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LOS ANGELES — Marc Whitten faced some tough questions from the press after Sony outshone Microsoft on Monday in the dueling press briefings on the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. On the surface, Sony scored a victory when it told a cheering crowd that it would price its PlayStation 4 at $399, $100 cheaper than Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One video game console. It also pleased the gathering by saying it wouldn’t charge for used games.
But the fight for the hearts of consumers is just beginning. The Xbox One goes on sale in November, and Microsoft has plenty of time to fight back. We went deep on some of these questions with Whitten, the chief product officer for Xbox at Microsoft. Here’s our edited interview.
GamesBeat: Remind us of what you do.
Marc Whitten: I’m the platform guy, so I deal with how we use the cloud, the Xbox Live system and how it works, apps — all that kind of fun stuff.
GamesBeat: So do you want to talk about the price and used games? [Laughs] Sony seemed to get a lot of applause when it announced its policies for the PS4. If you look more into it, I wonder what your answer would be. It seems like there are some asterisks to what Sony has as well. The PS4 don’t have Sony’s camera in the box so it can make that box cheaper, but you’re paying extra for it on the side. It matched the cost of Xbox Live by making multiplayer something you pay for with PlayStation Plus. Sony exec Jack Tretton got quoted [Tuesday] as saying Sony will leave used game fees up to its partners.
Do you think you have something to answer with, given these are some of the details?
Whitten: I’m not spending time looking at what they’re doing as far as their policies. What I will say is that I’m focused on how we build an amazing premium entertainment experience for our users. To me it’s key, as we look forward, to think about the advantages that come with digital. Once you have a complete digital ecosystem, it’s a better experience. You can instantly switch. Your family can see your games. You can see all of your games regardless of which Xbox One you’re on. You don’t have to remember to bring discs with you. All those things become second nature once it’s a digital ecosystem.
That said, we know that there are still a lot of advantages to physical discs. They start with some basic things. A physical disc gets down to the hard drive very fast, because the games are big. It’s a good way to get it on to the console. We know people like to sell their discs back at retail. So what we’ve tried to do is bring forward many of those advantages from physical discs as we transition into this digital future, which we think is really key. That’s why we’ve focused on enabling scenarios like gifting or the ability to resell.
We’ve also focused deeply on how the family can have one shared view of all their content, regardless of who bought it. We’re starting to build the foundation of how my digital content just works for me wherever I go. I hope that when people get a chance to see how it works, they’ll like the way they get to interact with their content.
GamesBeat: Was there something in the thinking that drove this change in the used game policy? What specifically was just not working for you?
Whitten: Again, it doesn’t have to do with used games. It has to do with how we create a digital ecosystem for content. How can we make sure that all of your content is always with you? That requires thinking about the architecture for the future. Suddenly, you’re talking about how I have my content stored in the cloud and how it’s everywhere. Now we have to start to think about how we can bring forward into that world many of the things people were used to in the physical one. It’s been about how to add that into what we see as the digital future for content.
GamesBeat: Is it unfair that some people are simply characterizing this as Sony scoring some points against you Monday?
Whitten: Sony’s building a great program. I actually think it’s great to be a gamer right now. I hope that it’s a great time for platforms to be successful, for there to be amazing new games. That’s what makes it fun to be here right now.
What I’ll say is, I feel proud of our games lineup, games like Titanfall, like Project Spark, like Forza. They show off both the fidelity of what you can do with Xbox One and what happens when you can start counting on the cloud for new ways to interact. When you look at what we’re doing with Kinect and with all of your entertainment coming together, we’re building an incredible value for people.
GamesBeat: Could you address this interpretation – is this right or wrong from your point of view? Both companies were able to tap very similar PC technology from AMD, tweak it for their own purposes, and put it in the box. You guys invested more in Kinect, putting dedicated processing for that in the box, which probably costs a little more. You have three operating systems running, which takes some of your RAM.
All things being equal, it would seem like Sony would have more power dedicated directly to games performance, whereas you guys are multitasking more. But the cloud processing is one thing they haven’t talked about. I don’t know if they can do it or not, while you guys can compensate for processing power that isn’t in the box itself.
Whitten: Again, I’m not spending a ton of time thinking about the architecture of their system. We’ve built an architecture that we think is going to allow the true next generation of gameplay. The raw power that exists in the box; you saw that in the games. Clearly, it looked next-generation. But it’s also a matter of how we can interact with that content, how Kinect and your gamepad can work together to create a better experience. By using voice, I have more control inside of that. And then of course, as you said, the ability to use the cloud natively in games is key.
There’s a lot of complexity behind the tool set you give to people to create these experiences. [Turn 10 Studios creative director] Dan Greenawalt talked about Drivatars and what that was going to mean for the end of A.I. in Forza 5. When you step back and think about what’s happening, they’re running these massive neural networks to understand how you drive – and not just you, but how everybody drives in Forza, so that they can be constantly calculating how that would play out across the universe of Forza players. They can do that only because they have access, in an incredibly deep way inside the architecture, to drive that experience end to end inside their game.
The other thing about the architecture that is key for what the next-generation gaming experience is going to be like is things like Twitch. The power of Twitch to say that in any game, I could decide to start broadcasting, and our platform natively allows that to happen so that I can create my own gaming experience. That is about gaming. It’s about how gaming gets better with Xbox Live and this architecture.