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Interview with Larry Hryb, Director of Programming: Xbox Live

ActiveXbox.com: How did you decide on the gamertag Major Nelson?

Larry Hryb: That's one of things I get a lot of questions on. Really what happened was I have been at Microsoft for many years, when I came over to the Xbox team I was talking to my manager and he said we really want you to come up with a gamertag that people can contact you on and communicate with. I went home that night and my Tivo recommended "I dream of Jeanie" (the 60s series). I started watching it and I realized this guy has a really cool life - because he was an astronaut (one of the cooler jobs on the planet), he is a single guy living on the beach and keeps his woman in a bottle. So I realized I am going to be working in video games which is kind of like the astronaut of the next generation so I thought this was perfect.

ActiveXbox.com: What changes were made to Xbox live to accommodate the new console?

Larry Hryb: We made a lot of changes. We completely rebuilt the backend to accommodate both the Xbox 360 and the Xbox consoles. To be clear, they talk to the same service. When you log-in, we are able to dissect whether you are on a Xbox or Xbox 360. So we rebuilt the service from the ground up to allow a much more robust offering. It's obvious when you look at the Xbox 360 and you see the achievements and how you can go up online and view those achievements. In addition to building up the base service (the matchmaking and private list), we also built up this entire concept of these achievements and the gamer score and brought these to the web. Really, it was an entire redo.

The beauty of having a centralized service like Xbox Live is that we can push down updates accordingly.

ActiveXbox.com: What are your favorite games to play on Xbox 360?

Larry Hryb: My all-time favorite so far is Kameo. That was a game that really wasn't on my list to do when I got my Xbox 360, and then I started playing it and got totally sucked in. Kameo is on the top 5. Of course, Perfect Dark Zero has great multiplayer achievements. When you are playing on Xbox Live, you can actually unlock some cool achievements when you are playing against your buddy so that one is great. Need for Speed: Most Wanted that one is just beyond addicting. I think I am only up to the 8th or 9th of the black list. Project Gotham Racing 3, I am not into racing very much because I am not very good at because I go into the first turn and crash into the wall, so I play the whole game catching up. All of the EA games look fantastic. I just got my hands on a copy of Full Auto so I need to take a look at that one now.

ActiveXbox.com: How long before May 12, 2005 was the actual name for Xbox 360 chosen? Can you share any of the names that weren't chosen?

Larry Hryb: I donít know any of the names that were chosen.  That was actually a closely guarded secret. I only found literally a day and half or two days before we announced the name publicly.  There was only a small group of people who were aware of the name.  I had heard it was one of the names that were being considered. I just dismissed it until the name was finalized. There were a lot of folks who knew about much further in advance, like J Allard. He probably would have told me if I would have asked but I didnít want to know! I just wanted to keep focusing on doing my job.

ActiveXbox.com: What was your experience at the launch event "Zero Hour" like?

Larry Hryb: It was great. The event was in Palmdale in the middle of the desert. It was great because it was an event for gamers and it wasn't a real press event or anything, it was primarily for gamers. To hang out with some of the gamers for a day and a half it was really nice to meet so many people and to see their excitement. Then when the Best Buy trucks rolled into the venue and threw the backs open and see the Xbox 360s come out - it was really a once in the lifetime opportunity.

ActiveXbox.com: Had you been working with the Microsoft Xbox MVPs in the development of the new Xbox Live service for Xbox 360?

Larry Hryb: Absolutely. In fact, we have essentially doubled the MVP program from when I started. I think we brought them out here in April 2004. We really sat down with them and asked them what they would look for, etc. One of the key areas that you can see a major part of their influence is on the Xbox forums, on forums.xbox.com. So over there we've got this concept of the gamer card is displayed in line - where people are actually posting under their gamer tag. Not only that, we have this concept of "community rebel" where the your status is not just related to post counts but a variety of things. That is one area where you can see the MVP fingerprints all over it. They also met with many other members with the staff.  The reputation system where when you are playing against other players where you can give them reputations is another area they gave us a lot of feedback on.

ActiveXbox.com: What were some of your responsibilities you had in preparing for a successful launch of Xbox 360?

