Interview: Microsoft UK's head of gaming, Stephen McGill

E3 2008 interview: Microsoft UK's head of gaming, Stephen McGill
E3 2008 interview: Microsoft UK's head of gaming, Stephen McGill

Microsoft's E3 would probably be best characterised as solid if unspectacular – it walked an interesting line between appeasing (existing) hardcore and (putative) casual Xbox 360 owners, showcasing some pretty exciting games (including, surprisingly, several efforts from Square-Enix including Final Fantasy XIII, which was supposed to be a PS3 exclusive) and a radical overhaul for Xbox Live, doing away with the ugly, hated "blades" in favour of cuddly avatars.

It also copped a bit of flak for perceived plagiarism, with a karaoke game, Lips, which is suspiciously like SingStar and those Mii-like avatars and Home-like avatar-based XBL front-end.

The view from the UK

We managed to catch up with Stephen McGill, the company's UK head of gaming and entertainment, in search of a UK perspective – E3 press conferences are infamous for concentrating on the US at the expense of the rest of the world.

First off, in the personal opinion of McGill (a thoroughly lovable chap, even if he is Microsoft through and through), what were the highlights of his company's E3 press conference?

"Naturally, the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII was a fantastic signal that together with the likes of Fable 2, Gears Of War 2, Halo Wars and so on that Xbox 360 is undeniably the home of the best blockbuster games. But the biggest stand-out has to be the new Xbox experience – making it easy for friends and family to have fun together, and especially the new Xbox Live Primetime services such as 1 vs 100."

1 vs 100 – a quiz-show style game played over Xbox Live, developed in conjunction with TV company Endemol and generally something which should blur the boundaries between videogames and TV – is indeed intriguing, but far too few details emerged for us to visualize what it will be like and whether it will be compelling or gimmicky.

In-house franchises

The new installments of Microsoft's established in-house franchises will also be very welcome among the Xbox faithful, too – but a spanner was thrown into the works by Bungie, which revealed it was ready to showcase what it has been working on post-Halo 3, but Microsoft pulled the plug on its presentation at the last minute. Action-adventure effort Alan Wake, too, was conspicuous by it absence. Perhaps those games will get their chance at the Games Convention in Leipzig.

And we would be more inclined to see the banishment of the clunky old Xbox Dashboard, a hangover from the original Xbox which even pervaded Xbox Live, as long overdue, rather than an exciting new selling point.

McGill, at least, is able to give some details of when the revamp will hit the UK: "We'll be launching the new Xbox experience, including the cool new personal avatars and other great features such as 1 vs 100, later this autumn in a free update."

Which is likely to be well before Sony's (admittedly more ambitious) PlayStation Home.

60GB 360 is US only

Microsoft also announced a 60Gb version of the Xbox 360, but McGill reveals that: "The 60Gb edition that has been announced is for the US only. The US have therefore announced a saving of $50 off the 20Gb version while supplies last, ahead of the launch of their 60gb version in early August."

So basically, don't expect any Xbox 360 price-cuts over here in the near future. Shame…

McGill is right, though, when he talks about the capture of Final Fantasy XIII as exciting – Square-Enix has been super-tight with Sony for years, and the company went even further by announcing three new Xbox 360-exclusive RPGs, The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean. Something of a surprise given the Xbox 360's extreme unpopularity in Japan. How did that deal come about?