Blog Post

@ CES 2006: Interview: Kevin Browne, GM-New Media & Franchise Development, Xbox

[Staci D. Kramer] After the Gaming Power panel he participated in wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Brown took the time to chat with every one of the people crowding in front of him. Unlike some people I’ve watched at the same task, it was clear that he was listening to each one. When I mentioned that as we looked for a place to have our conversation, he told me you never know when one of those chats will be an opportunity. Browne’s title is GM-New Media & Franchise Development, which translates into finding, creating and managing alternative revenue streams for Microsoft’s Xbox. The newest challenge is Xbox 360, the gaming console with potential to be much more. It’s clear from talking with Browne that thinking of the launch version of Xbox 360 as a static product would be a mistake.

Xbox as Media Center: Despite the constant references by Bill Gates and others to Xbox 360’s media center capabilities, that’s not top of mind for the team — a bit of a shift from this time last year. A year, says Browne, the Media Center PC was viewed as the hub and the Xbox 360 was a spoke on that hub. Browne explains, “Now we’ve got the Xbox 360 to market; we’ve seen the market reaction to it and we know there’s a great deal of appeal to the idea of 360 being an endpoint for entertainment. … We’re trying to judge what really should be our focus over the next few years in terms of development.”

XBox & IM: Xbox 1 had a rudimentary interaction with MSN Messenger built in but that was one of the things that ended up on the chopping block. You can still use Xbox Live to send game invites by IM through Xbox 1 but that capability didn’t make it into Xbox 360 because, says Browne, they simply ran out of time. “That’s one of the things we’re going back to and saying we believe this is going to be an incredibly important part of our communication strategy. We have an incubation group that is looking at a number of other ideas — wild, far-out ideas of what this thing could do. We’ve already announced we’re going to be doing a camera — well, when you’re not playing game what should it do?”

Advertising/Marketing: Microsoft can tell a lot about people by the way they use Xbox. For instance, someone’s affinity for certain kinds of cars across multiple games. For Browne, it’s “about building knowledge about who it is that you’re talking to so that when we do advertising at all on Xbox I want it to be the new kind of advertising … it’s not about vomiting your message all over people through every possible means. It’s about finding who cares about what you’re talking about — even if they don’t know specifically that your product is what they care about — and then hitting them at the right time with the appropriate message, where it won’t be seen as advertising, which is a four-letter word to a lot of people, but as a service.” For instance, someone whose game choices reflect an interest in sci-fi might welcome a trailer about the newest sci-fi flick. “You’re engaging somebody on the first step of a rewarding path of being marketed to,” he adds, as opposed to happily married people like him getting dating ads every time they log into Microsoft’s Hotmail. “We just look stupid to the consumer because we don’t know anything about them so we just take an order from somebody out there looking for eyeballs.”

— Is advertising the next big revenue stream for Xbox after hardware and software? “My day-in and day-out job is to figure out whether this is the big thing.” For instance, will Xbox users accept advertising inside of a game they paid $60 for and a system that ran $400? One possibility might be to reward people for accepting ads. Another might be an ad-supported tier; currently Xbox Live offers the free silver tier and a subscription gold tier. “It makes sense for us to look at that and say could we get more people playing online with all of the virtuous cycle that goes along with that if we made that an ad-supported service?” They could even offer it both ways. The matter is complicated by the split between Microsoft as hardware provider and the various game producers who make the content.
“I’ve been in this job a year and I feel like I’ve just started some days. It’s the same conversation over and over and over again, getting people to take a chance on the little things.”
Related: @ Media Week: Microsoft Estimates Xbox 360 Retail Value At $1.5 Billion-plus In First 90 Days