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

Sadly, McGill is rather coy: "While we're unable to go into the specifics of the deal, we're very excited to see Square Enix's titles coming to Xbox 360 and in particular FFXIII. Seeing such an amazing franchise, known as a PlayStation franchise, now finding a new home on Xbox 360 has certainly sent waves of excitement around the industry and gamers alike."

Hmm: sounds suspiciously to us like Microsoft may have stolen an old (now abandoned) Sony policy and paid Square-Enix for platform exclusivity (although, admittedly, The Last Remnant will come out on PS3 some time after it launches on Xbox 360).

Microsoft acts casual

For a while now, Microsoft has courted a more casual gaming clientele, perhaps after seeing the success of the Wii. Pundits haven't taken those efforts particularly seriously but talking to McGill, it's clear Microsoft does, saying one of the company's main goals at E3 was to:

"Show how we're broadening our audiences with a fabulous line up of games and entertainment services. Games like LIPS, You're In the Movies, Guitar Hero 4 and 1 vs 100 show Xbox 360 has something for everyone."

Another Microsoft headline-grabber was the announcement of a deal with Netflix that will generate a library of 10,000 movies for Xbox 360 owners to download.

McGill confirms that that deal applies to the US only, but adds: "We're committed to bringing new content, whether it's movies or TV, to the UK Xbox Live Marketplace and working on those kinds of deals. In fact we announced a new partnership with MGM for the UK where we'll be offering their new movies on our Xbox LIVE marketplace service, starting this week, and we'll continue to add new partners and new content."

Accusations of copying

And what of the accusations from Nintendo and Sony fanboys that Microsoft has been stealing their clothes with the new avatar system and Lips?

McGill points out that Microsoft was the first company to get consoles online in a practical manner: "Xbox Live has always been a fantastic social network, and we've introduced the idea of personalization through Gamercards, Gamertags, themes and Gamerpics. Avatars are another example of how we're representing a social experience on a great social network.

"And how you can customize them will offer some pretty unique opportunities. Likewise, while we didn't invite the idea of games playing musical instruments or singing games, I think we have some interesting innovations that will offer fresh and exciting experiences."

360 motion control

Perhaps revealingly, McGill declined to answer two of our questions – one of which was prompted by Don Mattrick's bold statement that the Xbox 360 would outsell the Wii and The PS3 globally.

Would this be true in Europe, we asked, bearing in mind that the US is very much the Xbox 360's heartland and is, of course, the games industry's biggest market. Perhaps McGill was wise not to commit to a bold statement on that score, given the diversity of the European market.

And he kept his counsel regarding the absence from E3 of a much-rumoured Wii-style controller for the Xbox 360, which suggests to us that this is something which will be left to third-party peripheral manufacturers – a sensible move, as it will allow Microsoft to sidestep yet more plagiarism allegations.

Overall, while Microsoft may not have induced gasps of wonder among the crowd at its E3 press conference, it still has a line-up of games which should keep its loyal punters happy this Christmas, and it is clearly putting things in place which will allow it to ramp up its push to attract more casual gamers – who, perhaps, have bonded with their Wiis and are now thinking about seeking a more sophisticated gaming experience.

As ever, the company is chugging along, doing its own thing and seems to be in pretty good shape.