With Microsoft’s NXE update right around the corner, Tamer Asfahani interrogated Xbox LIVE UK marketing manager James Holton about what we can expect from the coming update, and from the rest of the year. The pair discuss Facebook, Twitter, Games on Demand, Last.fm, and of course, the Sky service.A full transcript is right below the video.

The first thing I want to say is – obviously from an Xbox 360 point of view – it’s always been about and always will be about gaming entertainment as well, so making sure we’ve got the right experiences for people from an Xbox 360, whether that’s our own first-party titles like Halo ODST, Forza, Gears of War – those type of titles – but also at the same time making sure that we are also looking at positioning Xbox 360, particularly around the Elite, from a more entertainment perspective. So it’s got the additional hard drive space for the game add-ons, Arcade games, movies, that kind of thing as well, so really sort of moving the console or keeping the console in its gaming roots but extending into like an entertainment foray if you like.

Things like the ability now – or in the Autumn time – to watch the Sky content on your console, to interact with your Facebook and Twitter accounts, the Last.fm streaming, as well as the kind of 1080p streaming of movies, kind of add more to make Xbox 360 more than just a gaming proposition.

Part of the update that we’ll be launching shortly will give a new level of interactivity to Avatars. When we launched NXE we said one of our goals was to always have like an Avatar marketplace where you can buy and get different items for your Avatars. That can be things like branded items. As you can see there the guy’s wearing a Halo shirt. Also, Avatars themselves will also have things like carry-ons, where that’s a little radio-controlled car and that kind of stuff, so just adding more detail and more functionality to Avatars to make them continue for them to be an integral part of the experience.

Other little things here like Summer of Arcade, so that’s currently a focus on our Arcade titles like Trials HD, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, things like ‘Splosion Man which seems to be going down really really well at the moment. The next thing along is obviously 1 vs 100-

Also going very well.

Very well, yeah. Launched probably three weeks ago now, the real-time interactive quiz show where you’re playing against other people over Xbox LIVE to win, in the UK, real prizes which obviously has gone down really really well. Huge uptake in the first few shows over the first weeks, and people are really excited about the fact that you’re actually winning real prizes and competing against other people, so that’s been a great success for us.

The next one here shows Games on Demand again from the update that we’re going to do shortly. You’ll be able to directly download full Xbox 360 games direct from Xbox LIVE. From an Xbox point of view it’s about giving the consumer choice. We haven’t launched the service yet so when it launches we’ll see how we go in terms of demand for it as a service, what games are being downloaded, the types of games, are there certain genres that are more favourable than others, so I think it’s a case of – launch the service and see what happens in terms of what people want from it, and tailor the experience from there.

Moving onto one of the new applications that will come in Autumn is Facebook, so the functionality on Xbox 360 to link to your Facebook account. This just gives you a flavour of what the Facebook application will look like. You can interact with your friends, see them online, messages, profile, that kind of stuff. I think for our audience photos are going to be the key, because – we’ll just show some examples here – you’ll be able to go in and look at your photos full-screen from the comfort of your sofa on your big-screen TV, which is a great kind of functionality that you’ll only get on Xbox 360.

It’s about giving people the choice in what they want to do. If you’re more into your gaming experiences, you may not be interested in applications like that. However, if you’re new to the console market and it’s things like Facebook and Twitter and Sky that are going to get you excited about the console, then that’s probably what you’re going to use. Again, it’s about delivering the choice of what people want and Facebook is one of the things that people are excited about.

I’ll just show you Twitter. This is a video that just shows you the look and feel, so again it’s not set in stone that this is what it’ll look like but again, just for those people that are into Twitter and Tweeting then obviously you’ll be able to do that on your console as well.
{PAGE TITLE=Holton on NXE Update Page 2}

The deal that we’ve signed with Sky – obviously we announced it just before E3 – coming in this Autumn time frame, you’ll now have the ability to watch Sky content on your Xbox 360 over Xbox LIVE. Depending on whether you’re an existing Sky subscriber, or yes or no, or you can just sign up to Sky Player on its own, there’ll be something for you from Sky that you can watch on your console. For me it’s a case of a great catalogue of VoD – video on demand – content linked to my Sky subscription, or I think… probably more exciting is watching live Sky Sports, at home, in another room, not clogging up the household on a Sunday afternoon watching my live Premier League football. Coupled with that, exclusively on Xbox 360 will be the functionality for your Avatar Parties. This is where you’ll be able to watch your content together in your Avatar Party, the concept that we launched with NXE. So you can sit-

It’s a virtual cinema, almost?

