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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 05:52 PM Thread Starter
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Xbox 360 Price Cut Hinted

An Interview With Robbie Bach

In an interview with San Jose Mercury News, Robbie Bach has hinted at forthcoming price cuts for the Xbox 360 video game system.

Because we are out there first, we have a bigger installed base of consoles. We can drive down the manufacturing curve sooner and faster. And because we designed a box that was fundamentally easier to manage on costs, we’re going to have that advantage.

When the author of 2001's Opening the Xbox and 2006’s The Xbox 360 Uncloaked books asked Bach if work on the Xbox 360 successor has already began, the president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, once again said that cost reduction is the top priority for the Xbox team:

Q: So are you thinking about Xbox 720?

A: You know how these things work. The engineering team is always thinking about the future. Right now we are thinking about how to cost reduce the Xbox 360. That seems to be the first order of business.

To read the whole interview, click here.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 05:53 PM Thread Starter
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A couple of weeks ago, Mercury News staff writer Troy Wolverton and I sat down with Robbie Bach for a one-hour joint interview in San Francisco. I finally got around to transcribing all of the game-related questions as well as some of the Zune questions. Hope you enjoy the reading.

Q: Regarding Zune, it’s just a year ago, about that time, that you started it?

A: Yeah. The time frames are always a little bit sketchy with things like this, but yes, it's over a year ago. And then you have to try to say, "Well, when did it start?" And the way these things work, they aren't as definitive as you might want to think they are.

Q: And then a year ago, the choice before you, I suppose J. and Greg Gibson and those folks there, they are kind of a finite quantity, right? There aren't that many of them to go and do every project that you can do. Why choose this one? You could have done a GameBoy killer or a PSP killer.

A: Sure. It kind of goes back to the discussion we just had in a way, which is, yeah, we always have to prioritize our resources, whether they are people or financial or marketing spend or just consumer focus and attention. And when we looked at it, we said, "Hey, this is something that's a significant marketplace. It's a high priority, given the momentum that Apple has. And this is something that we need to get after right away." And, you know, you compare it to other things, and you say, "Well, gosh, maybe you should have done, as you say, a handheld gaming device," and we look at that and say, "Gosh, I need the people who are focused on gaming to focus on Xbox 360." Right? And the priority there is making sure, you know, the second holiday for Xbox 360 is set up right, that we've got the quantities we need, that we've got the games we need, and anything I do to distract those guys is probably a bad thing. And it's not just about one or two people. It's not just about a Greg Gibson. But you have to distract a whole group of people that are doing content and the Live service and a whole bunch of other things to do that. You know, and I think Sony, frankly, suffers a little bit from this problem, which is they're spread really thin across all these areas. And trying to do PSP, competing with Nintendo, PSP to DS; competing with us, 360 to PS3, I think it does strain -- it would naturally strain any organization.

Q: You said at the analysts meeting that you'd put hundreds of millions of dollars into this over some period of years. It sounds like it is a less costly effort than the Xbox for sure, then?

A: Well, understand that the business model works significantly differently than the Xbox business model works. You don't have an environment where you have subsidized hardware. If you looked at the investment in the Xbox over the last four or five years, a significant percentage of that was purely in hardware subsidization. So, because the business models are different, the investment required is different, let's call it that. So, it scales differently. The intent, in terms of the seriousness with which we approach it, is no different.

Q: The nature of the threat to … Is it really that the iPod is gaining so much ground that you have a concern about the Windows platform losing ground to Macintosh? Is that sort of why this is a strategic concern, I guess?

A: No, again, go back to the things I talked about. Certainly, I think, if you believe, if I think about my business and the future of my business, I think connected entertainment. And the concepts that digital media bring to that are super powerful and are secret? to our growth. Without having a play in the music space, it would be tough to deliver on that. So, I think that's first and foremost. Does the company think Apple competes with Windows, and they are in a competitive marketplace? Sure, and when they've got something that's driving significant cash flow and significant income, that's something we pay attention to. But it's not at the core of how we think about it.

