Project xCloud – E3 2019 Exclusive Interview with Bill Stillwell
We are happy to bring you an exclusive interview with Bill Stillwell to talk about Microsoft’s newest cloud service, Project xCloud.
Disclaimer – This interview was done and recorded on June 10th, 2019 at E3 2019.
Leonid Melikhov: Hey guys welcome to Gaming Instincts and we’re gonna be talking about Project xCloud with…
Bill Stillwell: I’m Bill Stillwell and I’m the Director of Product Planning for Project xCloud.
Leonid Melikhov: Awesome Bill how are you doing today?
Bill Stillwell: Good thanks.
Leonid Melikhov: Having a good E3?
Bill Stillwell: Yeah it has been a good E3 so far.
Leonid Melikhov: Were you at the (Microsoft) briefing yesterday?
Bill Stillwell: Yes I was.
Leonid Melikhov: What was your favorite part?
Bill Stillwell: I think the Keanu Reeves piece coming was outstanding
Leonid Melikhov: Oh man, I think that was a big high for everybody
Bill Stillwell: I am super excited to have Double Fine be part of the Xbox Game Studios.
Leonid Melikhov: Yeah that was definitely out of left field and awesome. So project xCloud finally got some dates and information. What’s your part in this?
Bill Stillwell: I was one of the initial people on this project so myself and Kevin LaChapelle who’s the General Manager of Project xCloud. He and I were the leads for the Xbox Backwards Compatibility program by bringing the 360 and original games to the Xbox One.
Leonid Melikhov: You guys did a phenomenal job at that by the way.
Bill Stillwell: Thank you very much I am very proud of that program as well. Then about a few years ago actually, Microsoft had this streaming tech for a while. We thought about other ways to enhance the freedom. It’s really important to us with the Backwards Compatibility program that we got you off to being tied to a console and so we started talking about, “Well what if we can get you able to play games anywhere?” So we started the team a little over two years ago now. We did a teaser announcement at last year’s E3, we were working the entire time and now we thought that this was the right time to let people actually play the games, try them out, see what it’s like ahead of our public preview this October.
Leonid Melikhov: So do you think the public preview is gonna be more like a soft launch? Is the Soft launch looking for early 2020?
Bill Stillwell: Just like we had in our previous program for us it’s really important that we get customer feedback to help define what’s important for gamers. We really want them to help build the product with us and so where we’re at now a lot of what we’re spending time on is not just holding onto the infrastructure, it’s building off of the next-gen infrastructure that we’ll need down the road, and then getting into a position where we can put the product in front of customers get it in their hands and see what gamers think about it and then iterate on the design and go on the journey with them.
Leonid Melikhov: Right so I got the chance to try it out just now and played Halo 5 because I feel like with shooters there’s a lot of feedback going on and its usually instant. This was the best game to try it out and you know what I like it, but again it blows down to this, how is it gonna play in my house. That’s the big question you know people always say, “this is a controlled environment” and I can see how they can think that. There’s aways these things that are purposely done to “make it look good.” There’s always those people and sometimes its hard. Sometimes there’s real, good criticism and sometimes there’s just BS, you know what I mean? So we try to differentiate and really be honest about things where something is good or bad. So from what I’ve played personally I liked it. I think it was pretty crazy to play a console game like that on a phone so I’m looking forward to just having fun with it when I’m going on vacation. Whether it’s Destiny 2, Sea of Thieves or whatever it is right? Halo Infinite I mean that game looks great so I’m thinking, “can I play this on my phone? I don’t believe that. I’ll have to wait until after it’s released.” It’s one of those thing where people do the “talk talk” but until it gets in my hands, it’s a different story. It’s something that people need to experience.
Bill Stillwell: I agree 100% we have been running it when you tried it wired-in. There’s enough access points walking around there’s like 37 ap’s at one point. We have been pretty intentional that we weren’t going to put it onto the public and we weren’t going to let people play unless it was authentic. We’ve been in an internal take-home trial so our Microsoft Employees are playing it and I’ve been playing it on 4g. This is the first E3 I’ve come to where I haven’t brought my console with me because I’ve just been playing it at the hotel on my mobile device with the controller. I think you’re right though, people have a lot of skepticism. It’s not until that they pick it up and they play it that they realize that this is real. This can be done and this doesn’t mean we don’t have to have challenges and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to continue to work for the service. Any type of stream distribution, there will be places where you just don’t have the right coverage you need. One of the reasons that we announced console streaming in parallel to this at the briefing was that we wanted to expose the customers that we’re going to give them as much choice as possible. So the ability to say, “hey I’ve got my console, I’ve got a great connection out of my home. I just happen to be nearby going down the street to a cafe or something and I’m just gonna play out of my home.” Then when I go on the road I can take advantage of data centers and play on a more global basis. That’s all important for us.
