Former programmer, Test Drive designer and Electronic Arts worldwide studios head Don Mattrick, now senior VP of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, tells us about the business he inherited a year ago.
Many of the changes you’re making to 360 are related to Live. Is it a risk to rely on online to broaden its appeal?
I don’t think it’s a risk. I think the world is moving in that direction, consumers have validated our service and that ability to participate, collaborate, compete, get access to the whole range of digital assets – that is the future. And we’re leading that charge, and we have the ability to change how people entertain themselves more than any other product in the market. That’s a huge opportunity, and that’s what we intend to do.
Lips, You’re In The Movies and Scene It? Box Office Smash are also aimed at expanding Xbox’s reach but they’re game types that have already shown considerable success on other formats. Does this show you’re not taking too many risks on the software side?
When you say not taking too many risks, I think there’s kind of a natural evolution of packaged goods, products and experiences coming to the market – this coming year we estimate there will be about 150 titles on Xbox 360, and the majority will be E-rated. And if you’re into M-rated content there will be some spectacular games. I think that breadth of titles naturally expands an audience, and I also think that we’re all finding our own sense of identity inside the market. We’re leading in terms of hours played – a recent study showed that 18-26-year-olds are roughly spending 75 hours a week with our box, which is pretty amazing. That audience tends to be the leader, it tends to influence younger siblings in a household in terms of what’s cool and what’s hot in the consumer electronics space.
OK, Xbox is leading and defining many aspects of core gaming, but don’t you think that Xbox should also be defining broader markets too?
Yeah, and we are, and we will be. To create great experiences takes time, and E3 is a point in time. You’ve seen some of the things we have in development, but not all of them.
What would you say is the big challenge currently ahead of you?
I don’t see a big challenge, I honestly see a continuation of the program we’ve put in place. We want to continue to build more unique experiences and you can apply that comment to any segment of the business, and I’m really pleased with the support and enthusiasm that we have from our current consumers and third party partners – they’re key constituents and they seem very happy and healthy.
Will your business in Japan be changing?
Here’s what we’ve achieved in Japan: we’ve started, and as a US-based company we always knew that Japan was going to be a challenge for us to enter into. We’ve built relationships with key third party partners – we think they see our business as strategic for their future and long-term growth. I’m pleased with the support and great games that are coming from Japan that we sell not only in Japan but also in North America and Europe, and that’s a big milestone for what we can achieve with this version of 360. I can see that the longer we stay committed there, the more time we spend building those relationships, the more awareness we get from consumers, the more our share will increase – you have to stay committed, and we are.
What would you consider as Xbox’s biggest weaknesses today?
When you look at our weaknesses I think you have to remember that we’re nine years into our journey and our competitors have had 25-30 years of building their businesses. I think we’re leading and I think we’re tackling some pretty important areas of entertainment and integration that no one else has been able to do. That’s the program that we’re on. We’d love to have more exclusive hits on our box, absolutely. Are we investing in that? Yes we are. Does that take a lot of time? Yes it does. Now we’re expanding our experience to appeal to younger children and older consumers and broaden our gender balance. It takes time to do that – we’re working on those beats but you can only do so much in a year.
What have you taken from the hardware problems Xbox 360 has faced?
Well, I think we built a pretty amazing box. It was unfortunate that we had some hardware challenges but I totally applaud the way the company dealt with that in being up-front and implementing the warranty. It’s unfortunate when anything you create fails, but consumers have appreciated the fact we’ve said: ‘This is a mistake, and this is how we’re going to fix it’. People continue to use and evangelize about the product even when faced with this challenge, and I think our team’s done an amazing job with fixing it.
How do long do you feel that Xbox 360 will be kept in the marketplace?
We’re seeing record levels of industry growth and success for our business and our industry, so I think that bodes really well for what we’re going to be able to achieve in future years. I think the ability to have a longer cycle to continue to drive value and innovate – there’s a lot of potential in the 360 that hasn’t been realized, and that bodes for a pretty good run in the market, and a lot of capabilities our box has that consumers are just getting used to. What we’ve achieved we‘re pleased with, but there’s a lot of runway ahead.