Anshu Mor on how Microsoft will position the Xbox One in India and against the PlayStation 4.
GamingBolt recently got an opportunity to ask a few questions to the head of Xbox in India, Anshu Mor. Microsoft’s new console, Xbox One is launching next month in India and they have an uphill battle against Sony’s PlayStation 4 which has already launched back in January of this year.
Despite all the debacles that Xbox One has gone through, Anshu believes that their console has the most comprehensive line up of games and the portfolio of services, apps and software will speak for themselves when the console is sold exclusively through Amazon starting next month.
"The decision to launch in the country was dependent on a whole lot of things. It wasn’t just one feature or one policy decision that was impacting that. When we talk about Xbox One, there’s the huge games part of the portfolio, as I mentioned, but there’s also a lot of entertainment that needs to be sorted out."
Ravi Sinha: The Xbox One is coming to India, and that’s happening next month, I believe?
Anshu Mor: September 23rd is when it’s launching.
Ravi Sinha: The Xbox One has been out for about a year now in the United States and Europe and it’s going to be out in Japan next month as well. One thing that caught a lot of people’s interest was that Microsoft is pairing up with Amazon to sell the console. How did that deal come about, and what motivated the decision to sell through an online retailer as opposed to a traditional retailer?
Anshu Mor: The fundamental thought process here was the following: one, we’ve been in the market now for about eight years, and we have worked with our consumers very, very closely. We do understand that one of the big issues in the gaming industry, not specific to our consoles, but in the gaming industry, is the fact that there is massive lack of awareness and relevance with the potential target audience, and we’ve been working with various models in the past to make sure that people are aware of what the box can do. The core gamers obviously understand. Whoever wants to buy a console for core gaming, they do understand, but the larger youth audience in the country doesn’t really understand what consoles can do for them.
We felt that having a single destination where we have the opportunity to drive the portfolio messaging very clearly is extremely important, and in our kind of portfolio you would appreciate that this is not just talking about the console and the features. We have to talk a lot about the games, because that’s the soul of what would really drive someone to buy a console, and we believe the game messaging would be much better if we were to do it online.
The assortment of the portfolio we can represent would be more comprehensive and the information about the games, whether it’s videos or just basic information about the games would be much better, right? So, to drive awareness and relevance, we felt this was an important move to make kind of a destination where people could come and do this.
The second piece is, with Xbox One coming in, it has a massive feature portfolio, as well call it. It’s not just about the games. It is really the all-in-one entertainment system, as you might imagine. And in that, the messaging is not just about games. It’s entertainment, stuff like Skype, live TV, a whole bunch of features. At retail, in any case, in offline retail, we’ve never been able to showcase anything else beyond a particular game.
When it comes to a connected experience or when it comes to driving the product portfolio messaging, we’ve felt that we were going a little short when it came to offline retail. So to drive the messaging of a product portfolio like Xbox One it was important that we landed at a destination where we can provide that message.
And third, not in order of priority, but third, and the most important one really, was that we do believe that the portfolio is very well aligned to the youth audience in the country and giving a premium product naturally interested in any case. So those are the guys that are figuring out products and talking about them online, and they’re very comfortable buying online.
These were the three bug reasons why we said “Hey, we should make a very serious, concentrated effort to create a market and reach out to people who are currently not into console gaming, but are big fans of gaming on the smaller screens and also are big, avid fans of entertainment, and bring them to one thing that lets them do all of that.”
Ravi Sinha: One interesting thing is that, when the Xbox One came out last year when this whole DRM controversy was going on, there were some problems and it couldn’t launch in India at the same time. When Microsoft did away with the DRM, did that help the decision to bring it to India or was it always the plan that it would release around this time?
Anshu Mor: The decision to launch in the country was dependent on a whole lot of things. It wasn’t just one feature or one policy decision that was impacting that. When we talk about Xbox One, there’s the huge games part of the portfolio, as I mentioned, but there’s also a lot of entertainment that needs to be sorted out.
Now, to bring local entertainment content onto Xbox One, all of those services need to be aligned, the apps, we had to get clarity of when we would land those services before we were looking at a launch day. There is no one reason. There were plenty of reasons that lead to a country announcement, and those played a role at looking at a September release for us.