Leonid Melikhov: Now I don’t know if you guys talked about this. How are people are going to be accessing this? Is it going to be a monthly fee? Is it part of the Games Pass Ultimate which by the way that deal is insane. It’s practically free at that point. So is is gonna be part of that service?
Bill Stillwell: Well we haven’t disclosed a specific way yet and I think the reason for that is because there isn’t a one-size fits all model. We did announce yesterday with console streaming that if you bought the game it will stream out of your home. I believe that this industry is at a crossroads and it’s going to evolve. We’ll see multiple business models come forward so a subscription makes a lot of sense. Obviously we have products that run themselves well to this but I also believe that customers want choice, they want freedom in how they engage. So when we get closer to actually running the previews, we’ll have more to announce about the different business models and the different ways that you can interact with the product.
Leonid Melikhov: One thing that’s really interesting that caught a lot of people by surprise was the Sony and Microsoft partnership. Sony came up to you guy and were like, listen you guys are best in networking, please help us out. Can you talk a little bit about how that went down?
Bill Stillwell: All I can say about that is that we’re blessed in Xbox that Azure is part of our company and I think the Sony deal just shows that they have built the world class global network, they have the world’s largest datacenter footprint today and you’re seeing that they as an infrastructure cloud partner are best in breed and it attracts others. I think that it just reinforces for us to really embrace gaming and ensure that we put the best products out in the market.
Leonid Melikhov: How do you feel about competitors like Stadia, are you worried about that or not really?
Bill Stillwell: I just try to focus on what we can build and what we can do. I think we have two competitors in this market. I think more competitors will enter this market especially as an industry as you see these trends progress, we’ll see more and more of them, but I have high confidence in our team and high confidence in our product. We’re really looking forward to the future.
Leonid Melikhov: One question that people always ask is that the biggest challenge is probably latency right for you guys because that was always the biggest question, “latency, latency, latency.” How did you guys approach ISP’s and how did that go about?
Bill Stillwell: I would say that latency and bandwidth are issues that may be part of xCloud. There’s a quality bar that you have to hit and network conditions need to hit different thresholds to achieve those quality bars. So that’s certainly where we spent a lot of our time and a lot of our tech. At the same time, the industry as a whole has really embraced this and so we’ve had great conversations with partners in the industry, not just the gaming industry but the telecommunications industry as well. I think every sees this as the next frontier. You see music make this transition, you see videos make this transition, now it looks like gaming is about to make that transition. So we’ve had great conversations with all of those partners about games.
Leonid Melikhov: One scary thing that people always think of is the ownership. So you’re paying for service to stream now let’s look at music, back in the day you had casettes, then it went into CD’s, Sony Walkmans, and Ipods have downloadable music on Itunes, then it went into things like streaming music and subscription services. People started getting away from the whole ownership thing because of it’s convenience and the price is good as well. Do you feel like ownership for gaming is kinda go away? Because the debate is, “I just want to own my game, not rent it.” That’s a thing by now that even for us and journalists and gamers in general have this internal debate where, “ownership is good, companies are evil, corporates are trying to get more money.” Whatever, there’s always back and forth talks bout this. How do you feel about the whole ownership versus convenience thing and where do you see this really going?
Bill Stillwell: You can track all of the treads you want. For us its really important that customers get choice. So you can still buy games physically and digitally and it’s important for us that as we build any service, our service supports multiple ways that customers can acquire content. It supports multiple ways that gamers can just choose, “Hey I want to buy that collector’s edition” and they can have that game and own it and then there may be situations where they just want to try something out and have that sort of instant experience. So we’ll support all of them. We won’t dictate a single way for you to acquire content so we’ll support all of them. We’ll support people who want to own content and support people who don’t.
Leonid Melikhov: Just to get a clarification on this if you’re allowed to. The Project Scarlett is 1.5 years away from release which is a long time. Now it’s mentioned specifically that the console would be porting 4 generations of systems. I’m assuming that the Scarlett is going to be porting the Original Xbox, 360, Xbox One, and of course Scarlett. Is that fair to say?
Bill Stillwell: So what I’ll say is at least right now, we’ll have more to announce on that really soon and I’ll leave it as that for right now. But I will say that as a company, it’s important for us that compatibility is something that we’re working on. The team that I was on previously that did the Xbox Backwards Compatibility, we also did all of the Xbox One X compatibility before we went to the next console. So it’s certainly something that as a company we have a great platform change and it’s something that keeps going no matter what we do.
Leonid Melikhov: Those specs sound pretty nice, I’m looking forward to seeing that box. I think this year’s E3 is the calm before the storm and next year will be the storm.
Bill Stillwell: I thought that this was a great E3 and I’m looking forward to next year as well.
Leonid Melikhov: Awesome thank you.
Bill Stillwell: Thank you too.
For more information about Project xCloud you can check out our coverage here.