Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft's product management director, is practically ebullient regarding the company's performance in his interview with Gamasutra immediately following November 2009's NPD U.S. retail sales results.
In those results, the Xbox 360 lead the PS3 in hardware sales, though Microsoft's console did drop slightly year on year. Of course, the month's big story was the huge debut of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which boasted the biggest opening month of sales ever on Xbox 360 at 4.2 million copies -- besting the PlayStation 3 version by more than two to one in units. (Or, as Greenberg put it, "Holy crap!")
Despite the weak economy, says Greenberg, "we had consumers spend more money on the Xbox 360 than the Wii or the PS3: $838 million in hardware, software, and accessories." Though Sony has seen a big bump in hardware sales recently thanks to its PS3 price drop and redesign, Greenberg sees it as temporary.
Multiplatform games still tend to sell significantly better on the Xbox 360; in Greenberg's view, the situation is resolving in Microsoft's favor. "What we're finding is that a couple of things help us here," he says. "While we do see Sony got a bump from their price drop and their introduction of new hardware, we're now seeing stabilization back to more typical marketshare levels. And I think that's really driven by the fact that we have a $199 SKU."
Beyond that, he claims, given the "experiences and value you get for the money," consumers choose (and stick with) the Xbox 360, as "we're going to have the most games and the most exclusives. It leads more customers to choose our console relative to the competition."
Asked about the specific benefits of strong performance of a multiplatform third-party game like Modern Warfare 2, Greenberg replied, "We love to see games sell well, and we love to see third party titles do better on our platform -- it helps us for a variety of reasons. It helps third parties bet on us in a lot of ways. Having the 'most favored nation' status we have with third parties across the board is a reason a lot of consumers choose to buy our platform." And it also helps with things like downloadable content and timed exclusives, he adds.
Modern Warfare 2 in particular, says Greenberg, was a big part of Microsoft's strategy and success for the month. The game "drove a lot of people to buy hardware, and that's why we think we did so well this month. And in fact that's why we did the Limited Edition [Xbox 360 hardware] bundle -- and the results definitely reflect that."
Audience and Platform Continue to Evolve
Though Microsoft atypically refrained from issuing a statement on its tie ratio (that is, the number of games sold per units of hardware, lifetime) this month, the figure is traditionally high for the company, particularly compared to the Wii. Says Greenberg, "What we see is that the consumers that really buy games month in and month out are Xbox 360 owners. Our publishers know that and retailers know that."
There's another benefit: Consumers are steered toward the console their friends have, says Greenberg. "We're getting later in the lifecycle," he observes. "People buy the consoles their friends have, so I think that tie ratios are a big benefit."
Greenberg notes that Xbox 360's out-of-the-box console experience in 2009 is drastically different than it was during the system's 2005 launch. When it comes to services like this, says Greenberg, "I think we invest a lot of money to continue to innovate online. You're going to get a whole slew of experiences a year from now that will really add to your entertainment and we will continue to invest in."
Software Decisions and Declarations, Toward 2010
Commenting on Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick's recent comment that "the safest place to be is in triple-A," Greenberg says, "I think that everybody has to run their business themselves and make their own strategy decisions. I think we've made an ecosystem that allows partners to benefit. It allows them to sell a lot of games and enhance them with online revenues and experiences."
Once the topic turned to exclusives, Greenberg couldn't resist talking about the Bungie-developed, Xbox 360 exclusive Halo: Reach, which he is sure will be the biggest game of 2010. When asked if perhaps Sony's Gran Turismo 5, which is set to launch in Japan in March and is likely to launch in the West in 2010 as well, might give it a run for its money, Greenberg was dismissive.
"Is it launching next year?" he mused. "I've seen years and years of minigames, but I haven't seen that the game is done. They just released the PSP version -- maybe that's what they've been working on. I feel confident that there's nothing that will compare in size. Halo: Reach will be the biggest game of 2010."
Of course, that's not the only exclusive that Sony has up its sleeve -- with titles like God of War III and MAG coming early in the year, does that affect Microsoft's strategy? Not so much, says Greenberg. In 2010, he says, "we will do three things well. One, we will continue to offer a better value on hardware pricing. We will continue to remain $100 cheaper than PS3. Two, we will have more games, more blockbuster exclusives, no matter the genre."
"Three, you add all of the entertainment and social network," he concluded. "That's our focus, to keep adding more and more value. Consumers vote with their dollars, and so far it's been paying off, and we feel confident about next year as well."