JEFF BELL with MICROSOFT
THE GAME REVIEWS: We recently got the chance at CES to sit down with Jeff Bell; here is what he had to say…
THE GAME REVIEWS: When is XNA going to really take off?
JEFF BELL: This year. We are very proud of the progress that it has made. [XNA] has about 5,000 people in the community making games. We have four games that have now been put up on Arcade and been monetized for the independent directors.
TGR: Those were good games too!
JEFF BELL: And they were good games, but you will see more and more coming, especially at GDC. LOTS of GDC for us on the XNA and how we are going to take that to the next level. So, with XNA, do you, I mean, do you still have to be an official basic, or really just a scripter, C++ Sharp.
What about simple interfaces and scripting so anyone can design a game?
We have some things internally out of the R & D that are very, very simple, drag and drop game development. But it is too simple.
JEFF BELL: It was really put together more for almost pre-school and kindergarten education tools as part of our education software, which you know Bill talked about last night as a big passion. So somewhere between these two, you know, we will find something that will be a lot easier and more fun for people to work on. I do think that the first application of simplicity would be more like Map Editor and add-ons to existing games and doing more things around, you know, armor or appearance, or personalization, customization.
THE GAME REVIEWS: It is like the Forge?, the Forge in Halo III was a HUGE success.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I don’t know if you were looking at YouTube about the guy, what he did was, he basically set up like this 30 step process to do suicide.
JEFF BELL: Oh my god! <laugh> No I didn’t!
THE GAME REVIEWS: Yes, so he starts off with a sticky bomb right? Throws the sticky bomb, jumps through a portal, the sticky bomb, you see the sticky bomb in two different portals and says, jump in, its jumping, jumping, jumping, he jumps through this one portal, dadadada, ends up jumping into a jeep, the sticky bomb hits him in the ass and they explode.
JEFF BELL: Oh my god that is awesome!
JEFF BELL: You just talked about another game though that just absolutely blew me away was Portal. I will tell you what. I enjoy that game because you could kind of do the levels on a very consistent basis. Go for thirty minutes and they you are going through it, and the last one was a little longer, but that was one where I couldn’t wait, that 19! Again, whew! I went all the way through it and enjoyed it.
THEGAMEREVIEWS.COM: The cool thing about Portal is that there isn’t that time and intensive nature, where people are trying to kill you…
JEFF BELL: It is a puzzle solving. It took puzzle solving to a new place, and that is what I loved about that game, it was solving a problem, and I thought you know what? In an interesting way, there is a relationship of that to cognition and education. It is just a step. For me that was a giant light bulb. Like Wow!
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well, I know it is a competitor, but Nintendo DS and Brain Age. Brain Age is a wonderful simple average age game.
JEFF BELL: I agree! 100%! Listen, I am on record, I cannot say it often enough. I THANK NINTENDO for what they have done for our industry. To open people’s minds to this, as not being a threat, or exclusive group, this is an inclusive and open environment. Gaming is fun! That is what it is about. It can also be educational. It can be informative and developmental. It is D, All of the above! Not just one thing and you know….
I have a good friend, Suzanne Seggerman, and you may know that we did have a partnership right now with Games for Change out of the Parsons School and the New School in New York City. So we got 9,000 entries by the way from University students around the world that are making games with XNA, on the issue of Global Climate Change. We are going to see those games land in about the June or July timeframe. We are going to be giving away money and internships to MGS.
Suzanne makes a point, she says, “We in the gaming business are about where films were in the 1930’s and 40’s,” meaning there was just a single genre. Documentaries did not arrive until the 70’s and 80’s. OK, I mean, if you think about the educational, the historic and the different approach to film and so the genres continued to multiply. Gaming is going to go the same way. More and more development of different experiences…
JEFF BELL: And you can see it a little bit, I mean, he didn’t say virtual reality last night, but I mean, Bill said, “Look, convergence of high definition experiences and natural user interface.” So look, the human body is your interface. So I mean our emotion is going to have to be recognized by devices so that our physicality can engage. Well, in a world where we think it is real, and it is actually not, high definition. The goo in the middle, which I actually didn’t think he articulated as clearly as he should, is our ability to safely and securely maintain your identity and your data, including friends, and what you played and what you don’t and what you watch and everything, to bring those things together, right?
