With a backdrop of rollercoasters and gaming dignitaries from around the world, we sat down with General Manager of Xbox worldwide J Allard, to discuss the future of the machine as it enters its most critical phase to date.
After just three hours sleep and a few minutes of haranguing Peter Molyneux, we managed to escape from one of the many parties being thrown. J was fresh of face and in buoyant mood. A little dazed at being coerced, dragged and shepherded by a whole bunch of assistants, organisers and FBI-types with radio mikes, we found a quiet corner and had a chat.
Question: J, you made some interesting comments relating to the future of the Xbox. You seemed to be saying that the machine is evolving into more of a generic hub for home entertainment. It was the strongest hint at this to date. Can you elaborate on this, please?
J Allard: Well, thereís still so much to do with gaming. I believe that gaming will become more a part of everyoneís entertainment experience around the world. The cornerstone of what the Xbox is is world-class gaming. But if you take gaming forward, it becomes more like traditional media rather than not. So weíll be taking Xbox online with Xbox Live and creating the notion of broadcast-based gaming that will share more properties with television than not. A lot of people will talk about convergence and I think there will always be TV, film, books and games that will be independent, but I think that gaming will really pioneer what digital entertainment will become.
Q: Without question, the Xbox and Xbox Live will become the biggest target for the hacking community. How does this figure in your thoughts?
JA: Well, itís flattering in a way. I think that itís the expectations and performance and the calibre of the system we have created. Everybody wants to play around with the most potent consumer electronics device ever created: we are still the top dog in that category. But the other component, aside from the flattery, is we want to create a very safe and simple experience for gamers to use online. We have a responsibility to them, so we have to, and will be hardcore in keeping the cheaters back and stopping people from hacking the servers.
Q: What exactly does Ďmilitary-grade securityí entail?
JA: Iíve learned that the less information you allow into the public domain, the safer you are (laughs).
Q: About the Rare purchase, how much did it cost? Itíll crop up in your financial reports in a month or so, so you may as well tell us!
JA: The figure Iíve heard is $375 million
Q: Thatís more than even the highest estimates! We broke that story, you know?
JA: (looks mildly threatening) Yeah, I know. Itís a very, very big acquisition, not just for Xbox but for Microsoft. In fact, itís the firmís sixth biggest ever acquisition. It really underscores our commitment to this industry. We all grew up playing Rare games. They have sold over 90 million copies around the world. It has created in the past five years over a billion dollars in revenue. it is a very, very successful games creator and we are more pleased than ever to welcome them to the Xbox circle.
Q: What do you think about Nintendoís exit strategy from the Rare negotiation table? I mean, theyíve thrown a few stones on the way out.
JA: Well, I donít really focus on that. The Stamper Brothers have done some phenomenal work, and I think that for anyone to cast any cloud or any shadow over what they have done for their partners in years gone by is a bit of a disservice. They have created some of the most valuable and anticipated properties in the industry and Iím glad to see them coming to the most powerful system ever created.
Q: So, what about you? J Allard has come from a job at Microsoft to being seen as one of the most important figureheads in the global games industry. How does that feel?
JA: Not really. I actually donít like doing the press stuff. I do it because I believe so much in the product and I want it to succeed and I want the message to get out and perhaps more than anyone in the world, Iím passionate about Xbox. My goal has never been to be important in the industry, or to be a figurehead.
Q: Yeah, but how does it feel?
JA: It feels good in a way, but itís intimidating also. I mean itís great, because the position Iím in lets me go and harness the dreams and talk to the games creators and understand what their visions are and help them bring them to reality. As a gamer for life, I have always enjoyed whatís been done, and now I want to help them to get more out of their creations. Iím now in place to accelerate that.
Q: Whatís your favourite game of all time, then?
JA: My favourite game of all time is Robotron. You know, itís one of the most frenetic experiences with one of the most innovative control systems. Itís never ending and it keeps me on the edge. I think that the most important videogame ever is Mario 64. Mario 64 is the literature of modern gaming and its remarkable that in the six or seven years itís been out, it has never been superseded. It amazes me that so very few games designers have taken important cues from it. The camera work, the level design, the progression, everything.
Q: Itís all about the love J, itís all about the love.
JA: Exactly! They put so much love into the character, Miyamoto is a genius and Mario remains the literature.
Q: Still driving the Ferrari?
JA: (grins) I am.
Q: Still loving it?
JA: I am. But I was thinking of upgrading it to a Mini Cooper! (winks)
As ever it was a great pleasure to talk to J and weíd like to thank everyone at Microsoft who made this possible.