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Microsoft making $1B bet on Xbox One games, says bigwig Phil Harrison

GamesBeat: Do you bring your disc with you, or could you use his disc?

Harrison: Doesn’t matter, yeah. If I bring my disc with me and I leave the bits on his hard drive, but he wants to play the game, he can buy the game — just like today. But in this instance, the bits were already on his hard drive, so it’s an instant switch-out. We will have a solution — and we’re not talking about the details today but just to take the angst out of this — that allows a user to trade that game back in and to give up the right to play that game.

GamesBeat: Backward compatibility is an interesting question because cloud technology has arrived. Technologically, it seems possible to do backward compatibility, but it sounds like physical backward compatibility is not possible because there are no similar chips in there.

Harrison: Backward compatibility is a non-trivial engineering task. We have made a very conscious decision to invest the system resources in building experiences for the future rather than supporting backward compatibility. The only thing that’s portable from 360 to Xbox One are your media purchases: Your music and your television shows and your movies that you purchased through the Marketplace.

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GamesBeat: But could Microsoft still choose to release a version of a 360 game that’s playable on this new box? You’d download it from the cloud and play it on your new machine.

Harrison: That is not our plan today.

GamesBeat: Is that another issue of resources, then? Or is it something else?

Harrison: My personal perspective is that backward compatibility is a relatively narrow moment in time. If you want to plug your Xbox 360 into HDMI in, you can.

GamesBeat: I like this whole cloud hardware idea, though.

Harrison: It’s a wonderful quote. Did you pick that up from Mark’s speech this morning? Day one of Xbox One, we will have over 300,000 servers dedicated to Xbox One in the cloud, which have an equivalent computing power greater than the world’s computing power in 1999.

GamesBeat: John Riccitiello wrote an interesting piece yesterday. He was addressing price, and you guys aren’t talking about that yet, but some of these issues seem to resonate. He thinks it’s in everyone’s interest to have the right price on this, to have plentiful supply, and to have the entertainment options there but not weighing down the box and making it complicated to find and discover your games. The games should be front and center. If you add too many options, at some point the interface becomes harder to use.

Harrison: The dash experience you saw today is dynamic. It’s personal. It’s customized to you. The last things you played or did on the platform are the things you see first when you switch the machine back on again. As you play games, games will be the things you see. The more games you play, the more games will be recommended to you. That will learn over time. It will get more perfect to your choices, to what your friends are playing, to what you like, [and] to what your region likes.

As a user, you are entirely in control of how your dash ends up being populated. Either explicitly by saying, “I want these things to go here,” or dynamically because of the choices you make.

GamesBeat: Is there a big increase in the staffing here? I think Phil mentioned that there are more games in the works than ever before — 15 big games coming and eight completely new ones. That sounds like a pretty big investment. I don’t know if it’s caused the organization to get bigger or if there were comparisons to 10 years ago.

Harrison: I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but I know that IEB has grown every year for the last few years. We’ve made a substantial investment in our hardware team and a substantial investment in our platform teams to allow the innovations that you saw today. From a studios perspective, we are investing, I believe, a billion dollars for content development just for games, which is more than we’ve ever spent in our history. We’re starting new studios. We’ve started studios in London [and] in Los Angeles. We’re growing our organization. This is a fantastic opportunity. It takes a lot of people.

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GamesBeat: Do you guys support something like Unity as well?

Harrison: We have a relationship with Unity on 360, but we have not made any announcements about Xbox One.

GamesBeat: I’m just wondering about how you would get to the broader number of games. Sony chose Unity to make it easier for people to port any cross-platform games over to the PlayStation 4. You do support apps, so there’s a larger possible number of developers. Do you expect thousands of games to come in through the wider funnel there?

Harrison: You know better than anybody that Microsoft has had a long-standing investment in excellent developer tools. It’s a core principle of the company. Whether it’s on the Xbox side or the Windows 8 side, there are excellent tools and support for developers. That will continue to be the case. I don’t think we’re deficient in that space in any way. I was always very envious of Microsoft’s investment and capability in this area when I wasn’t here.

GamesBeat: A part of the world that’s different is the mobile developers. How do you invite some of them in? Because of the curation, do you want them to be part of this as well?

Harrison: We want great experiences that are well-suited for our platform. Our platform supports many different types of experiences whether they’re controller-based, whether they’re SmartGlass-based, or whether they’re Kinect-based. We welcome one and all. The more developers, the better. The more content that we get for our platform, the better. That makes the ecosystem more vibrant. It makes the content possibilities and opportunities more local around the world, which means experiences that are culturally relevant to a broader set of countries. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.

GamesBeat: How do you make this an even bigger thing — an even bigger business than it was in the last generation?

Harrison: If we had just introduced a game console, I think our market overall would grow. But by having a game console combined with reinventing TV, making your TV really smart, [and] making the entertainment you love easily and readily accessible all in one device, I think we give permission to a whole new set of consumers to adopt our technology. By making it simple and instant and complete, it means we can get men, women, old, young to enjoy playing and interacting with the device. It’s not just about core gamers; although, they are incredibly important to our future. It’s also about finding entry points for all members of the household.

One of the things that I don’t think we truly understand the significance of yet is automatic identity through Kinect. If your wife or your daughter or your son or yourself starts interacting with the machine, it instantly switches to their choice of content, their profile, their personalization, their recommendation. That alone, that simplicity, is going to dramatically increase the number of people who want to interact with Xbox One. Whether they choose to play games or consume other forms of entertainment is up to them, but I think that giving them the permission, if you see what I mean, or reducing the barriers to entry is one of the smart things about the strategy that will grow the market.

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