BY BEN GILBERT
Xbox — and Microsoft in general — doesn’t really show up for CES. It’s not hard to understand why: for a big company like Microsoft, there’s no point in competing with the cacophony of voices shouting for attention. “Whenever we want, we can talk about Xbox stuff and get coverage. Why try to talk with 100,000 other things going on?” Xbox chief product officer Marc Whitten told us in an interview this week. Though Xbox isn’t here to show anything off, Whitten’s in town to meet with partners and, as he put it, “It’s just a good time to pop up and see an environmental scan you can get in an immediate dose.” After a long 2013 head down on the Xbox One launch, he’s finally got a second to take the temperature and see the world outside of Microsoft’s Bellevue, Wash. campus.
But we’re not here to ask Whitten about the past. Yes, he’s “really thrilled” with the console’s launch (over 3 million sold by the end of 2013). And yes, he’s very happy with the reaction from consumers. That doesn’t mean work’s over, of course. “There are seams in the product [XB1]. There are still seams in the 360, nothing’s ever done,” Whitten said. As such, first up on the fix docket is what Whitten called, “the Live experience.” Essentially, that’s much of the social features on the latest Xbox console. Whitten takes that stuff personally, having worked on Xbox Live as a service for the last 10 years:
“The feedback we’ve gotten is pretty valid; some of the social stuff is hidden or harder to use than it was on the Xbox 360. So you’re gonna see us come out with an update where, well, we’re going to fix those things. As a person who’s been pretty involved in building Xbox Live for the last decade, I take it pretty seriously when people say it’s harder to get into a party, and the defaults aren’t right, and I don’t like the model. So what I’m trying to do with the team is kind of theme some stuff up. Let’s take an update and really go through a big list of what we’re hearing from customers, what we know is broken with the architecture, areas that we want to improve or complete. I think that’s a theme you’ll really see us push on — that Live experience.”
Based on our conversation with Whitten, it sounds like those Live fixes are coming sooner than later. Promised game streaming functionality, however, may not be coming as quickly. “This is not 100 percent,” Whitten prefaced his statement with. “But my general strategy at E3 is to talk about things that are gonna happen from that E3 to the next E3. So, we are not yet to the next E3,” he added with a smile. So, uh, before June then!
Updates in general, though, will come much faster. While Whitten said we’ll still see the traditional large Dashboard updates, the Xbox One was designed around lessons learned from the 360 before it. One major facet of that design facilitates more regular updates. “The Xbox 360, which I’m still very very proud of, the software architecture was built in 2003. Rethinking [updates] based on everything we learned from 360 was a lot of what went into the Xbox One,” he told us. “You’re still gonna see the big, ‘Hey, here’s the cool stuff we’re doing.’ But you’re also gonna see the box just get better faster than you did in the past.”
First up on that front? “Everything from getting more apps out faster, some of the TV stuff — improving some of that, getting the scale of that internationally where we don’t have some of that. So I think you’re gonna see that come pretty quickly,” Whitten said.
The next big push for Microsoft’s Xbox One starts by March’s Game Developers Conference. As it turns out, the Xbox One gets its first major exclusive game that month in Titanfall as well. And hey, if you ask us, there’s serious incentive for Microsoft to have partying up perfected in time for Respawn Entertainment’s big game.