NEW YORK — Prepare to download movies and TV onto your game console. Look forward to a rich spring of Xbox games. Leave the popcorn unpopped for a "Halo" movie.
And if you're one of the gamers complaining that game publishers are ripping you off on Xbox Live, vote for change with your A-button.
Peter Moore, the top gaming executive at Microsoft, broke Xbox news and addressed some of the most consternating issues about the system during a wide-ranging interview with MTV News on Monday. He spoke in a hotel suite more than 30 flights above the New York streets. At the ground level, an international mix of tourists wore track suits and medals from Sunday's New York City Marathon. Upstairs, Moore, who ran a marathon several years back, wanted to discuss how his company could win the five-year next-gen run against Sony and Nintendo.
Moore sat with a controller in hand, energized to demonstrate a new feature for the Xbox 360, an expansion of Xbox Live activating November 22 that will allow users to download movie and TV shows to their system. "This is a shot across the bow," he said, noting that this was one strong signal that Microsoft won't let the PS3 and Wii launch next week without making some noise.
Microsoft will offer content, much of it in high or standard definition, from six outlets: CBS, Paramount, MTV Networks, Turner, Warner Bros. and Ultimate Fighting Championship. Movies, including "Superman Returns" and "Mission: Impossible III," will be available for a 24-hour viewing period starting the first time the film is played. TV shows, including episodes of "South Park," "Hogan Knows Best" and the old-school "Star Trek," can be stored for permanent viewing. One high-def episode for "CSI" is 2GB (standard definition is 565MB); the movie "V for Vendetta" weighs in at 6GB, 1.7 in standard definition. Prices for all this content have yet to be announced.
Moore talked up the holiday season's big 360 games, including the hyper-violent "Gears of War" — which unsettled his wife when he played it on their 110-inch projection screen ("I was practicing my chainsaw action.") — and "Viva Piñata," a colorful kid's game shipping later this month that Moore hopes will expand the Xbox image. He may have been holding a controller, but he talked with the confidence of a poker player holding a strong hand. Still, things can't all be rosy in the neon-green world of Xbox, can they?
Moore promised that Xbox 360 titles "Crackdown," "Forza Motorsport 2," "Shadowrun," and "Too Human" will all be available by the end of June. And he had a tease about the big 360 game in 2007's back half: "I actually saw 'Halo 3' last week," he said. "It's everything people would expect to see in a next-generation version of 'Halo.' "
The Xbox executive didn't have much new news to report about the recently announced collaboration between filmmaker Peter Jackson and Microsoft to make new forms of interactive entertainment (see "Microsoft Partners With Peter Jackson For Xbox, Reveals New 'Halos' "). The first project will involve the "Halo" universe and it will be a collaboration with the first-person shooter's developers at Bungie Studios. "The team at Bungie just came back from [Jackson's studio in Wellington, New Zealand]. Another team is going down there in a couple of weeks." He would not say whether Jackson's titles would reach 360 owners in 2007.
What he would confirm about Jackson is that the "Halo" movie the filmmaker is signed on to produce won't be happening any time soon. In the last few weeks the studios financing the film backed out, and Jackson said the project would be on ice until new funding came in. "While we have no deals to announce, everyone in Hollywood is looking at it," Moore said, adding that "several studios" have gone to Wellington to check out the work that's already been done. Gamers will just have to wait. "For the magnitude of what the script is — I've read the screenplay — and what we need to do to uphold the 'Halo' universe for its legion of fans in the way they want to see a movie being made, no, it won't be next year."
The 360's downloading capabilities, which Moore demonstrated on Monday, bring up the hotly contested micro-transactions — the new habit of publishers charging gamers to download or unlock extra content on Xbox Live and soon the PlayStation 3 and Wii's online services. Some gamers have complained that companies are holding content back that should have been included on the game discs they paid for in the first place. Many publishers say they're just defraying development cost and adding value.
Last week gaming blogs ignited with players incensed that Electronic Arts put nearly $50 worth of micro-transaction content — extra cars, unlocked tracks, etc. — for its new game "Need for Speed: Carbon" on Xbox Live. Some cried foul, claiming EA was charging consumers who already spent $60 to buy the game far too much money for the kinds of bonuses that, at worst, used to be unlocked with free cheat codes released on the Web or in magazines.
Moore was familiar with the controversy and admitted that the whole concept of paying for game extras is still largely uncharted territory: "What we try very hard to caution our publishers about, and we do ourselves as well, is to make sure that in no way do you nickel or dime or shortchange the consumer because they call bullsh-- pretty darn quickly on that." About "Need for Speed" specifically, he said, "I've got the game. The game is great. Should I wish to continue to enhance that game, I'll download some stuff. New cars. Maybe some new tracks. Or in my case, I probably won't."
Asked if Microsoft would put tighter reins on game publishers because of gamers' concerns, he instead said the issue was literally in players' hands. "The consumer has the ability to vote. And they vote with the A-button most of the time. Either they download it or not." If something is priced wrong, he said, "I think publishers, and we're a publisher as well, will get the message."
It took Moore an hour to showcase and discuss all these shopping options for gamers to seek or avoid. You can't win a marathon in that time, but you can set a pace. Moore expects 10 million 360s to be sold by year's end. That puts his company in the lead and, he hopes, never in the dust.