Microsoft India’s director of interactive entertainment business talks everything Xbox-related.
Since its very introduction, Microsoft’s Xbox One has been fighting one battle or the other. Whether it was the battle to be accepted for its methods and features, eventually doing a 180 and opting for less restrictive policies, or in competing with the PS4, the Xbox One has been struggling in one way or another. However, things have been going rather well for the company as of late. It’s had some good E3 press conferences in the last two years, plenty of good exclusives (with more on the way) and enough incentive from people thanks to price cuts and a busy line-up for the future.
GamingBolt spoke to Anshu Mor, director of interactive entertainment business at Microsoft India, about the console’s success in India and the efforts being made to appeal to gamers along with the impact that new features like Windows 10 and backwards compatibility will have.
Note: This interview was conducted before Microsoft announced that it will be bringing the Xbox One to non-Amazon platforms.
"With Windows 10 coming in you know, just the whole concept of applications across all devices that are one big push that will encourage more local content coming up. "
So let us get the big question out of the way. It’s over a year since the Xbox One launched back in September 2014. How did it fared when one compares it to the Xbox 360’s launcg?
Anshu Mor: We actually don’t share numbers on the platform from console’s perspective so I won’t be able to give you any absolute number regarding this. But as you know this launch was exclusive with Amazon and this was a huge bet for us, a dramatic shift in terms of our distribution strategy and I am happy to report that we’ve had actually one of the best years for the Xbox.
Okay. Related to Amazon, do you think it was a safe strategy to go completely digital with Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: Absolutely. I was the one who took the call. There were a lot of reasons behind that. If you look at the Indian market and you would know just as much as I would because you’re deep into gaming, what this country needs is the awareness of the product to be out there with people who are not gamers right now. The hardcore gaming community is not as big as it is in most of the Western worlds or even Southeast Asian markets.
It is actually first time gamers and people who are around the tech gadget categories who then are the ones who take a call into coming for a console gaming part of it and we felt that with an online player it was the right mix because the audience that we target are the ones who were actually going and searching for these products online, evaluating it online and eventually buying it online. They were not the guys who would technically land up in an offline retail store and necessarily play a demo and then get influenced. From a consumer segmentation perspective it was the right move. We also felt that just from a build reach perspective, Amazon provided us more reach than what we were getting earlier in an offline model. Amazon also had been creating a lot of customers’ value, better including offers with bundles etc so we felt it was the right thing to do for our customers to give them a single stop shop where they could get all the information, all the products, all the categories.
The Xbox One has a lower selling price compared to the PS4 in India. Ever since you guys had that price drop what kind of response this has generated?
Anshu Mor: Tremendous and I’m so glad to hear it for the first time right, that our prices are lower than PlayStation! We’ve seen the market respond to prices clearly and you know essentially this is also a factor of what consumers see as prices in let’s say US or Dubai market and then they start comparing it to the India pricing. Now India pricing is obviously affected by the rupee structure that we have and you know just the market realities of margins etc but Amazon since we were able to play around with a few price points, every time we did that we saw a tremendous increase. You know the spikes happened in terms of sales obviously. I think the insight behind that really is a lot of people who consider purchasing the product outside India for pricing reasons, started evaluating buying it in India because they were also getting the warranty and the warranty was only applicable if they buy from Amazon in India. So they were valuing the warranty and they were putting a particular price to it that also led to a spike in sales for us.
"Xbox for example is just not built to play hardcore gaming. It is gaming, it is Skype, it is TV, you know it is entertainment, there are a bunch of things that you can do with an Xbox where every person in the family young or old will benefit from the experience but I don’t think everybody knows it. "
What is your biggest concern regarding the Indian market regarding promoting Xbox products?
Anshu Mor: I think first is the cultural misconception that gaming is bad for people. Culturally there is still a lot of…gaming is not a… you know console gaming specifically is not really considered mainstream in the country and it is largely not because of the category, it is just people do not have the information in terms of what all can happen. For example we have games like Minecraft and these are hardcore educational games if I may call it right and it’s been proven around the world, schools are adopting it and they really help the child. So I think people don’t know the category as such. It is not about a brand. It is not about us or PlayStation.
