Interview: Neil Thompson

Interview: Neil Thompson

During the tumult of E3 we spoke with northern Europe’s head of Xbox, Neil Thompson, about the challenge that lies ahead to get the word out about Kinect and push Xbox as a broadly appealing entertainment device.

You’re adding new functionalities and trying to broaden Xbox’s audience all the time – how are you going to go about communicating the huge variety of what Xbox is these days?
We have to be clever in the way we communicate with the different types of customers that are enjoying the platform at the moment and we have to ensure that – be it through the media or marketing work or through work with our retail partners – that we’re being sophisticated about explaining what the whole value of the proposition that we’re offering is.

But what we really have to do is convince our customers to explain the proposition to family and friends. The way we’re do that is by making our experiences compelling. The more compelling the product you have, the more likely it is someone will say, "Hey you’ve got to come and see this". And that’s the way we’ll get the message out about our new technologies, our new services and our new entertainment offerings.

Nintendo’s had a huge success with using celebrities such as Patrick Stewart to market their products. Do you have similar plans for marketing Kinect?

We want to try and bring the product to life and explain what it’s about. One of our challenges is that people have to believe what they’re seeing. I think it is so innovative and is so magical that people sometimes say, "I don’t believe you can do that", and you really can! And so that’s what we’ve got to focus on. There’s a lot of the execution we haven’t settled on yet. I think we have to have ordinary people use it and tell their friends about it.

Why release a new Xbox model instead of simply adding new elements inside the old box?
I think it was really borne out of the fact that this is year we’re trying to transform the entertainment experience – the new content we’re bringing for both core consumers and the Kinect content, what we’re trying to do with the Live service. This is a transformational period, and it seemed logical that we’d during this period we’d represent that transformation in physical form. It’s also a nice tenth anniversary present for our customers.

How important is the new model’s addition of Wi-Fi to the Xbox proposition?
Live is an integral part of what the platform offers now, so having Wi-Fi built in just helps us enable people to enable that service that little bit more easily. I think it rounds out the package.

Will you be increasing targets for Xbox Live sign-ups as a result?
We’re always increasing Xbox Live sign-ups! I think anyone who has an Xbox but isn’t interacting with Live isn’t getting full value from the experience. The services we offer online – be it movies, music, Facebook, Twitter or games – are core aspects of what our experience is.

What are your expectations for the way Kinect will be used in the UK? Do you expect parity with the way US and European mainland audiences will take to the product?
I think Kinect is a very human product. And a lot of it is about how we as humans would really like to interface with technology if we were given a choice. It’s natural, it reacts to the way we react. I don’t think, generally, it’s going to be different the world over – I think human beings are very similar. Genres and gaming types differ, different experiences resonate in a different way. The UK is akin to the US more than most markets. It’ll be interesting to see what games start to pop for people. I’ve got daughters of 12 and 14 who I know are going to go bananas for Dance Central. I should be getting into the fitness game, given my state of health! It’s going to be interesting to see how people react and what captures their imagination.

Do you have a plan to lend marketing support to thirdparty Kinect games?
Well obviously we’ll promote all the games in a traditional way and I’m sure the thirdparties will driving attention for their products the way they do normally. As publishers see the opportunity that Kinect offers, I’m sure they’ll market their products enthusiastically.

Looking at the games shown at Microsoft’s press briefing, there didn’t seem to be much of a middle ground between the shooters – there seemed to be a lot of dismemberment going on this year – and cuddly Kinect tigers. There were no cross-audience games like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts. Do you think there’s something missing in Xbox’s principal lineup this year?
In the hour and half we had during the conference, there’s only so much wonderful, exciting, innovative content we can get to. When you look at the roster of content coming up it covers all the genres you’d expect. So I’m full of confidence that we have entertainment experiences for everyone.

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