THE GAME REVIEWS: Absolutely. How do you feel about gaming addiction and parental control of children’s gaming habits.
JEFF BELL: We are trying to do everything that we can, these will be getting parents involved with their children, and you know in some ways you are going to argue that parents were friends. I don’t know about intervention, or whatever, but I mean, you want everyone to be knowledgeable about what is going on. Access to the right content to the right individuals… You want to make sure that the content is appropriate and that the time that they spend is appropriate. So, more education, more tools, in a more…let me put it this way. You can use our timer controls to wean yourself off like methadone.
THE GAME REVIEWS: OK.
JEFF BELL: So that you could use to wean yourself. Like my wife says to me, “You have been doing this for 90 minutes!” No! <laughing>.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I can say this, I mean I was a EQ addict. You know, my name is yada, I am an EQ addict. Now, but you know, Everquest, I played that for 5 years…
THE GAME REVIEWS: Literally, every waking moment, I was on EQ. You know, going on raids, just everything and it was really a community aspect that really got you so into that. But when they came out with the timer, it was a brilliant move. Really helps bring you back into reality.
JEFF BELL: There ya go! Brilliant move! Yeah, well we are going to continue to be pushing on that, you know, retail got a little bit of a lower grade, they need to be like cigarettes or alcohol, you need to be serious about it if you have the ERSB ratings, you can’t just give the games out to anybody, and you know, so… I do think that you know again, we are going to evolve. We are just not into censorship. You know, that is what we are, we are in favor of freedom of speech. We don’t support AO. That is not something that we are interested in. We don’t think that is good, but if somebody else wants to do that, that’s fine. Yea, let it go that way, so there are limits to it, but I mean for the most part, we believe in the free market, you know, people are going to choose what they want to do and there will be extremes.
THE GAME REVIEWS: That is right.
JEFF BELL: So people will not be able to control things as well as others, but the more education. We don’t want it to be a dirty little secret, you know, we want to talk openly and honestly about it. What it is about it in a good way, and then what things are available for people to use to maintain control.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Are you tracking how many people are using that timer function?
JEFF BELL: It has just launched and you know, surprisingly, and I will tell you that this is a big… this is a focus for us going forward. We don’t gather as much information as you might think that we do. It is just that… I mean for instance, we can’t tell you how many people are playing online or offline… Right? Because we don’t know, I mean, we just didn’t set it up that way. We didn’t set up Xbox live like the internet…
TGR: Like Big Brother.
JEFF BELL: Yea, we just didn’t set it up that way.
TGR: May I ask something? With the introduction of Home. Xbox would be perfect for a virtual world. Well, there has been a rumor on the internet; is it something that MS is considering?
JEFF BELL: Hmm, you know, I will give you my point of view, and again, I am just one person, so never say never, and whatever, but, I actually feel that our role is to humanize technology. I think that we should allow our games, whether they are more online, MMO’s, whether it is PC, that are potentially coming into the console, role-playing games, whether it is sports or all the different things. To me, that is the escape. That is the fantasy. I believe that whether it is the camera, or the voice chat or the chat pad, we are trying to humanize the technology to make more real community as opposed to virtual community. So for that reason, we talked to Second Life since I have been here and well before that. They would really love to come in and be on Xbox Live. I just don’t know if that is the right thing. I am really questioning it. I can’t say that I am done with it, but in many ways the Gamer’s Tags are fun, but we are seeing more and more people be more and more transparent about who they really are, as opposed to being kind of “I’m hiding, or I am trying to be a voyager,” or something else. So, I think that right now, if you wanted my position, we are trying to humanize the technology and let the games and entertainment be the escape. So we really are not as focused on that kind of Second Life experience. Yeah, well let me give you an example, ok?