They just do not know the category, they feel it’s complicated, they feel it’s a different world and it is very difficult to get into so while they will play games on the smaller screen devices but you know just getting into the category and understanding it is I believe one of the fundamental things that we have to solve and which is a function of making sure that there is large scale awareness of what the product can do.
Xbox for example is just not built to play hardcore gaming. It is gaming, it is Skype, it is TV, you know it is entertainment, there are a bunch of things that you can do with an Xbox where every person in the family young or old will benefit from the experience but I don’t think everybody knows it. So we need to fix the awareness thing. Second in my view would be you know just consistently from an industries standpoint we need to work towards ensuring that people understand and relate to the pricing of the products.
We have made whatever efforts we are making, we will continue to make them but a lot of people since they don’t know then you have to marry these two together, they don’t know the category and then they see these prices and they say it’s too costly and I don’t know what it can do for me. It’s unlike a mobile. Mobiles are costlier than this but they buy it because they know exactly what it can do for them. So you know it’s a bunch of these things that we would need to solve in India specifically because the whole game is really to create the market. It is not that there is an existing market sitting where we will take share away from somebody.
Are you guys taking any steps to resolve this kind of mentality?
Anshu Mor: A bunch of things. This whole deal in itself introduced us as a category towards large scale audience which were technical…which not necessarily was walking into an offline gaming store or an offline section of a gaming store inside a bigger store right so it gave us the opportunity to present the content in a very clear manner. It gave us the opportunity to present what the entire console can do in a very simplified manner. Because you know when you’re in a shop and think of yourself walking into any gaming store, you would not get the full understanding of the category unless it is explained to you and those experiences were very difficult to manage across the country so sometimes you would have great people explaining the product and the value would go through, sometimes the guy would not be able to explain. In this case since in our mind we had created one destination, it allowed us to play with the messaging of the category and the portfolio and I believe this has kind of obviously impacted the way we have performed in the last one year.
What is Xbox in India doing to get more local content up and running on the console?
Anshu Mor: That’s a constant endeavour and we are working towards that. Now with Windows 10 coming in you know, just the whole concept of applications across all devices that are one big push that will encourage more local content coming up. We’re also very carefully evaluating what is the kind of content a typical console owner would like to see. So we’ve worked a lot in the past one year towards defining that and working with a few partners so you will start seeing that happen soon and Windows 10 would obviously help a long way for us to expedite that entire process.
So is it fair to assume it is not happening any time soon?
Anshu Mor: Oh! You can safely assume it’s going to happen soon, we will just have to wait for announcing those dates and those partners but it will happen sooner than later.
"I think you know – I can safely tell you – Xbox fans can always look forward to more exclusives, more new IPs and you know bigger and bigger games. There is no doubt about it."
You just mentioned about the costing of Xbox One and the software. I’m just wondering whether Microsoft India has any plans to open up local manufacturing plant?
Anshu Mor: It actually doesn’t bring down the cost substantially. We understand what happens because we have evaluated those models and you know it doesn’t make business sense and it is not a huge impact on consumer pricing. So that’s not going to happen from our perspective, we’re not looking at it right now.
From the blunders of 2013 to your current focus on games, what made Microsoft realize that for gamers, it’s always about games first?
Anshu Mor: The simplest answer to that is consumers. If you’ve seen what we’ve been doing with Xbox One, ever since the launch, you see the amount of features and functionalities that have been added in every update. The console is very different from what it was when it was launched and all of that is happening because consumers are giving us a certain feedback and what they want to see and we are implementing that.
You would have seen the same thing in Windows 10, with this whole Windows Insider Program I think it’s a mentality that the organization thinks and believes in deeply, that listen to the consumers and if you know wherever we can you know tweak the product and the functionality to offer what the consumers want.
The biggest example that I can quote right now is this whole backwards compatibility bit. One of the top most wanted features ever since the generation 8 consoles were launched and we finally were able to deliver it and it is a huge technical piece to deliver something like that but we were able to because of listening to the consumers and I think that’s essentially what the strategy has been always. So you know the portfolio games that we’re now talking about, all the features and functionality of the box, all stuff which is going to come in the future with other categories and products integrated, it is all what we’re hearing from the consumers.