Larry Hryb: As of the director of Xbox Live programming my job is one of the coolest because I can focus on a lot of the things I like to do. One of the areas I focused on is really taking the feedback from the community and funneling it back into the product group. That was one of my main responsibilities. Also, keeping exciting new programs going like the Mystery Gamer, so on, etc. So its really about taking what the community is saying and bringing it back - bridging the gap and then going to to the product group and taking what they are saying back to the community. So I'm shuttling information back and forth and that's one of the reasons I use my blog at majornelson.com to use that as a way to distribute information. That was one of one of my responsibilities was to keep in touch with the community.

ActiveXbox.com: How do you feel about the new Xbox Live subscription options?

Larry Hryb: I feel great. The fact of the matter is there is only one more, which is a free subscription. Those who were on the original Xbox Live go over to a gold subscription. If you didnít have that now you get a free subscription and if you are not interested in playing multiplayer you can still have access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, download arcade games, etc. Its really a win-win.

ActiveXbox.com: What do you say to those folks that say there was a Microsoft sanctioned Xbox 360 shortage?

Larry Hryb: I would say it's entirely wrong. Trust me, there is a no reason for us to create a shortage. We had a 3rd manufacturer online recently to ease of getting your hands on a Xbox 360 and supply is now coming in at 3 times more than it was during holiday.

ActiveXbox.com: What do you think Microsoft has done better this time around with Xbox 360 after having 4 years experience with the previous console?

Larry Hryb: Of course I am biased to Xbox Live. I think Live is much better. It's so pervasive now, the fact that we created the concept of the dashboard and how it sits next to the game so it is always accessible (one button away). I think we took a lot of what people wanted from Xbox Live and brought it into Xbox 360 and its so seamless, its like "why didnít we think of this before." Absolutely, how people want to access Live, and the things they want to do with Live and we put that into the Xbox 360.

ActiveXbox.com: During the planning stages of the new Xbox Live were there some items that you wanted to put into the new service but couldnít get in by launch time?

Larry Hryb: Absolutely. There is a list on my wall I am looking at right now that I wont talk about because I don't want the competitors to steal the ideas. (laughs) But, we definitely have many, many things we want to do with Xbox Live in making it the best online experience in gaming on the planet. So, while I can't tell you what they are there is a long list of things we are going to do. And we are listening to the community - so we are going to reprioritize based on what we are hearing.

ActiveXbox.com: How do you feel the community is embracing the Xbox 360 so far?

Larry Hryb: I think they are doing a fantastic job. As you alluded earlier, I wish more people will get their hands on the Xbox 360 - and they will, but I really enjoy what the community has done with the data that we have on the web with the achievements, etc. I think they really have embraced it and as I said earlier we are always listening to the community and we want to do what we can do to bring the community in as a part of it. Xbox Live is just a service - it's the people on the service that really make Xbox Live exciting. I have 99 friends on my friends list, I love going online every night and always having someone to play with whether they are in Boston, Japan or in Pittsburgh. With Xbox Live we have really tightened up the global community.

ActiveXbox.com: What do you think of Halo 3?

Larry Hryb: For Halo 3Öletís just say weíre very excited to what Bungie will do with the Xbox 360.

ActiveXbox.com: What do you think of E3 2006?

Larry Hryb: Itís all about momentum. Weíll have 10-Million consoles in gamers hands by the end of this year, and weíll be well into our second generation of titles. Itís a fantastic time to be an Xbox 360 owner!

Interesting Xbox Live Statistic:

Here is this past weeks Xbox Live Top 10 list (based on users playing):

1 Halo 2
2 Call of Duty 2
3 Ghost Recon 3
4 Oblivion
5 BFMC
6 UNO
7 MotoGP 06 Demo
8 プレイオンラインビューアー
9 EA SPORTSô Fight Night Round 3
10 Lost Planet Demo

Note: Number 8 is 'PlayOnline Viewer' which means ĎFinal Fantasy XI.í

Additional Information:

      Major Nelson's Blog:        http://www.majornelson.com
                                       Xbox:            
http://www.xbox.com
                               Xbox 360:             http://www.xboxlive.com


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