Q: So, do you see this more as a defensive play, meaning you're defending Windows, etc, or defending your presence in the digital media market? Or do you see this as an offensive play, where you guys have had a flat-line stock for five years and Wall Street's looking for growth, and this is a high-growth area?

A: I think of it more as an offensive play. You could certainly see it has other side effects that probably fit into other things the company is paying attention to. So I'll say that freely. But, this is something that we do, because we think there's a great business there. And if we didn't think there was a good business there, we probably wouldn't be doing it.

Q: So it's not a, "Let's go ruin that market. Let's go throw our market at something else?"

A: No, no. I've got too many smart people focused on doing too many good things to think about it that way. I mean, you've got a team whose very motivated, and they want to be motivated about building something great.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 05:55 PM Thread Starter
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Q: How long before this becomes a profitable business for you guys?

A: Good question, and like Xbox, tough to forecast. But I'll repeat, I'll just say what I said at the analysts meeting, which is, I said, "This is hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two to four years, and we'll see how that plays out in terms of when profit can come and when it won't." It's also -- some piece of it -- depending on how things evolve -- may get a little bit difficult to track, because there's ways in which this overlaps with other parts of my business that get a little tricky relative to the accounting. But we had that same problem with Xbox, where we had stuff that gets developed in one group, and we'd use it, and then you have to decide, "alright, is that a cost or not?" So, I think there's some parts that'll just be an accounting question, but by and large, we're thinking of several years of investment, before we look at the business and say, "OK, now we're driving this just as a business."

Q: What sort of unifies the strategy of the IPTV and Xbox and the Zune?

A: Well, I think that at some level today you'd say those things are connected in fairly narrow ways. So, you can take your Zune and plug it in to an Xbox 360 and actually get a very nice experience. It's actually quite cool. That connection is reasonably direct. IPTV is a little bit of its own ecosystem today. But over time, there absolutely are ways for those things to connect. The mantra I have with the team that we keep talking about is, "Job one is making sure each one of those specific businesses is successful in its own right." IPTV needs to be successful as IPTV, Xbox needs to be successful as Xbox, Zune needs to be successful as Zune, and Media Center needs to be successful as Media Center, just to pick some examples. And then what we do, and you've seen us start to do this, is we find logical ways for things to be connected: Xbox as a Media Center extender, the Zunes' ability to plug into Xbox and create a good experience. And you will see more of those. And there's actually a reasonable amount of work going on developing those. There just hasn't been much public activity talking about it yet.

Q: Does Vista also give a platform to doing more of those things together?

A: Well, Vista is part of that whole ecosystem just by its nature. It turns out even Xbox actually relies on Vista for a lot of things. Our site is up there. That's integrated into what we're doing on Live. We've announced our Live Anywhere initiative to connect the communities of people playing on PCs and people playing on Xboxes and ultimately, people who are playing on mobile phones. So, certainly, in the Zune ecosystem, the client on XP and Vista is a lot of where the action is. In fact, it's where people do most of the creating of their play lists. It's where they purchase their music, etc. So, I do think Vista plays an important role in that. And we're pretty excited about Vista, particularly in the gaming space.

Q: What’s your view on games and how you are going to win? How do you see things unfolding this holiday season?

A: A number of things are happening are happening this season. You and I have talked about this before. The No. 1 thing happening in the holiday season is where is the content. I think we’ve got a great line-up of games. Early reviews on both Viva Piñata and Gears of War have been very positive. If you look at what we have coming from third party, Need for Speed Carbon is doing exceptionally well. The Tom Clancy titles from Ubisoft are all doing well. Call of Duty 3 is a very anticipated title from Activision. THQ has great things coming. If you go through the publishers, you see the content portfolio is rich and full. If you don’t have that, the rest is tough. But I think we’ve got great content coming down the pike. The second thing is frankly our value proposition is just better. Our console is at $299 and $399. Sony is going to have a pretty limited supply of consoles at $499 and $599. Consumers want to buy during the holiday. We’re going to be a great logical choice for them. As you start to move out into 2007, you have the promise of Halo 3 as a cool title coming out, in that era, along with a whole line-up of content from us and our third parties. I think this is going to be a good holiday for the video game space. I think there is going to be a lot of excitement in the category. We have an opportunity to benefit from that dramatically. Our goal is to get to 10 million and we think we’re going to be able to do that.