Xbox One has this amazing line up of games piled up for the rest of the year. Do you think this is enough to push the Xbox One in the competition against PS4?
Anshu Mor: Obviously. In this industry every year when games are launched everybody says this is a great line up of games, but I personally know the category in the industry very well. This is really the greatest line up that could possibly happen,” Anshu explained to GamingBolt. “All the big franchises that we have are launching this year and it’s phenomenal from that perspective, right? To get a Gears of War, a Halo, a Forza and a Tomb Raider all in half a year, it’s not even a year, is just absolutely fantastic.
There are three components involved in this and explains why we are superbly bullish about this right now. One is the greatest line up of games and it’s all about every genres coming together in a single year. It can’t get better for a console gamer on Xbox this year.
The second is bringing these Xbox 360 games back to the Xbox One platform with the backwards compatibility feature. It’s such a delight to consumers that all the investments they have made in the previous platform will be utilized and they will be able to play those games. So the portfolio increases and then am sure you must have heard about Windows 10’s games integration with Xbox One. There are a lot of cool features like streaming a game from your Xbox One to Windows 10 but that aside just think about what we are going to do with the community that will bring together PC and Xbox One players. Really, it can’t get any better than this, I don’t know whether there is anything else that would make it better.
Can Xbox One fans look forward to new IPs in 2016?
Anshu Mor: Yes, absolutely. I think you know – I can safely tell you – Xbox fans can always look forward to more exclusives, more new IPs and you know bigger and bigger games. There is no doubt about it.
So I guess you guys are deeply invested in new IPs.
Anshu Mor: Deeply invested, yes.
"There is a firm believe actually that a lot of people would migrate from the Xbox 360 platform to the Xbox One platform."
So you mentioned about backwards compatibility earlier. Do you think it can potentially bring your old fan base to the Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: There is a firm believe actually that a lot of people would migrate from the Xbox 360 platform to the Xbox One platform. While this was obviously a global call the whole technology behind putting Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One was just not one country or subsidiary asking…it was literally the whole world asking.
But to give you a little insight, throughout last year when we were talking to consumers especially the Xbox 360 fan base, all of them were telling us one concern that we have an investment in games on the Xbox 360 platform and we don’t want to give up that investment. I think we have solved that and those investments that they were talking about the games so we have kind of solved that. With that investment sorted, we do believe that a lot of them will shift this year.
What is your take on Windows 10 and its integration with Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: See…you know my biggest excitement with Windows 10 is how we bring the gaming community together. You’ve been in the industry, you know exactly that the whole concept of this whole gaming industry is really about the community, right? You want people to play with, you want people to compete with it and I think just getting two worlds which was so far connected, a PC gamer would think very differently about a console game or a console gamer would think very differently about a PC gamer and now just bringing those two worlds together, it would be a huge boost in terms of just getting these guys to play against each other.
So when that online community kind of explodes like the way we expect it to explode now, it just helps the industry as such. And then games being available on both platforms would obviously benefit, it just gives more choice to the consumer. The fact that even simple features like streaming a game from your console to the PC benefits players in the house at the time when you really want to play. So it is undoubtedly a huge boost for gaming especially in the Indian context where we have a very heavy mix of PC gamers in the country.
Do you think we will ever see a Forza 6 or a Halo 5 on the PC in the future, given your new found commitment for PC gaming?
Anshu Mor: Specifically on those there is nothing to announce but you know I can safely tell you there’s a bunch of games which are coming which would be available on both the platforms and as we go forward, we’ll keep announcing those games and you will see a very massive portfolio being packed with this functionality.
Crackdown 3 marks a new dawn for Xbox One games. Cloud based gaming promises to bring in better visuals and what not. Do you think the cloud service will have stability issues here?
Anshu Mor: It remains to be seen in all transparency. There are people who have decent bandwidth connections so I would imagine a 2 Mbps plus connection would still continue to work. You know, these things are connected to the ISP so I cannot comment on that. I don’t believe that the experiences will be compromised in the current set of consumers we have.
