Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Interview with OXM's Francesca Reyes


Here's the extended version of my interview with Francesca Reyes. The short version of which was in last Saturday's Gazette.

Chris Slate, Editor-in-Chief of the Official PlayStation Magazine gave his point of view on the future of gaming. Its only fair that Francesca Reyes, Editor-in-Chief of the Official Xbox Magazine, throws in her two cents. Here’s my interview with Ms. Reyes.

TT: Now that the Xbox 360 has been out for a few months, in hindsight, what has Microsoft done right and what could they have done better in launching their new console?

FR: Microsoft did a phenomenal job in getting the console hyped pre-launch, so that going into the actual release of Xbox 360, there was a lot of demand. They met it with a really solid and varied launch list of games – it seemed that there was something for pretty much almost every type of gamer out there. They also really scored by having the Xbox Live Marketplace service up and running from day one with Arcade offerings and other downloadable content. You didn’t even need to have an Xbox Live paid membership to access the content, either – it was available with just a broadband internet connection! But with all that demand and all those games offered up, the hardware supply was completely outstripped with customers being turned away without a system for weeks and months after the launch. That was the 360’s most crippling challenge during its initial months – luckily, Microsoft was always aware of it and was continually trying to meet demand. Thankfully, now – those shortages are a thing of the past.

TT: At E3 Bill Gates made some bold claims - a 10 million unit head start on the PS3; Xbox Live linking console, PC and Mobile gamers; 160 games available for the 360 by years end, a turkey for everyone on Thanksgiving. Are all of these goals realistic? And if so, would it be enough to knock off Sony for console supremacy?

FR: Honestly, I don’t know about “knocking off Sony for console supremacy” – but those figures and claims made at the Microsoft E3 press conference were really impressive, on their own. I’m not sure where they pulled the figures from, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched. If there are roughly 3.5 million Xbox 360 systems already out there, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that they’ll be able to at least double that (or triple it) with all of the great games, services, and features they announced by year’s end. Am I saying they’ll do it? I really don’t have an answer, but it’s not impossible and I’d love to see them achieve those numbers for sure. If anything, I’ll be an incredibly happy Xbox 360 owner and gamer – and really, that’s all I can ask for, Thanksgiving turkey or no.

TT: Does the 360 need Halo 3 to compete with the Playstation 3?

FR: Well, it really all comes down to the games in the end. You can have the most souped-up console in the world, but if you don’t have the triple-A titles or the quality and variety in your games library – that system will just collect dust under the TV. Halo is one of those games that defined Xbox and I’d bet money that it’ll do the same for Xbox 360 – but as far as it being necessary to compete with Sony’s system, well…just think. There’s no Halo 3 this year. PS3 is coming out by year’s end. I think Microsoft has finally found that even though Halo 3 is any MS console’s bread and butter, having a string of really awesome exclusive titles that include games like Gears of War (which totally rocked E3, I thought) is equally as powerful if not more so since it offers up multiple gaming experiences. But that’s not to diminish Halo 3’s importance. If there’s one title, by name alone, that can go head to head with whatever the competition’s got cooking, it’s Halo 3. And I think that Microsoft has been really smart about how its handled the series so far – and I know I’m super excited about the game based on just what they showed in the trailer at E3. That’s kind of the magic of games like Halo 3 – they offer up experiences that go beyond just being a game. And that will always sell a system, no matter which one it’s on.

TT: Xbox Live Marketplace has turned out to be one of the coolest features for the 360 (I'm still anxiously awaiting the release of Cyberball on Xbox Live Arcade). Was downloadable content, retro games and movie trailers just meant as filler or is it all part of Microsoft's plans for world domination?

FR: This is just my opinion, but I think Microsoft was being really forward-thinking in terms of Xbox Live Markeplace. Just think of how wildly successful online shopping has been, or how the numbers for services like iTunes have skyrocketed over the past few years. Digital distribution is really the future in terms of merchandise, to some degree, and Marketplace is no different. And for products like games, it just makes sense, especially now that hard-drives are a given when it comes to consoles. As far as Arcade and downloadable content – I think Microsoft really struck the market with the right product at the right time. Timing is key. After all, Arcade was around on the original Xbox but didn’t take off the way it has until the launch of Xbox 360. Streamlining the interface, making paying for content incredibly easy and giving the entire service a ridiculously accessible appeal all contributed along with having a larger hard drive and storage space for the content to be saved to. Everything just came together so incredibly smoothly and the public was ready for it.

TT: I will now play just about any 360 game, even if it stinks, just to earn Achievement Points. Are collecting these points for bragging rights a good or a bad thing? Please tell me its a good thing.

FR: Oh, most definitely a good thing. Everyone here was a bit skeptical about the whole Achievements and Gamerscore features before 360’s launch – but, boy, were we wrong! Now all of us in the office are addicted to seeing how many Points we can eke out of each game we play! It’s that whole reward system – now there’s a really tangible way to prove your “hardcore-ness” or to show off what you were able to accomplish. It’s just a really addicting, smart way to entice gamers to push themselves and try every game on the system. How I wish they had them for some of the games I’ve played in the past! I didn’t get to brag enough about finishing some of them! Haha.

TT: For most gamers, working for a gaming magazine would be just as cool as designing or testing games. How on earth did you get such a great job (required education, work experience, etc) and what percentage of your workday is spent playing games?

FR: Seriously, I lucked out getting into this type of job. I started out working at Sony for PlayStation doing technical support, but I really wanted to write about games. And the opportunity came up and I went for it – it really just sorta happened. I had a degree in English and had been going to school for a post-graduate degree when it all came through. It was really a combination of good luck and timing, in the end. And I guess that’s pretty much most of life and opportunities. My best advice for someone who wants to get into this part of the videogame industry is to be persistent and be open to trying everything. This specific area of games is very small, but it’s very flexible. Try starting out by writing articles for a fansite or keep a blog – be willing to really promote it to your friends, to forums, and to people in the games industry. Also be willing to take some harsh criticism and work on improving your writing, your social skills (a lot of this job is working with a team and with loads of people) and your savvy with knowing good magazine craft and of course the games, themselves. Try to attend as many gaming events as possible and get to know the people running the shows both in front of and behind the scenes. It honestly does help to know the right people. But don’t get discouraged if it takes a long time or you end up pursuing a different aspect of the industry in the meanwhile – never underestimate how far your passion for games and writing will take you.

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