purkis about the new features headed to Xbox Live and the challenges of operating in Canada, so keep reading to find out more about Microsoft’s plans for their ever-evolving online community.

Comics and Gaming Monthly: What are you doing this year to improve Xbox Live?

Glenn Purkis: We’re going to integrate Kinect right into the Dashboard experience. Currently, there’s a separate Kinect hub when you want to navigate Kinect experiences. Now it’ll be fully integrated, so you can either use your controller or use Kinect and your voice to navigate the dashboard. We’re also going to be integrating Bing to help simplify discovery. You’ll be able to go “Xbox, Bing, Batman,” and then it’ll pull up not only the Batman games, but because we have games, movies, and TV, you might get a Batman movie, or maybe a Batman animated TV series.

CGM: So it’s about increasing the vocabulary of Kinect so that it works with more things on Xbox Live?

GP: Correct. Getting the voice recognition to be specific to what you’re looking for.

CGM: You keep mentioning all of this other content – stuff like Netflix and Hulu – but not all of that content is available in Canada. Are there any plans to get more of those features to Canada in addition to the States?

GP: For sure. I live in Toronto, and I want that rich kind of content that’s out there globally. Hulu is exclusive to the U.S., but we’ve announced that UFC and YouTube are coming to Xbox Live globally, so Canadians will be able to get access to that. And what’ll be great is that also we’ll leverage Kinect to be able to use your voice to control the experience.

CGM: Since consoles are increasingly becoming universal hubs for entertainment, do you find that it’s easier to seek out new content partners than in the past?

GP: Well, certainly. Beyond the announcement of this new content – and we do already have Zune video and Netflix – it’s now about content partners locally that would resonate with Canadian Xbox Live members and trying to open that door and explore those opportunities. So definitely, we’ve been getting the message for the last few years that [the Xbox] is more than gaming, and that it’s an amazing platform for great games but now we have all this rich entertainment content.

CGM: This year’s press conference had a huge push for Kinect game content. How are those games going to be incorporated into Xbox Live? How are you going to show off what Kinect can do in the context of online gaming?

GP: I think you’re seeing examples with Kinect Sports: Season Two continuing as a rich multiplayer experience. You’re seeing…I’m trying to think of some other examples, from a Kinect perspective. I think, definitely, the commitment is to continue to drive the key value of Live all along, and that is multiplayer gaming, and so as more and more publishers get on board with Kinect, exploring those multiplayer experiences.

But one thing that we’ve been doing from a broadening perspective is video party. It’s taking these multiplayer experiences you’re seeing in traditional core games and bringing it to this other kind of experience in entertainment. If you and your buddy both subscribe to Netflix, you can actually be watching a movie together in completely separate homes. With Kinect, you’re not attached to a mic, so you can be laughing together and joking around while watching content together. It’s looking at multiplayer in different ways and how Kinect – the technology – can bridge people together in that social way.

CGM: Gears of War 3 debuts later in the year, and you’ve also announced Halo 4. What do you want to do to improve the online experience for the hardcore player?

GP: There were two new features that were announced and that will come with the update later this year. First off, cloud saving. We’re providing our members the ability to log into Live on any console and access your game saves from anywhere. In my example, I’ve got brother-in-laws in Windsor, and inevitably, the first thing they ask me when I step in the door is “Did you bring your Gamertag?” I’m playing co-op with my brother-in-law for Gears of War 2, and sometimes we’ll play on Live, and sometimes we’ll play together on the same couch and take that same game save and continue it. Now it’s seamless. He can come to Toronto or we can play there. I really like that in terms of flexibility.

The other thing that I think will help on the multiplayer side is Beacons. This is the idea of being able to send out a blast to your Xbox Live and Facebook friends that you’re up for a game of, let’s say Halo. You’re not on console, you’re not literally playing Halo, but you want people to know you’re in for it. So who’s up for a game of Halo coming up? With that Beacon, folks will be able to respond back to you to say, “Yeah, get on your console, I’m up for a game.”

CGM: Is there anything else that people need to know about?

GP: Summer of Arcade. It’s our fourth year of Summer of Arcade and we’ve got five wicked titles coming. You’ve got Bastion, an RPG with really nice hand drawn graphical elements and deeper narrative than you usually find in a download. You’ve got Toy Soldier. Now it’s the Cold War, so we’re revisiting that franchise and that tower defense style multiplayer game. You’ve got Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. It’s a 2D sidescroller, but with a really dark, fun, atmospheric Alien-esque environment.

You’ve also got From Dust. This is a god mode game where you’re manipulating the environment and how it influences the humans on this island. There are beautiful mechanics for the water and lava flow, and how you’re manipulating your island to save them or do whatever you want.

The last one is a Kinect title for the first time. Fruit Ninja. You’ve seen that on mobile phone, where you’re hacking and slashing with your finger. Now you’re flailing your arms around, and it’s beautiful. It’s really responsive to Kinect, and you can actually play side by side with a friend.

CGM: How successful have promotions like the Summer of Arcade and the House Party been for you? Do you find that you generate more sales and publicity when you release these downloadable titles in groups?

GP: We want to draw attention to the lineup, so we’re trying to profile some of the best of the best out there at that time, and we know our members really enjoy it. So it helps in spring, which is not traditionally your big fall title launch. It offers nice, rich balance to the traditional big gaming windows. There are amazing games to download, and we want to profile them and work with our partners so that we can build a program around it. So yeah, it definitely helps to draw attention to those games.