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Zune, Games for Windows, and the Halo movie are covered in the final part of our chat with the European Xbox boss...
In the first part of our chat with Chris Lewis, the European Xbox chief spoke about expanding the Xbox user base beyond hardcore gamers, the possibilities of larger hard drives, and the earlier issues with three flashing red lights. But Lewis' position is more than just Xbox 360 - he's also responsible for bringing Zune to European shores at the end of 2007, as well as Microsoft's latest initiative to kick-start PC gaming, the "Games for Windows" brand. In this concluding part, TVG asks about these broader responsibilities, as well as his thoughts on Sony's European delay for PlayStation3...and a postponed movie starring everybody's favourite Mjolnir armour-wearing super-soldier...
The Xbox 360 is the only next-generation console not to feature a web browser, something that comes packaged with PlayStation3, and will launch on Wii in early 2007. Microsoft also finds itself in stiff competition with a number of other Web Browser developers such as Opera (both DS and Wii use a version of Opera) and Mozilla's Firefox, so are there any plans to spread the reach of Internet Explorer 7 onto the Xbox 360 Dashboard in a future update? "We're focused on creating great gaming and entertainment experiences that work in the living room. We're not convinced gamers want to browse the web on their TVs - that's a job for the PC." It's certainly an interesting answer considering Microsoft's Media Edition of Windows XP, which integrates web and TV into a single Operating System - leaving the question as to why the company isn't interested in converging the technology with Xbox 360?
In the last twelve months, Microsoft has expanded the number of its gaming platforms to turn the focus once again towards the PC. Aimed primarily at the corporation's next version of Windows, the long delayed Vista, 'Games for Windows' is a new strategy that Microsoft hopes to revitalise the perceived demise of PC gaming. A number of features have to be included to a game if it's to appear under the Games for Windows banner, including compatibility with the Xbox 360 Controller. How does Lewis see the new tactic panning out? "We're changing the way we're talking about PC games. The "Games for Windows" name, underscores the importance of Windows as the platform that enables innovative games. We've seen some amazing innovations in PC games since the introduction of MS-DOS over 20 years ago and even more changes since we created DirectX for Windows 95. Microsoft wants to help clarify for consumers that the most innovative PC games are found on the Windows platform and Windows enables the best games experience." Titles either already released or to be released under Games for Windows includes LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Shadowrun, Company of Heroes, and Alan Wake - but only time will tell if the new strategy will prove to be a success or not.
Being a significant cog in the Home and Entertainment Division at Microsoft means that Chris Lewis isn't only responsible for Xbox 360 in Europe; the company has recently release the portable music player Zune on the other side of the Atlantic, and is expected to reach the UK in the fourth quarter of 2007. Explaining the strategy behind the media device, Lewis said, "At the moment, we are focused on creating connected experiences around music for Zune. You can already plug your Zune device into your Xbox 360 to stream music, pictures and video content. Looking ahead, the vision for connected entertainment provides a number of consumer scenarios and with our heritage in Xbox and Games for Windows, gaming is certainly something we're considering for the device."
Of course, no conversation with Microsoft could pass without at least a mention of its most famous IP, Halo, particularly the current issues facing the movie adaptation. Despite signing a deal with Universal and Fox for financing and distribution earlier in the year, and enlisting the high profile support of Lord of the Rings director (and apparent Halo fan) Peter Jackson as Executive Producer for the project, production on the Halo movie was recently suspended, with both movie companies pulling out. Microsoft may have lost two of its financiers, but surely, with a net income of over $12.5 billion (£6.4 billion), surely they could produce the movie on their own if the need arose? "We're intent on bringing a first class film to the big screen for the millions of Halo fans out there. In order to deliver this it has unfortunately been necessary to postpone production on the movie. While it will undoubtedly take a little longer for Halo to reach the big screen, we are confident that the final feature film will be well worth the wait."
The Halo movie isn't the only collaboration between Microsoft and the antipodean Oscar winner; back in September at X06, Microsoft confirmed that Peter Jackson's newly formed Weta Interactive would be working on a new title set in the Halo universe. Described by Jackson himself as a new way of storytelling, little is known about the game, though concerns are already mounting as to whether this will meet the heavy demands of the Halo fanbase. With the suspension of the Halo movie, TVG asked whether Jackson's involvement with Microsoft amounted to little more than a case of name-dropping. "Peter Jackson is an expert storyteller and Microsoft has built an amazing canvas on which the best storytellers of the day can tell their stories. We hope that through our collaboration with Jackson we will be able to truly drive game innovation. With our assistance, the Wingnut Interactive team will bring the most creative game development experts together to redefine interactive entertainment."
Although North American and Japanese gamers (or at least around 500,000 of them) are already playing Sony's PlayStation3, Lewis' constituents are still several months away from getting their hands on the Xbox 360's rival. Having delayed the European launch of PS3 to March 2007, Sony is obviously experiencing significant problems; could Microsoft empathise with their plight? "We know how challenging it is to pull of a global launch and weren't surprised when Sony had to back away from their previously announced launch plans for Europe and Australia."
Now that both Nintendo and Sony have launched their entries in the next-generation console 'war', Microsoft will finally get a chance to see how the Xbox 360 performs against actual competitors. Their desire to top 10 million sales by December 31st is something that the company feels is a realistic goal, though analysts from any number of market research agencies continue to debate how successful Microsoft will be second time around. Several feel that Sony will 'win' in Japan, with Microsoft taking the lead in North America - making the actual next-gen battleground Europe itself...and as TVG found out, the Redmond-based company certainly has a determined Commander-in-Chief on this side of the Atlantic.
TVG would like to thank Chris Lewis for taking the time out to answer out questions.
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