But the “power of the cloud” is still an important asset for Microsoft, right?
Anshu Mor: I think the cloud will play a phenomenal role as we go forward. We as a company believe in the power of the cloud,” Anshu said to GamingBolt. “Even if you look back, we have always maintained that there is this power that the box brings in which is huge value to the consumer and then there is the power of the cloud that will match or exceed the expectations that can be delivered on the box. Crackdown 3 is one of the early experiences of that which we are going to give you.
"I believe that entertainment portfolio is extremely important. When they see a single device which can do everything, now think of it this way – when somebody buys an Xbox they will not say ‘hey I do not play games on it.’ So they will play games, they just need to understand what kind of games that are available for them."
Is the entertainment portfolio still an important factor for Microsoft?
Anshu Mor: I believe that entertainment portfolio is extremely important. When they see a single device which can do everything, now think of it this way – when somebody buys an Xbox they will not say ‘hey I do not play games on it.’ So they will play games, they just need to understand what kind of games that are available for them.
Then they look at the TV integration part of it which is such a huge benefit because they’re in a household and all the people who are using Xbox One right now, just to switch between playing a game and just switching to TV is so, so simple and that’s a very cool feature and that too with voice commands. And then the entertainment content because we do believe that this audience segment which is very big on entertainment, right? They’re the ones who like their movies and their DVD, CDs and then music etc so it is undoubtedly extremely important.
What is your take on the Xbox One updates that are being pushed on a monthly basis?
Anshu Mor: They are phenomenally important. Although these are called updates, these are actually features and functionalities that get added every month that makes the box so much more exciting. The Xbox One of today is so much different than the one which was launched and we will continue to make those innovations. It’s all coming from consumer feedback. They want something on the box and we will make every effort to deliver it and those will be delivered through these updates.
At a personal level, I always get excited when there is an update coming. If you are a tech freak you will love updates that adds features, right?
What kind of impact do you think the upcoming launch of Halo 5 will have on Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: Yeah, you know , the Halo franchise is a cult franchise for us, there’s no doubt about it, so a lot of the people are, you know, Halo fans… and all the big games that I could think of are launching. It’s like, you know, I don’t know, when we will get time to play them entirely? But again, this is very huge, Halo is very big, Forza is very big, then obviously, FIFA and all, which are third party games, are very big, right? So it’s like a gaming festival which is going to happen in the next two or three months right now. The success of Halo always is big for the category and I think it’s big for the industry as well. It’s one of the games which defines a generation, really.
"On Xbox One monthly updates: But we keep asking [ourselves] whether we have done a good job of explaining at least the key ones to the audiences. We try to do that, hoping that we are at least doing a decent job but that is one area we will continue to focus on and ensuring people understand what they are getting in every update."
How do you feel about the timed exclusivity deal for Tomb Raider?
Anshu Mor: All these timed exclusivity or complete exclusivity deals are important for a platform. It just shows the value of the platform to the consumers very well. We have gone on record by stating that while exclusives and timed exclusives is one part of it, we are also deeply invested in ensuring that there is new IP which comes in, we are deeply invested in ensuring that we have right connect to the gaming portfolio, not just console gaming.
But all of them will help. There is no doubt about it that anybody who is a fan of Tomb Raider…when they see that game launching and having that timed exclusivity, they will have a favorable outlook towards the Xbox One.
Can you give me an example of something that Microsoft has done for the better but it hasn’t received that much of an attention?
Anshu Mor: In terms of features and functionalities?
Anshu Mor: That’s an interesting question, let me see. You know actually we’ve been a strange market, India market okay. When we launched Xbox One last year, we were expecting a very balanced mix of the Kinect portfolio, as in you know Xbox One with Kinect and a very balanced you know an equally balanced mix of standalone. In our first few months of the launch we were pleasantly surprised I must say with the number of people who are buying the Kinect bundle and you know this was upwards of almost 70-75% of the people who bought Xbox within the first three or four months. This was massively good news for us because they were able to then obviously get more features and functionality at that time and it so happened that during the course of all these updates that we spoke about a lot of features and functionality landed on the stand alone box and you could do a bunch of things with the controller.