Q: It’s 10 million shipped, right?

A: Yeah. In our case, it’s reasonably close to sold through. To make sure we’re clear, Sony does shipped from factory. We don’t. Our shipped means it has left a distribution warehouse in Memphis to a retailer. There is a big lag of six week to eight-week lag between what we called shipped and what Sony calls shipped. That’s the way we do the accounting.

Q: It does look like things will even out more in market share.

A: Maybe it will go the other way, Dean. (Laughs)

Q: That’s the part I don’t see. I’m not sure why Microsoft might come out with 40 percent share, versus 30-30 for Sony and Nintendo. I can see why things will look close to 1/3 1/3 1/3. But what’s the extra thing that will get you to 40?
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 05:56 PM Thread Starter
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A: There are a couple of things you have to look at. You do have to look at the content. Where’s the best content? Is it cross-platform? Where was it first developed? I think that does matter in the marketplace. The second thing you have to look at is economics. You have to ask the question, over the life cycle, who has the cost advantage? Who can price most effectively? Who can reach the price points quicker? That has a huge impact on what gets driven.

Q: Price points for hardware?

A: Yes. The third thing is Xbox Live and the ecosystem around that and the benefit that drives for us and our publishers. Those are all things I can look at. It’s a fine debate. At some level, who knows? But those are all factors I can look at. I think we’re going to have the best game portfolio. Most publishers are doing their initial development work on the Xbox 360. That plays to our benefit. Because we are out there first, we have a bigger installed base of consoles. We can drive down the manufacturing curve sooner and faster. And because we designed a box that was fundamentally easier to manage on costs, we’re going to have that advantage. And Live has a significant advantage.

Q: Some people thought you might pull that trigger on price. When you think about that, that can hurt you financially, but it can also get you momentum. It seems like a difficult decision. You do want to make this generation profitable, but …

A: Well, I guess you can say that. I actually don’t think in the holiday it is that hard a decision. When your competitor is supply constrained, it’s not clear what price buys you. Let’s be clear, Sony is going to sell as many units as they can ship in the U.S. I think that’s true. Given the quantities we are talking about, I’m confident they will sell all of them. I don’t know that a lower price would make a difference in the outcome. As you go out into later years, cost and price are both important issues. I’ve been on the other side of this equation. It’s a hard problem.

Q: So there is that rumor that you're going to do the game version of Zune. And it's interesting that Apple is starting to commission some games from EA for the iPod.

A: Sure. It doesn't surprise me that they're doing it. It's not clear to me that the iPod as a device is particularly well suited for gaming. But who knows how they'll evolve the device. We'll see. So, that doesn't surprise me. We do gaming in a lot of other contexts besides PC and Xbox: We have games on mobile phones, we have games on MSN, we have games on Messenger. Could we do games in other places? Sure, I suppose the answer to that, that's true. But right now, we're really focused on music. I haven't shipped unit 1 of the music player, so let me get that marketplace, and prove we can do that before I worry too much about the next set of things.

Q: What would constitute a success for you this holiday season?

A: I think the way you want to come out of the holiday is really more about a perception. And I think clearly we want to come out of the holiday with people recognizing that we're going to be a serious competitor to Apple and to iPod. And some of that is about how we do in the marketplace, of course. Some of that's about how we do in the thought leader arena. Some of it's about how people react to some of the key things we're doing as a differentiation. Some of its about what the ecosystem's reaction is. All of those things combined -- that's why there isn't a math -- I can't give you a math equation to say, "Hey, success equals A plus B plus C times 3. It's how all of those things play together. And we had this same challenge [with] Xbox the first time around. We basically said, "Hey, yeah, we'd like to be successful. There's a certain set of things we want to do. But really what we want to do is come out of that first three or four months saying, 'These people are serious. They're going to be here a long time. They're going to be serious competitors to Sony.'" And I think, while the situations aren't completely analogous, I think the general way we think about success is the same.