Yeah. You and eight of your friends can be in your Xbox LIVE Party watching your Sky experience whether that’s a Premier League football game or a TV show, and interacting and chatting together over headset. Or you can have the view where your Avatars are actually sitting in front of you and you can gesture to each other all the time when you’re talking. You can either do that and watch the content with the Avatars sitting in front of you, or you can just at the flick of a stick zoom in and you can just be watching it full screen, but all the time you’ll still be connected to each other. Xbox LIVE really pioneered the idea of being able to play together when you’re not together and I think this takes that one step further from an entertainment proposition, of being able to watch together when you’re not together.

Let’s talk facts then, James. I think this is one of the big concerns. People are already paying a Gold membership fee, and presumably this’ll be available to Gold membership subscribers. However, what’s the subscription? Are we looking to be paying another subscription on top for Sky? What’s the situation with Last.fm? How do the licensings work, and what will we be allowed to see for free?

I think from a Last.fm perspective we’ve already been quite clear with that, that Silver users will get a small amount of trial opportunity, and then Gold subscribers will be able to interact with Last.fm as part of their Gold subscription. With Sky, we haven’t made any announcements on exactly what you will need and what packages, but ultimately there will be a number of scenarios if you are an existing Sky subscriber and a LIVE subscriber who’s accessing kind of like VoD content as opposed to live TV, that kind of stuff…

It’s complicated. Let’s face it, I have BT at home, I have BT Vision on demand, I have all of that stuff, but I also have Xbox. Now I don’t have the sports channels, I don’t have Setanta or whatever it is. But I think the biggest issue is here – and I’ll be honest with you – people aren’t paying for the PlayStation Network stuff. That’s all free. There’s not Gold subscribers or Silver subscribers on that. You introduce another payment method, albeit Sky or something, you’re gonna have to look at the model –

I think for us it’s about putting more value behind the Gold subscription, so things like the Facebook functionality, the Last.fm, the 1 vs 100 are to make sure that the subscription that people are paying for is more than just the multiplayer gaming. That’s obviously a key facet to it, but it’s about delivering more experiences to that Gold consumer beyond just gaming.
{PAGE TITLE=Holton On NXE Update Page 3}

But you could argue that Sony are doing the same thing with Netflix. In America, not necessarily here, but…

But that’s still a paid-for experience though, that’s the thing. I think you’ll get to a point where you’ll have your LIVE subscription and that’ll give you entitlements, and obviously Gold subscription is going to give you a lot more entitlement that being a Silver subscriber, and these experiences are to give value to that Gold subscriber. I think what PlayStation are doing is different. In terms of the Sky functionality, that’s a whole new world that’s going to be explored by us and Sky together and is exclusive to us.

When we get more detail on how the Sky proposition will work, if you’re an existing Sky subscriber versus a non-subscriber and what you might be required to do, then people will be able to see based on what they have and what they want, what they need, and whether they’ve got it or not. It’s a little bit difficult for me to comment too much, but-

Are you thinking about opt-in opt-out service? Are you thinking about maybe a one-off payment for, say there’s a football match you want to watch, just one match…

Sky Player today that exists on the PC is a one-month rolling subscription, so it’s ideal for people who don’t want a 12-month subscription or don’t want a satellite dish, or can’t have a satellite dish – they live in shared accomodation, or it’s a listed building, or they just cannot get the signal that they require. Sky Player is a great alternative because it’s this one-month rolling subscription for you to dip in and dip out of that content as and when you want it. Again, it’s not about us trying to tell people how they want to view stuff, it’s about us offering the choice. If you’ve got Sky at home today, there’ll be ways in which you can access their content. If oyu haven’t got Sky at all, then there’s also ways of you being able to get the content. More will become clear as we get closer to launch and we’re able to firmly nail that information and what that model looks like, but I think people are going to be pretty pleased with it.

Sky Player as a platform is a streaming service-

So you don’t need any other equipment, you don’t need a Sky box, you don’t need any of that stuff.

Nope. So as long as you’ve got your Xbox 360 and your broadband connection with LIVE, then you’ll be able to sign up to the service and it’s all streaming content. Whether it’s the live TV service or whether it’s VoD, the content is delivered to you streaming.

What’s the minimum connection you’re going to need to be able to stream this properly?

At the moment, it’s still early days in testing so as part of the announcements we would give people a guide of what that stream would be, and at the moment we’re not there yet to comment on it, but you can access Sky Player on your PC today. I use it at home now and I only get two, three meg through my line, and the experience is fantastic. So it’s going to be dependant on people’s broadband connection and the stability of it and everything else like that as well, but essentially it’s-

It’s not going to be broadband heavy.

No, I can’t see it being massively broadband heavy. It’s not going to be like a 50 meg line or anything ridiculous like that!

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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