JEFF BELL: Ok, Micah is, it works on windows live, so she did a demo last night and she said I have a couple of these photographs. We have the ability with a product called Photosense, that I am not sure we are going to brand, or we are going to roll into the Windows Live Suite, that basically says, if you up load your photographs into Flicker or other services, we have a piece that, for instance, all the shots of Las Vegas, if the public, you give access to all the different photographs that people took during their vacation, we have a piece of software… you combine them all, and it will eliminate duplications and you will get a 3-dimensional panoramic of the entire thing.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Are you talking like panoramic kind a like how they have for hotel room sites…or like 3D modeling?
JEFF BELL: No, 3D modeling. For instance, here is how it goes, we were talking with General Motors this last year on remaking the web experience, so that you literally walk into the store, and or you walk into the Dealer and it has this 3 Dimensional photograph representation, and so you know, that to me, we are going to do to the web, with our clients, so that makes this concept of the avatar, less meaningful. Meaning that the web is going to be the shopping experience, much like surface that we have talked about as well, because that, you walk into a store literally, but Bill showed last night, it is, you walk up and you just work with a display, whether it is vertical or horizontal, and you know, design this and it will photograph you. You can drag and drop clothing to see how you look. You know, so things can go faster, you can order things and they can be delivered to your home, whatever the case may be. But also on the web, it is going to be a much more real experience, we will know who you are and what things you like and what things you travel too and try to match things together. So, I think that we will try to push more, again to humanizing technology on the web and make some of that virtualization, less meaningful. Again, let the games be the escape, let that be the fantasy part. So, we will see. Now, Web 2.0 we’ve talked about. Live 2.0 is coming. So, it will not be like the first generation. We are very proud of the blades, we think that worked. It was very innovative at the time. But you will see us evolve to make an even more assessable approachable user interface, that is playing upon where things have been going in the last 5 years.
TGR: Voice chat?
JEFF BELL: Possibly. I will tell you that voice chat for instance, the whole voice thing… I am on a crusade. I remember when 360 was launched and there was an awful lot of promises, it was more like eBay, giving feedback and getting reputations went up. I think that we just scratched the surface there. We have got to do a much better job with limiting the negative hate talk and the trash talking. That has really got to evolve or we have got to make that segregated into only the underground where people know, Enter At Your Own Risk. People are going to use profanities, vulgarities, sometimes go to places that I don’t personally think is appropriate.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well, let me ask you something, I know that there are voice technologies like you use in masking or matching, right?
JEFF BELL: Yes.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So, if you had something that could basically filter before it gets to the user, where if somebody is saying, shit, or whatever it is, you know, it comes out as something else…….or
JEFF BELL: I will tell you, the one thing that is possible, is if I said the “F” word, there is a technology that recognizes that and will censor you. Ok? So, that would probably be more “possible” because the other one, like a time delay, that monitoring, is just very expensive and very people intensive more then you would imagine. But I think that there again, I think that we didn’t do a good job, I don’t know what the difference is between pro and underground for instance… There aren’t that many people there anyway…
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well, it doesn’t seem to be enforced…
Jeff Bell: We should have taken this seriously, perhaps we should redefine the whole thing….families, family….recreation is massive, pro and underground we should rationalize, but perhaps we should use this to say, “No, choose your place, but these are the rules of engagement, in which you violate those rules, you will be censored”. Well, then we have to be serious about it… we got to get on that, because the problem that I have is that the voice is so promising, but right now, it is more trash talking then it is communication. We’ve got to be able to absolutely bring that to a new place.
JEFF BELL: Yes, yes, I am with you. Like I say, we have room for improvement, I mean, part of it, we can’t create a police state, but we have to do a better job of putting the right tools in place to be able to, and that was unexpected by the way, we thought that Grandma and you know little Sally were going to be playing UNO with each other, and I am telling you that within 24 hours, it went to a whole other place that we had no idea that it was going to go too… so, that is why we then changed the default settings to extraordinarily restrict them and you have to change the back.
TGR: Real quick, are there any new developments on the Peter Jackson project? Or is that on the back burner? I haven’t heard about that? It’s exciting to me!
