Major Nelson Interview

THE GAME REVIEWS: So, we are here with Larry Hryb, Major Nelson with Xbox LIVE.

MAJOR NELSON: Good to see you.

TGR: Definitely good to see you too. So, tell us a little bit about you.Major Nelson Larry Hryb

MAJOR NELSON: Wow, oh well sure! Well probably some of your viewers may have seen me on Inside Xbox. My name is Larry Hryb, my Gamer Tag is Major Nelson, and I am the Director of Programming at Xbox LIVE. I am kind of one of the members of the Community Team. We have a great Community Team at Xbox. We have myself, Trixie who works with me, we have the Gamer Score Blog guys: John, Tony, Chris, Sarah, Nelson, all those guys over there, so I am just part of the team!Nelson

TGR: I just have to ask, “I Dream of Jeannie” fan?

MAJOR NELSON: Absolutely! TiVo recommended Major Nelson to me when I started working Xbox, and I said that is a great Gamer Tag.

TGR: So, what did you do before this?

MAJOR NELSON: I have been working at Microsoft for 7 years. This is going into my 7th year right now and before I was at Microsoft, I was working on property for Microsoft called MSN Music, actually before iTunes launched. Yea, way back then, so I actually launched that, I was brought on as the Editor-in-Chief, and then the direction kinda moved around a little bit, and I saw this opportunity over at Xbox and I decided to jump on that.

TGR: What have you been playing?

MAJOR NELSON: Ah, let’s see. I finished Assassin’s Creed over the holiday, of course Call of Duty 4, yeah Halo is like the default. You can always find somebody in your Friends List to play Halo with. Ummm, so I have been working on those and when I get back I am going to be looking forward to NFL Tour and Burnout, those are still sitting on my desk back at the office… games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, I mean I can go right through the list.

TGR: What do you think about the new Burnout Paradise?

MAJOR NELSON: I am excited to get my hands on it. I played the demo. It is going to be interesting, the open world thing is going to be really interesting. Yes, the Live integration is really, really, seamless. It kind of reminds me of Test Drive Unlimited in Hawaii: you are just driving around and all of a sudden, whoa! There is a guy, whoa, whoa! I am in my single player game! So I am really excited about that. Again, it is sitting on my desk, so we will have to see how that goes.

TGR: Ok, well we just got a great new update. A couple months or so ago?

MAJOR NELSON: Yes, that’s December 4th. I remember it well.

TGR: Yea, and it was a great one. Everybody asked me what’s new on the update, because I am the Go-To Nerd and I pointed them to the Xbox Minute and they got all the skinny on that. In your mind, what’s the future of expanding Live service similarly down the road?

MAJOR NELSON: You know, we are always with the launch that we did, with the update that we did in December, it was huge. We started, we dipped our toe in the social networking conversation with the Friends of Friends, so now we have 17.5 million Xbox 360’s out there, 10 million people on LIVE, so how do we connect people better? You know, people can call it the Facebookification or the MySpaceification, or however you want to term it, but how do we connect like-minded people together? And that is what we want to do. So we are always going to look at doing that. You have your Gamer Tag, and that is the basic starting point that we have built. We’ve got the Friends List, now we got Friends of Friends, and so we are going to continue to build that to make you the gamer, to be able to find and connect with people that you like to play with.

TGR: How about the future of Xbox Live Marketplace, specifically movies? The Disney thing is very exciting and it seems like that just keeps building and building. Is it something that we are going to see expand to maybe a complete solution to rentals?

MAJOR NELSON: Well, yeah we’ve got an IPTV solution, which we are deploying in the UK later this year where the Xbox 360 is basically like your tuner box, but the Xbox Live Marketplace is a smashing success. We launched it internationally about a month-and-a-half ago. Here in the US, it has been around for about a year. You all remember those first few days it was kinda bumpy, but once we got through that, I mean, come on, it’s been great! We are the #2 video service in the country and in the world behind iTunes. But we are #1 when it comes to high-def content. If you look at all of that high def content that we have, it is phenomenal. So, we are going to continue to build on that and digital delivery is really where the future is going, so we need to work on that and make that a much better experience and increase the catalog.

TGR: What has Microsoft done to prevent things like the lag that was experienced by millions of people at Christmas?

MAJOR NELSON: Well, it�s… so we had a little bit of a challenge over the Holiday. It�s really where we identified the solutions that we are going to be putting in place to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. You know, people that have been on Xbox LIVE since the beginning, which I am sure you guys have, it�s been like the dial tone: you pick it up where they are, and we had a little bit of a blip and so we are going to take the learnings of what happened and make sure that we build the right things so it doesn’t happen again. We will always plan for capacity; this was just way above capacity, it was just that people were banging down our front door to get on Xbox Live.

TGR: It seems like its indicative of great success.

MAJOR NELSON: Yes, sure! You are the victim of your own success, in some respect. Well, there was that and I had our Director of Operations on my broadcast last week and he talked about it. It wasn’t just one thing. Well, first of all, it wasn’t a denial of service attack; I know that one was floating around, that is always a great thing (laughs). It wasn’t that. It was a bunch of different things, like this thing had a problem which caused this thing to have a problem. The service is so tightly knitted together, from your Friends List to your messaging to your Achievements to your game invites, everything is very closely knitted together. Yeah, just like any real service-based business, which we are, Xbox Live is a service much like we talked about the phone company, or your cable system. We knew we were going to do something, but we didn’t want to come out and say what it was until we had a better idea, that it is actually fixed, we know what the problem is. So we knew absolutely we were going to do something, we just had to make sure that we do the right thing.