"The kind of features that have been launched in the few updates that we have done, they all give a more comprehensive experience to the console."
Ravi Sinha: Now that the Xbox One has been available for almost a year worldwide, and has been in people’s hands, and has seen a lot of updates, do you think that it will be a more well-rounded release when it launches in India?
Anshu Mor: It was not intended to be like that, that we would launch later when everything was established etc, but yes. The kind of features that have been launched in the few updates that we have done, they all give a more comprehensive experience to the console. We are fortunate to be launching in September simply because the kind of games portfolio that will go on from September to November, that’s a massive portfolio to have when you’re launching a new product, so we believe we’ll be able to drive a lot of excitement with consumers starting with day one games, as well as whatever will be launching in September and November.
Ravi Sinha: Speaking about launch and the availability of games, when games are released worldwide, how soon can we expect to see them in India?
Anshu Mor: We’ve always had day one launches of the major titles, and really most titles, and I’m speaking specifically of the Microsoft first party titles we make, because it wouldn’t be fair for me to make a statement on the third party titles, but those have always been a day one release, too. We’ve never had an issue where a game has been launched and we have not been able to bring it to the country on day one. When there have been cases of bringing a game later on, that’s been more of a business decision rather than a location decision.
Ravi Sinha: There are two different bundles for the Xbox One. You can now buy it with Kinect or you can buy it without it. Earlier, Microsoft announced that you will be able to purchase Kinect separately as well. Will people be able to purchase it separately in India?
Anshu Mor: Yes, the Kinect standalone SKU will release in India, and we’ll be providing information on the price in due course.
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the sales figures of the Xbox One so far?
Anshu Mor: On a broad level, in the earlier phase, I think the lack of availability of a standalone SKU was surely a factor that played into it. Not many people were able to understand why they should pay more for a Kinect experience, although there are enough and more reasons why they should pay. I think in terms of messaging, it wasn’t really clear. But you know, after June, when we launched the standalone, we’ve received a tremendous response from the consumers, and given the lineup that we have coming up, including Halo, we’re very confident of doing great things across the world, especially in India.
"We believe our portfolio is far more competitive, not just on the games side, but the stuff we offer from an entertainment perspective. Whether it’s live TV, whether it’s voice commands, whether it’s the entertainment portfolio, I think we are more comprehensive than any other console on the market right now."
Ravi Sinha: Do you think competing with the PS4 in India is going to be an uphill battle since the PS4 has been out since January?
Anshu Mor: Not really, for two reasons. For one, we believe our portfolio is far more competitive, not just on the games side, but the stuff we offer from an entertainment perspective. Whether it’s live TV, whether it’s voice commands, whether it’s the entertainment portfolio, I think we are more comprehensive than any other console on the market right now.
Also, the fact that they’ve been out since January, you know, they’ve had issues – well, I wouldn’t call them issues – but they had to comply with some certifications and hence the consoles were largely not there in the market for many months, so there hasn’t been stock in the market for PlayStation. Right now, I’d guess that they’ve only had stock for three or four months.
Ravi Sinha: As you said, it’s not just the games. Games are the main focus and the main showcase, but there are several apps people can use, like Netflix and Hulu. Some of those apps are not available in India. Which of those apps can people look forward to when the Xbox One launches in India, and are you partnering up with specific services to provide India only content?
Anshu Mor: I’m going to break them down into a few areas. From a gaming standpoint, we hold the Twitch experience and the broadcast experience at the upper level. There is a built-in app on Xbox One that will let you record, edit, and share your gameplay. That’s a fantastic feature, trust me. I use that one quite often and gamers will, too. You can also voice what you’re doing in game and that’s very easy with voice commands. You will have the complete gaming experience from an app perspective, which is recording, broadcasting, sharing; all of those things will be available. With Kinect, it adds the functionality of doing all that seamlessly with your voice.
Live TV will be available, so you can plug your cable box into the Xbox and have a seamless experience of watching TV as well as gaming or viewing entertainment on the Xbox console. That will be available. Skype is available, and that’s a good experience in 1080p with Kinect. And then there’s a bunch of apps.