For example just bringing up the snap and changing applications made it much more comfortable to use those features and we’ve seen again markets respond to that very nicely. I don’t think that from a feature standpoint there has been a disappointment as such but I will like to look more inwardly and ask ourselves whether we have publicized every feature that we have launched. So many of them have come up…so I am not sure whether all consumers understand the portfolio as much. We continue to strive to make sure that they understand it but there has been no particular piece that has been disappointing.
But we keep asking [ourselves] whether we have done a good job of explaining at least the key ones to the audiences. We try to do that, hoping that we are at least doing a decent job but that is one area we will continue to focus on and ensuring people understand what they are getting in every update.
" If you’ve seen what we’ve showcased at E3 and at other forums it’s the whole integration of HoloLens with Minecraft, so clearly there’s a road map to do this but we are obviously not disclosing any particular game where those experiences would land."
Is Kinect still important for Microsoft and Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: Yeah I think, it is phenomenally important to have Kinect in the Xbox One portfolio and you know now things are moving in the same direction of how you interact with devices. I think that’s how you should look at Kinect. It’s not a standalone feature or a game but it’s how you interact with the device and you know whether it’s Kinect or whether it’s HoloLens or whether it’s VR, all these are different ways that we are working on as a company to make sure that your interaction with the devices that you prefer is exciting for you. And Kinect plays a very important role in that.
Just with Kinect coming in, it is so easy for everybody in the family to interact with the device just to switch it on with voice, just to change you know what you want to watch. It just makes it easier more comfortable to interact. It adds more of an expedience when it is inside a game. You know Skype…if you’ve used Skype on Xbox One you would know what that experience is…it’s just mind boggling to have that level of clarity and that level of video experience on a chat so you know they obviously are part of the larger plan that we have to enable different experiences with our devices.
Talking a bit about graphics API, what is your take on DX12 on Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: The whole API bit is just an enhancement from a gaming experience perspective. It’s a differentiation, it’s an enhancement from a gaming perspective. The kind of stuff that I have read about internally in terms of the value it brings to the whole gaming experience, I would see that as the end consumer impact. Not many consumers would understand what the APIs were or what DX is or you know stuff like that but I think to them it is just a very highly enhanced consumer experience in terms of gameplay that would come through.
What is happening with Gears of War 4?
Anshu Mor: Right now nothing. I know as much as you do, so right now nothing but I think as time goes by we will have more information on that right.
[laughs] It is still a huge game for Xbox One in 2016.
Anshu Mor: It is, it is huge.
HoloLens seems to be an amazing tech. Any plans of integration with Xbox One?
Anshu Mor: If you’ve seen what we’ve showcased at E3 and at other forums it’s the whole integration of HoloLens with Minecraft, so clearly there’s a road map to do this but we are obviously not disclosing any particular game where those experiences would land. We’ve shown the capability right now but there’s really nothing else to say. This is an experience that we can consistently land.
"With smartphones coming in that changed and when people want better experiences or deeper experiences you know that’s when they start evaluating stuff like console gaming"
I guess that about wraps it up. Any closing words?
Anshu Mor: We’re changing in a positive direction because we have obviously seen year over year of growth, we have consistently seen it and the percentage growth have increased. Last year was phenomenally high growth we saw for our portfolio at least. I think we’re moving in the right direction, consumers are getting more and more exposed to games because of smaller scale devices. They get exposed to gaming when they do that on their smart phones and they do that on their tablets or PCs and then they want better and better experiences so you know comparing to a world about five years ago or seven years ago, gaming was pretty much alien to most people.
With smartphones coming in that changed and when people want better experiences or deeper experiences you know that’s when they start evaluating stuff like console gaming etc. So I think we’re moving in the right direction. A lot of work needs to be done. Like I said it is market creation. We need to get people to be aware of the category, the portfolio and the games and what the box can do for them and their families but we’re pretty optimistic about the future of gaming here.
So mobile gaming is not a threat to console gaming.
Anshu Mor: No, no. I see that as a huge bonus for us here. I mean gaming per se on a smaller device is a huge bonus right, it just helps the industry automatically.