TGR: So, one of the things that we have been doing lately is that we have really been focusing on helping the community by dispelling rumors.

MAJOR NELSON: Sure!

TGR: So, are there any rumors that stick out in your mind that people are kind of out there talking about and very heated about that you would like to share with us to kind of dispel those rumors?

MAJOR NELSON: Oh sure! Let’s go through them. There was no Xbox Ultimate, you know that was a rumor that was going to be on CES. Number two, people are not losing their achievements on Xbox Live. There was a buzzer on there this morning and in fact, I talked to the guys who manage that database and they were like, “No, we haven’t done anything to the database. Why would people lose their achievements? Where do people come up with this stuff?” So that is not happening. I think we talked about this earlier: there was no denial of service attack. You got anymore?

TGR: The browser coming?

MAJOR NELSON: You know, there is always that one rumor so let’s be clear: we have the browser working in a lab.

TGR: It works if you have Media Center, something that a lot of people don’t know.

MAJOR NELSON: Right, I have it. I rarely use it because I have a computer and you have the computer sitting right there, and the game console is about gaming, you know, most people have a PC…

TGR: I think what the barrier is there, especially with the browsers, because you really don’t have a keyboard in front of you.

MAJOR NELSON: Sure, I mean, we have the chat pad, which is cool…

TGR: That is what I play on. I have actually just started using the Chat Pad myself, and it has made my instant messaging.

MAJOR NELSON: Right. it used to take you 20-30 seconds, now it�s tap-tap-tap…

THE GAME REVIEWS: And finally, and I don’t mean to bring up the other guys, but….

MAJOR NELSON: Well, let’s just talk about it.

TGR: Is Live going to go free when Home hits?

MAJOR NELSON: Well, no, that is not our business model. We are looking at ways to make Xbox Live more valuable for all of our members. We have the Gold and Silver accounts… let’s be clear: Xbox LIVE is already free, OK? It’s already free, you can go right now, sign up for an account. You want multiplayer? Well, you are going to have to pay a little bit. Multiplayer is an important part for some people, but for some people it’s not. So that is the key, that Xbox LIVE is already free.

TGR: With Home coming out, what is the buzz at Microsoft like?

MAJOR NELSON: We never underestimate Sony. They are a great competitor. They come out with great products. We are going to see what happens. It is one of those things like, OK, Home takes off, then we are going to have to take a step back and re-evaluate, but we are not currently working on anything that is really like, “OMG, we have to ship Home a week before they do.” They are going to go in a different direction. We are focused right now on providing the best online experience that we can. Getting you into your game as quick as possible, letting you download a high-def movie, messaging your friends and staying connected to community. When we look at these virtual worlds like Second Life, I mean, I have never been on Second Life, some people at the office have. They tell me that it is like tumble weeds rolling through it, it is not fun. We want to be task based.

If you want to do something right now, we want to make sure that you can do that as quickly as possible. You want to get into your game, you want to download your movie, you want to message your friends, you want to see what achievements I unlocked, etc. etc. etc. Why do you need to do that in a 3D space? We are going to provide a way to do that that is going to be as efficient as possible. Now, if people are interested in that, and the market and people speak and say we really want this, well then yea, sure, absolutely we will go back and re-evaluate.

TGR: So just like basically everything else, you monitor the chat that is going on out there. People speak about it, you look at it.

MAJOR NELSON: And I think if you look at the Xbox 360, it is indicative of that strategy. From the day we launched, people said, “Hey! We really want to have Messenger!” You got your Messenger.

“We want Divx support!” You got Dvix support. The list goes on and on and on, so we constantly listen to the community. That is one of my key goals. What are the features that people want? And how do we bring that to the console and make things. And there are some things that we are working right now that people don’t even think that they want, but they are like, “Oh yeah! That is cool! How did we live without that before?”

TGR: I didn’t know I wanted achievements.

MAJOR NELSON: Right! You didn’t know you wanted achievements. So we are always looking at what the community is interested in doing and being adaptive to your point. That is where we are going to be: we are going to adapt.

TGR: Where do you see Xbox LIVE heading in the future?

MAJOR NELSON: Xbox LIVE is going to continue to be the premier online gaming space. As I said earlier, we want to make it easy for you to get into your games, to discover games, to find games, and to enjoy games. That’s what we want to do. We want to deliver digital content, whether it is a high-def movie, or high-def television show, the Rock Band tracks which come out ever Tuesday, the arcade titles that come out every Wednesday — we want to be as predictable and work with our partners and be as predictable as possible, but the sky is the limit. I mean, if you think about where Xbox 1 was five years ago, and where Xbox 360 is today, it is phenomenal where we have come in such a short time, and when we built the 360, we knew that it had to be the core piece. I mean, it is so wound into the DNA. We have 7.7 million people that have Xbox 360’s that aren’t on LIVE yet, for whatever reason, and maybe they live in a place that they can’t get broadband, but once people hook it up and get on LIVE, they will be like, “Wow, this is really cool!”

TGR: We really want to thank you for your time Larry.

MAJOR NELSON: It was my pleasure, an absolute pleasure.

TGR: Is there anything that you would like to tell the community?

MAJOR NELSON: Ben, you guys do great work and I appreciate all of the work that you guys have been doing. I am glad that people are enjoying what we are doing on Xbox and Inside Xbox and again, Xbox, we have one of the greatest communities on the planet. You are passionate and that’s what it is all about and I appreciate your time today guys.

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