Q: So are you thinking about Xbox 720?

A: You know how these things work. The engineering team is always thinking about the future. Right now we are thinking about how to cost reduce the Xbox 360. That seems to be the first order of business.

Q: I would guess the story that hinted at these in the New York Times, by John Markoff, is probably right that you’re thinking about doing more of this work yourselves? Doing more of the architecture, doing more of the design through your internal people?

A: Well, the Xbox 360 is an example. We did a reasonable percentage of that ourselves. There is a core chip architecture work that we didn’t do. IBM and ATI did. I probably wouldn’t see that changing. The difference of the first Xbox and the Xbox 360 was pretty dramatic on that front. We are managing the intellectual property direction. We are the guys that take it to the fab. We are the ones who are responsible for the economics. That was a big shift from the Xbox to the Xbox 360.

Q: That you can do more from a virtual point of view, as opposed to buying a chipmaker?

A: Yeah, exactly. We certainly believe that is the case. You have to be careful. There is a reason that Microsoft didn’t go off and buy a manufacturer. There are some things that Microsoft just isn’t going to be good at. (Laughs). Flextronics is world class at it. Wistron is good. So is Celestica. Those guys do it every day so we should let them do that. TSMC—they’re pretty good at fabrication. I’ve been to their facility. It’s nicer than where my guys are. They’re really good at it. We want to take advantage of experts where we can.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 05:56 PM Thread Starter
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Q: When do you make money on the Xbox?

A: To be clear, we have said that in fiscal 08, entertainment and devices makes money. That’s not exactly Xbox. We don’t break profit down by business. And there are parts of entertainment and devices that make money. Xbox doesn’t. Xbox has to make significant progress to enable E&D to get there. We feel we are on track.

Q: What is separating you from getting there now? What has to happen? A lot more Halo games?

A: You have a lot of things going in their own directions. It’s a big question. Zune is an investment business. That is new investment. IPTV is in the market place. So parts of the investment are starting to pay off there. That’s a positive thing. You have Xbox 360, which is really about scaling the business. You have to scale from a volume business, which drives attach rates of software sales, where the money is, which drives Xbox Live attach and drives peripherals attach. That’s where profit is to be found. As we get to scale, it enables us to drive costs down. So those are the kinds of things. Getting the incubations into the market place like IPTV, and getting things that are already in the market place to scale, like Xbox 360.

Q: It seems like you are going to be profitable a year later than you hoped. Did things come in more expensive than you had hoped?

A: That’s a complicated equation. The group’s composition changed. We had home and entertainment. We added the mobile. We added Media Center. You have Games for Windows. It changes the division dramatically, and Zune. When we originally said that, Zune didn’t exist. You have a lot going on.

Q: That applies to the whole division as opposed to just the Xbox.

A: In the original discussions, we thought that home and entertainment had a chance to be profitable in fiscal 2007.

Q: Is Xbox behind on its financials?

A: Xbox is one the trajectory we thought it would be on. We feel very good about that.

Q: Let's take a step back. You were hinting at some of the contentiousness that seems to be out there between Apple and some of the various players in the ecosystem. You were talking about the relationship with the -- the competition between them and the retailers, you were talking about the contentious relationships with some of the content providers. Does that help you guys at all that they are having these contentious relationships? Do you get a sense that people are hoping that there's going to be another horse here?

A: Yeah, I think that's true. It's just like with Sony. It's not different. People, when we come and talk to them about what we want to do, it does give us an opportunity for people to take us seriously before we've sold unit one. Because they look and say, "Hey, Microsoft's serious. They've proven they can do this before. They're committed to this. And they'll bring a sense of competition to the marketplace." That's good, not only for the rest of the ecosystem, but also turns out to be incredibly healthy for consumers. So, I do think that gives us an opportunity to get an extra rung up on the ladder at the beginning, before we're even in the marketplace.

