J Allard: Xbox 360 unleashed

The Xbox evangelist preaches on that critical launch, the core system and a defining moment in the history of gaming

J Allard is practically Mr Xbox. In fact, Microsoft's head gaming evangelist might well consider a name change following the launch of Xbox 360 to J Xbox or perhaps the snappier 'J 360', so closely has he been associated with the rise and rise of Xbox gaming.

Always a fascinating and intriguing man to talk to, Allard is bullish, forthright and seldom ducks the big questions and we recently caught up with him to discuss a certain console which is launching towards the end of this very year.

We could write a long, smart snappy intro to this piece, but we figure you'd much rather hear it from the man himself, so prepare for the definitive word on all things 360, including that critical launch line-up, the core system, the future of online, hardcore versus casual gamers, losing money on Xbox one, making money on Xbox 360 and how he hopes the console will eventually be viewed as a defining moment in the history of gaming.

Take it away, J.

J Allard: Thanks for coming. We're really excited about inviting you all out to see the 360 hands on. I don't think in the history of videogames any manufacturer has invited a thousand journalists out to try 20-30 games hands on, two months before it shipped.

It speaks partly to our confidence, it says we're in pretty good shape, but partly because really it's hard for you guys to understand what it's like to play a game when we're showing you movies all the time. We didn't get to show everything we wanted at E3, but we made this show for you guys and we hope you like what you see. Give us a tap when we're not doing well, but give us a pat on the back when we're doing well in the right areas.

how do you respond to critics which say you've let down developers and fans over the core system and hard drive issue?

J Allard: I don't know who we've let down, there isn't a game on 360 that you can't play without a hard drive, so I think that's a good thing for consumers, you have different price points and ways of entering of entering the category as a gamer. We've made a commitment to broaden the audience but most of our energy around the launch is going to be about the hardcore. Over time we're really setting the stage to make this a bigger category for everybody, so from a developer point of view they have the best tools and the commitment from the best-resourced company in the world going worldwide with this product and saying "we want to grow the audience and grow the category for you." So that seems like a win for developers, I'm not sure who's disappointed in the end.

Sometimes doing the right thing, means doing the hard thing. Are there developers who are disappointed? Yeah. As a developer I wish there was a hard drive, I wish there were four terrabytes of memory, I wish it was free to consumers, I wish you just put one in every TV set, there are a lot of wishes I have. But at the end of the day, we've got to run a business and we've got to make those trade offs. As the biggest fan of the hard drive and it's potential, the problem is we sell 20-22 million Xboxes, [of those] 5-10 million at least, whatever number you want to use, don't care about it. They just don't care, so who pays for it? We can either ask the gamer to pay for it, or pay for it ourselves, or we can prove there's enough value in it and the gamers say 'we want to pay for it'. I think that's the right model. People have said 'this is really confusing, you have different configurations, blah, blah blah.

I'm like: "well what consumer electronics business in the world has three manufacturers, three brands, that each make one thing that doesn't change for seven years?' The answer's none, you go buy a TV, I guess it's confusing but I like the choice. You go buy a cell phone, it could be confusing but I like the choice. Consumers like choice and I think it's a very pro-consumer move on our part to say 'let's build a configurable system'. We've got two configurations right now which will be in Europe, if they're not right or if Germany needs something different next year, we have the flexibility to go do this. What's better about 360 than other consumer electronics products? You buy a DVD player that's not progressive scan - you're screwed. You made the choice - you can't upgrade. You bought the iPod Shuffle? You're screwed. You bought the Mini Cooper and you want the Turbo, you're screwed.

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