Stuff like Hulu and Netflix, obviously that’s a decision for Hulu and Netflix to make. Right now, there’s no plan for getting those services in India. To your question on local content, we are focusing on getting and driving local content. We are not in a position right now to name specific apps, but just to give you segments: movies, music, sports, and to a certain extent, education. Those are the four areas we are looking at to make sure we have a great portfolio around launch time and specifically during the holiday season.
Ravi Sinha: Even though the Xbox Entertainment Division has closed, there are still several TV shows that will be coming out, like Halo: Nightfall. Will these be part of the global Xbox Live platform, and will anyone in any country be able to view them?
Anshu Mor: Currently, there are no announcements around that, but Every Street United got launched during the FIFA timeframe, and that will continue to be available, even in India. When we add more content, that’s when we’ll be able to confirm when that content is coming to India or not.
Ravi Sinha: I think the focus of our discussion last time was about Halo, and again, it’s about Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is out in November, and will include multiplayer beta access for Halo 5. Will Indian gamers get a chance to take part in that?
Anshu Mor: Yes. Absolutely.
"From a product portfolio, the simple aim is to, if I were to list priorities, it is to land all of the games portfolio. It is a very exciting portfolio to come out, especially because, after a long time, you’re seeing new IPs come out."
Ravi Sinha: And what are your thoughts on The Master Chief Collection? It’s collecting four games together, with all of their multiplayer modes and a ton of other content.
Anshu Mor: You know, thinking about it, I really get goose pimples although I’ve played all of them. But just to play them again, on one, single disc collection on Xbox One, I think it’s a phenomenal thing. And just this into context for India, and specifically people who are new to console gaming.
For them, this is like the perfect entry into the gaming world. You pick up one disc and get the entire Halo experience. I think it’s just absolutely phenomenal. The kind of feedback we’ve seen from gamers who heard the news after E3 – they are incredibly excited to get the whole collection when we launch, so we are really looking forward to it. It is one of those big things that will happen to us after we launch.
Ravi Sinha: Well, Bungie has something going on in September, and it’s going to release about the same time Halo: The Master Chief Collection comes out. How do you think Destiny is going to stack up against Halo from an Indian perspective, given that Halo has been around for much longer and has name recognition?
Anshu Mor: Halo is one of those things that’s a must pick if you’re picking up an Xbox One console. It’s the kind of recommendations that consumers get from other fans: “You know, you need to pick up Halo.” At the same time, you look at Destiny for people who have been gaming. I don’t think it’s an “or situation. I don’t think it’s Destiny or Halo, I think it’s Destiny and Halo. Destiny will provide a new, fresh IP and new content, and that’ll be exciting. We played the beta a few weeks back and the game looks good. So we expect people to pick both, actually. But from our perspective, we’re very excited about Halo.
Ravi Sinha: The final question I have to ask you is regarding going forward with the Xbox One. It’s not just about the launch of the console, as the past year has shown. It’s also about the post launch scenario: what updates are provided, what new games release, and things like that. What does Microsoft India have planned in that regard?
Anshu Mor: So there’s a few things, and I would again put them into the product side of it and the non-product side of it. The first thing is, during this phase from now until September and obviously after we launch, our focus is to drive experiences. So while we are exclusively online, and we will be selling only from Amazon, and both we and Amazon believe that we need to showcase the product to consumers.
It is our focus to make sure consumers get to see the product in the places where they are. The only difference being from the old model that it might not be inside a particular store, but outside that store in locations where the youth audience is, they’ll certainly get to experience the product, and that’s one of the big things we’re looking at.
From a product portfolio, the simple aim is to, if I were to list priorities, it is to land all of the games portfolio. It is a very exciting portfolio to come out, especially because, after a long time, you’re seeing new IPs come out. Earlier, it was the same franchises releasing the next version. This is one of those years where a lot of new IPs are coming, so it’s important for us to land that, and land the messaging with the consumers to make sure that they get to experience that.
Second, as I said earlier, is to really land the local entertainment content as early as we can to make the portfolio more comprehensive. So that’s what we’re looking at now until, let’s say, December.
Ravi Sinha: Well, Anshu, I’d like to thank you for your time. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, and I wish you luck for the Xbox One launch next month. When it happens, we’ll cover it and we’ll be there to see how things pan out.
Anshu Mor: Thanks so much, Ravi.
Interview transcribed by William Borger.