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An Interview with Phil Harrison

Gamereactor's Carl Brännström caught up with Microsoft's Phil Harrison to discuss the newly announced console, Xbox One.

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Phil Harrison, former corporate executive at Sony and today corporate vice-president of Microsoft, is tall. So tall that I have to take a step back in order to take his picture. He asks me if I would rather stand on the table in order to get a better overview.

It's okay, I answer, while looking through the viewfinder like some paparazzi gnome.

We're in a room at the Microsoft Xbox campus in Redmond, just a few hours after the unveiling of the Xbox One. Since Phil Harrison started working for Microsoft as late as 2012, the first question is:

How much was already set in stone when you arrived, and how much has changed since with regards to Xbox One?

Almost all of it was set in stone before I joined, and in fact the strategy and vision for Xbox One was one of the attractions for me to join this team. I believe in this strategy of enterainment led from the living room and games being an important gateway to more than just one form of entertainment connected to your TV.

How much has changed in the vision for Xbox since the first console?

I think the vision has got more ambitious. We have the power of a device with a very smart operating system amplified by the Cloud, something that was not available to us as back in 2005-2006. And that is really where the magic comes from. I was very impressed by the investments Microsoft had made in the Cloud over many years, stretching back a decade. Billions of dollars invested in Cloud infrastucture and knowledge and understanding. From the first day of Xbox One we will have over 300,000 servers dedicated to supporting the platform, which is more than the entire computing power of the planet in 1999. I mean, that's like science fiction. It's fantastic.

An Interview with Phil Harrison

There was a big focus on American television and sports, of course, but how will it work in Europe?

Great question. We had to anchor the experience to somewhere in the world for today's demonstration, but of course we will personalise and regionalise for as many markets as we can. TV is a very local thing, so we have to get to a real ultra local level of partnership on wherever you may be, and we're working on that.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the use of second-hand games...

I understand that. What we've said - maybe we haven't said it clearly enough - is we are working on a solution. We will have a solution, we're just not ready to talk about it in detail today so please stay tuned.

About Internet access for Xbox One. Does it require constant access?

It does not require constant Internet access. Xbox One is enchanced by a connectivity to the Cloud, you can see in many ways how Internet connectivity will enhance the experience and the functionality of the machine, but it is not required to be connected all the time.

An Interview with Phil Harrison

During the presentation, there was a lot of talk about Kinect, new ways to interact with your TV, about social media. Things that may be a little more appealing to the casual gamer. How will you attract the more hardcore players?

I think that today is about the platform and the vision for the future of the generation. E3 is about games. This is not exclusively a games box, so this was not exclusively about a games message today. But we showed support and strategic partnership with Electronic Arts, bringing their sport franchises to Xbox One in a very unique way with some very unique, exclusive content which will be very relevant for Europe, particulary around FIFA. And we showed the world exclusive of Call of Duty. I don't know if there's anything more core than Call of Duty, so I don't think anybody can suggest that we're moving away from the spirit of the market that helped us get here. If you had any doubts - not that you should - you're gonna see a bunch of stuff at E3 that will just completely brush that aside.

If you compare with the presentation of PlayStation 4, Sony didn't show the console, but the message was really: 'a game console by gamers for gamers'. To me, Microsoft and Xbox is more about broadening the audience of games, television and entertainment. Is that maybe going be the difference between both of them in the coming years?

I think the strategy and philosophy that we have for Xbox One is a great strategy. I wouldn't be sat here if I didn't believe that to be the case. The investment that we have made in game development tools as a company over many decades is second to none. We have the best tools on the planet for creating games and making it easy for developers to get the most out of a game console.

We have a very powerful box which has connectibity to the Cloud, giving you additional CPU capability on the Cloud, an excellent new game controller... Have you tried it?

Yeah. It felt great.

It feels really natural in the hand. All of these investments are for making a great game experience. And we're doing amazing things to make your TV really intelligent, and we're making it easy for you to seamlessly switch between the entertainment you love, making your TV really super-smart. I think that is a great message.

The new Kinect is much more advanced than the previous version. Do you think we will see more integration between core games and Kinect this time around?

I hope every developer thinks about how Kinect can make their game more magical. We don't require it, we're not gonna force it, but we hope that by virtue of every Xbox One shipping with a Kinect, it means that a hundred percent of the audience can have that feature. While in the past, about 25 percent had Kinect. Plus, we've moved from kind of large movements down to movement and precision which is measured in millimeters and nanoseconds. The amount of data that we capture is so much richer, it allows us to do very subtle things.

Another thing is the ability to detect your voice. The technology behind that is really clever. We have invested heavily on making that really smart on Xbox One. So in a game you can imagine augmenting or deepening the experience just by playing with the controller, but then using your voice as well. And you'll see that at E3.

How flexible is the conversation and voice model in Kinect?

It's not gonna be every language from day one, but the model of languages that we support will grow over time. This technology is a big investment of Microsoft research and they have some amazing talent that is going to make conversational voice a really natural way of interfacing with Xbox One.

Finally, tell us something you're extra proud of with today's announcement.

This is slightly strange given my sort of studios background, but I really love the strategic partnership we have announced with EA and Activision.

Bringing their best and biggest franchises demonstrates their commitment to our platform, and that means gamers will have confidence in great games coming to Xbox One and I think that's good for everyone.

An Interview with Phil Harrison


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