Q: I think Tim Bajarin is pointing out that it's not such a great thing that Microsoft has this habit of doing a 1.0, 2.0, getting it right by 3.0, that more emphasis should be put on getting 1.0 right.

A: There's always a challenge there, which is, until you have things in the market, sometimes you don't know exactly what the right thing to do is for the next set of what you're doing, so I'll point that out. I'll also point out that you have to go back and ask the basic question … and that is, hey, it's a nice device. It does a lot of good things. It's not like 1.0 is not good. 1.0 is a good device, it's good product, and it’s a good offering. Is there promise for the future and more we can do? And the answer is, of course, yes. I think that's noticeably different from the Google approach, which is the perpetual beta. And ask yourself, are those two things mostly different? If we shipped something that just fundamentally didn't work or where the scenario didn't work, I'd say, "Hey, that's something we should have done differently." I absolutely don't think that's the case with Zune. I think it's a really nice device.

Q: Do you think that Microsoft’s strategy is a good one? That you keep at it generation after generation, you wear them down and you eventually get them?

A: To me, these are combinations of things. There is no black and white. Whether it is a new product or version 12 product, you have to ship a product that people make a connection with. Was Xbox 1 perfect? No, it wasn’t perfect. Was it a good product? Yeah, we sold 25 million of them. Did we get a lot of people who are loyal Xbox customers? The answer is yes. Do I think Xbox 360 is a better product that has really advanced the state of the art? The answer to that is also yes. Those things are internally consistent. You want to ship a great product at the beginning. You do want to continue to improve it. Our ability to continue to come up with new things and new ways to innovate is a core attribute and it’s good for consumers.

Q: Now that you guys have got these things coming out, have people in Microsoft stopped using their iPods, stopped bringing them to work?

A: No, because we haven't shipped any yet. So, we did have a bunch of people internally beta testing, and all those beta units have to come back now. So we have some people who are with much chagrin returning their units and then they'll go on sale in the company store and they can go by them. The truth is, do we -- are there people in Microsoft who have PS2s? And the answer is yes. And that's OK. Are there people at Microsoft that have GameCubes, and the answer is almost certainly yes. It's not a manhood test.

Q: The Halo movie isn’t going so well. That might have been another avenue for Microsoft to pursue in entertainment. Since it isn’t going so well…?

A: There are a couple of things you have to recognize. Does it make sense for Microsoft to be in the movie business? It’s not what we do, nor would I anticipate us ever doing it. So it’s a different business with a different business model. We happen to have great intellectual property with Halo that could be made into a great movie. The No. 1 criteria for us is we have to be confident a great movie is going to be made. It doesn’t matter if Universal and Fox do it or somebody else does it. Frankly, if we didn’t think a good movie would be produced, we would rather have no movie. Until we are confident a good movie will be produced, we’ll keep looking. It’s not like the idea is going to go away. It’s not like the intellectual property value is going to go away. We are working on Halo 3 and that is going to make the property more successful. The easy way to mess it up is to do something forced that doesn’t work.

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Q: As reported, they just decided to redo the contract?

A: Universal and Fox wanted to redo some things between us and others involved. We said if that is the direction you want to go, we would rather pause. Our view is we want something great to be done. You can’t do a budget Halo movie. You have to be serious about it.

Q: You've joked about you division being the division that spends all the money that everyone else makes --

A: Other people may have made that joke. You won't hear me make that joke. That's a good way for me not to get invited to meetings. Maybe Dean said that.

Q: Somebody estimated that your division has lost like $3.8 billion or something. Most companies would have given up a long time before they went through anywhere near that much money. Do you guys have a blank check? Is there some point where you reach the end of the rope and somebody says, "You know, you guys have spent way too much money and we're not seeing an end to it?"