JEFF BELL: Well, I don’t think that we have anything specific to announce. I know that, and it is not really my area, but kind of re-thinking and re-visiting and looking again at what is the Halo franchise and how do we want to engage that. You know, there was a movie, and then there wasn’t a movie and I think that kind of needs to be sorted a little bit before we get ahead of ourselves. The other projects, what I am interested in and what I, at least my conversations with Peter were about, how do you view some content, I mean it is a little bit like the seg ways that kind of bridge the story for game play, but how do you watch some content, and then play for as long as you would like to play around that content? Just use, whether it is Lost, or its Heroes, if you think about what they introduce in a 48 minute segment, probably you could even do it in less….something about character, something about story. There are an awful lot of missions if you will that you can spawn off of that…
Things that you could explore… simulation type of thing, that I do believe is exciting and interesting. That is kind of where Peter Jackson’s mind is. We didn’t know exactly what to call this, other than interactive entertainment. That he could stimulate and introduce a story, but then there are an awful lot of ancillary stories that develop character, a character again that you could save uniquely for yourself, in terms of the way a character develops and evolves you know would be different for every participant and then being able to handle missions or find more back story, before you engage in the next episode of content. There is a main story that is going to be told, but your interpretation and your activation of that story will be unique. I think it will be, I really do. So it is just getting it figured out when and how. We really want to manage the Halo IP very, very carefully and intelligently, so it is getting that also in a steady rhythm, we don’t want to do too much too soon, we have Halo Wars coming, so we have got things coming and we just want to get the right cadence I think.
TGR: Lets talk a litlle about movies and the delivery over xbox live. How do you feel about it and what do you think the future will bring us?
TGR: The selection leaves me a little um…unsatisfied though, I watch all of the big ones, but….I was wondering, I know that the cable networks are like, HBO, SHOWTIME, are really hesitant to merge with that sort of….if I could watch the handful of shows that I watch on HBO and SHOWTIME, I would do that exclusively.
JEFF BELL: I am with you, I will tell you what, let me just say that if this was a seed that was gently, but you know, I would say fairly casually put into the ground, give it a little bit of water, and then, it just started growing, but no one really had any idea that we would be the largest downloader of high definition content in the world, one year later, that we would be the second and largest provider of downloadable standard and high def in the US, so now, the rate by the way in Europe is twice the rate that we saw at launch in the United States, so I mean, this is just one of those things that I would argue, it is just kind of growing and growing, and growing, and a lot of people had questions and to the conservative attack for instance, we will give you that window, of the traditional theater and then pay download and then DVD, we will give you that window, and then you are on and then you are off, so it was very much the rules as they were defined by the industry. What about the back catalog, “well, let’s see how things go…” you know, so now some back catalogs come out. I think you will see it getting bigger and bigger. Second – We didn’t anticipate the success and ingestion both of the content to get it loaded and then the pipe to get it presented, it is not free and it is not infinite. So, we are trying to manage that, we are really straining under the growth of the system. We are getting smarter, and we are learning and growing. I think that the answer is, we are not done. Sorry, a little patience, but be confident that we are going to add more and more.
TGR: I dream of Netflix on there.
JEFF BELL: I am with you on that, and I will tell you that even with the announcement of IP TV coming into Xbox 360 now with BT, they are going to be able, if you are an Xbox 360 owner, you can download and join their system and have inter-protocol television right there, with British Telecom. We have got tests that we are running of that software with AT & T down in Texas, they have not yet adopted Xbox 360 both for existing and then they will deliver out of the van a 360 to your home, kind of like the new DVR upgrade, so that is kind of that whole business model is very exciting for us as well.
TGR: A 360 in every hotel room.
JEFF BELL: Exactly. Right, right, no, I agree with you. I agree with you. So it is going, that is one of those things from small things, big things grow. We are just kinda slowly and steadily getting into a space that we are trying to learn. I mean, Microsoft has a lot of bets…you kinda heard that from Robby last night, so whether it is disc space or its downloaded, whether it is streaming, there are a lot of different chips on the table if you will.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Like planting seeds….
JEFF BELL: Yea and we are not confused or don’t know where, it is just nobody knows what is going to really work. So they went with the television shows mainly because it was backed catalog, but because we are doing new releases, that is why it became a rental model, so I think that when we open up the larger catalog, you will probably be seeing “to own” model.
TGR: Vhanks for taking the time to talk with us…