Commentary

Gamer Blog: Trash Talk 2.0

Microsoft exec talks social networking, Project Natal, and the future of sports gaming.

Originally Published: January 11, 2010
By Jon Robinson

Xbox Live

Ever beat someone so bad at "Madden" that you just wish you could immediately shout out the score to the world (or at least your group of friends)? Microsoft has you covered, adding Facebook and Twitter applications to the Xbox 360 that are sure to bring trash talk to another level.

I remember the days of actually calling people to tell them how Brent Jones caught 28 passes in one game against the virtual Cowboys or about the time I scored 118 points as Joe Smith in "NBA ShootOut" (yes, I said Joe Smith). Now gamers don't even need to leave their systems to spread the "NBA 2K10" gospel of Monta Ellis or brag about their latest achievements.

I recently had the chance to sit down with David Hufford, senior director of PR and Communications at Microsoft to talk about the advancements of social networking in gaming, the holiday 2010 release of Project Natal, and the future of sports gaming on the 360 as it pertains to motion-sensitive controls.

Here's what he had to say:


Jon Robinson: How do you see the implementation of social networking as an important step forward for the 360 and gaming in general?

David Hufford: We live in the social network world now. People are getting together to play games online with each other across the country, watch movies together across the country, and social network with each other across the country, and really, the action is moving off the computer and into the living room. So now, for the first time ever, you can play games, listen to music, watch movies, and social network all from your living room using Xbox 360. I like to think of this whole scenario through the lifestyle of your typical sports fan these days. Sports fans used to wake up in the morning and watch all of the pre-game shows. But now, a lot of them in the video game era, in the social entertainment era, are getting up, playing games of "Madden" with friends or over the network. We actually see a huge surge in gameplay before kickoff on Sundays. It's sort of the game before the game. Then we see another surge of gameplay around halftime where fans are getting together again to play online.

There's a new title called "Madden Arcade" that EA launched as the perfect halftime game. It's 5-on5, it's a 60-yard field, and first to 30 wins. It only takes about 15 minutes to play so you can get right back to watching the third quarter.

Then we found that when the game's over, people are logging onto Last.fm and listening to the music that we have on the network now, or they're updating their Twitter or Facebook. Later on at night, when the boys have gone home and the girlfriend comes over, that's when we see a lot of people watching HD movies on the 360. We've got a library of thousands of high definition movies on demand, so instead of running out to the store, you can just browse through the latest releases and watch the movie right there.

Xbox Live
Gamers can access and update their Facebook page through their Xbox 360.

Robinson: Do you see this as Trash Talk 2.0, where gamers head right to Twitter and Facebook after a game to let everyone know the score?

Hufford: Oh yeah, it definitely ups the trash talk factor, for sure. That's the beauty of social networking … everyone gets to be a star, everyone gets to have a voice, and now we're helping liberate those voices and people are touting their wins, they're trash talking their friends, they're inviting people to play. That's the great thing about social networking — in an instant, you can send out an invitation for anybody to log on to Xbox Live and play with you. You're definitely seeing a lot of crosspollination between what's happening on the Xbox Live network and what's happening across some of the broader social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Robinson: Right now I have to wait until my "Madden" game is over before I can taunt via Twitter. How far off is it where you're able to actually update your Facebook or Twitter through the game, say during halftime, so you can let everyone know the score?

Hufford: You can't do it from the game right now, but that is something that is on the long-term road map. We want you to be able to multitask once you're inside of these games, so when you're playing "Madden" you can quickly text a friend and get right back into the action. That's something that is the future of video games.

There are also some features that game companies allow where you post a picture of the Play of the Game up to your Facebook, up to your social networks, and we expect to see more of that over time. That's the integration that we expect to see really takeoff. Bringing the virtual game world to the social networking world. That's the evolution here, merging the virtual world and the social networking world together.

Robinson: You mentioned "Madden Arcade" earlier, and EA also released "3-on-3 NHL Arcade" earlier last year. Do you see more publishers jumping on the bandwagon and releasing more arcade sports games through Xbox Live Arcade in the future?

Hufford: Absolutely. I think you're going to see a lot of bite-sized sports games rise in popularity. I look at Xbox Live in terms of a digital distribution network as like the iTunes of gaming. It's where you can go in and explore a whole bunch of content, you can download demos of games so you can try before you buy, and it's not only a social network, it's a distribution network that allows these companies to try new types of sports games, and it enables sports fans to try out these games before they buy them.

Robinson: All the hype right now is Project Natal and the motion controls. What do you see in the future of sports games once this technology is widespread?

Hufford: I think what Natal is going to enable is a whole new level of interactivity. You can imagine huddling up with your guys and you call a play in the huddle with your voice. You don't use the menu on the screen to scroll through, you're actually calling a play in the huddle and you would literally walk up to the line of scrimmage as you were taking the snap from center and you drop back to pass in your living room. As a kid growing up, I spent tons and tons of time pretending I was Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, and now we're going to be able to bring that childhood experience into the virtual world. It's really going to bring sports games alive.

Project Natal is really the next big thing and it will really complete the picture for our platform. Now we'll be able to play these games hands-free, we'll be able to kick the balls when we see them, we'll be able to catch them, throw them, and we'll be doing everything more naturally and in a massively connected world along with all of our best friends and family members no matter where they live in the world.

Robinson: Do you see Microsoft releasing its own sports games for Natal almost like a Wii Sports package, or are you depending on EA and 2K to really lead the way for sports games using this technology?

Hufford: I think there will be a combination of both. I think we'll do some of that work, our partners will certainly do a lot of that work, and while we haven't made any formal announcements, I think sports are going to be big in a Project Natal world.

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