A: No. I think the things you have to look at is you have to look at, sure, the dollar investment, and the asset value that's created and then look at the P&L. You have to look at all three of those things. So, yes, the amount of investment, in particular on Xbox, has been a large number. So, compare that to the alternatives and some of the alternatives would have been, "Well, go buy somebody big." So, you could have looked and said, "Go buy Nintendo." And Nintendo at the time would have been a $15 billion acquisition. So, by any stretch of the imagination, a much bigger investment. And if I look at the asset we've built, it's a different asset than Nintendo has, and they certainly have got a great company, but it's an asset that we can be proud of. So, the first thing I'd say is, we went in knowing it was going to be a big investment, but the size of the marketplace and the importance to what we're doing justify that. Second thing I’ll say comes to the asset value point. People like to say we have invested many billions of dollars in that. But what they don’t point out is what is that asset worth? If we spent that money and there was no business there, I would say I should be working out on a farm someplace. The fact is there is a business there. Let’s take Dean’s conservative point and say it does come out to a third a third a third in market share. That’s a pretty remarkable outcome in five years. We’d feel pretty good about that return as a business. There are real constraints. We run on a P&L. The fact that the company has a lot of cash doesn’t change the fact that we have to generate P&L growth. So every year we go through the discussion. What is the progress you are going to make? We have this target that is very important of being profitable next year. What’s it going to take to deliver it?

Q: A lot of investors would say, I could have taken that $4 billion and invested it and gotten a hell of a lot better return than I did from Microsoft?

A: That comes down to if someone really wants to say that, then you should say you should put your shells elsewhere. If you don’t think the management team is investing wisely, you should put your money elsewhere. The stock is over $29. The company in the last six months has performed really well. I think Vista and Office are going to pay off. I think Xbox 360 is going to pay off. Those investments come to their fruition. We probably have a longer investment horizon than most companies.

Q: You've said that the investment horizon for the Xbox is multiple years. What is the investment horizon for the Zune. Is it as long as Xbox?

A: Well, it's of a different nature. First, as we said earlier, the economics of the investment, the size of the investment have a big difference. That's the first point to note. The second point to note is the business works differently. There's new hardware every year. It cycles in a model that's very different from the video game model, where you're sort of in for five or six or seven years and then you've got the next version of the product, and you have the chance to make the next incremental leap. So, by nature, I think the investment horizons and investment cycles are different. On the other hand, I'll say our competitor in the music space has 80% market share. Sony only had 60. So, that's a little different dynamic. I think that's also true. But, yes, it's multi-years, just to get back to your original question. It's definitely multi-year.

Q: But just going back to that point, unlike the Xbox, the video game market, where you have a chance every five years to shake things up, this is more -- it seems like it's more similar to say the software business, where you have iterations every year or every couple of years.

A: Yeah, I think that's fair. The other thing that happens over time here, is you have opportunities to expand the product line. You've seen what Apple's done. They started with one device. To your earlier question about quality, the first version of their device was nice, but it had flaws in it, but they made it better. And in the next version, they decided to do two versions of it, and then they did three versions of it, and then four versions. And those are all good things you do to expand the business and reach new customers.

Q: I was happy to see the Halo investment step up there with multiple games. I always wondered if Microsoft had enough soldiers on the battlefield …

A: So to speak.

Q: As far as having enough game developers and games in the works. Microsoft hasn’t exploited Halo the way that Electronic Arts would.

A: The balance we have to strike with a property like Halo is taking advantage of the intellectual property itself and not wearing out the franchise. Electronic Arts has an advantage in a way with sports where it is self-renewing. And it’s not even their doing. It’s the nature of the sport, with new players, new stadiums, and new teams. In something like Halo, you have to look at how do we maximize the intellectual property. We could do eight things, but that’s probably too many. It’s also important for us to have more than just Halo. That is why Viva Piñata is important. That’s why Forza Motorsport 2 is important. It’s why Project Gotham Racing is important. It’s why Gears of War is important. It’s important for our first-party group to have a range of titles.
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