The Friday interview: Orla Sheridan, Microsoft Ireland

25 Jan 2008

Xbox Live is about to increase the number of movies available for Irish people to download from 40 to 400. Orla Sheridan (pictured) is country manager at Microsoft Ireland’s entertainment and devices division

Ireland has a low level of broadband penetration. How frustrating a problem is this for Microsoft in terms of rolling out services like Xbox Live, which requires broadband?

We would be concerned but hopeful. There are two factors. One is the penetration level of broadband and the other is the speed that is available. Both of these are crucially important.

Everyone can sit and moan about the problem but it’s up to companies like ourselves to get the services out there that would make people want broadband. It’s up to companies to keep pushing the boundaries by being proactive. If there’s something there that people want, they will sign up.

As a nation of gamers, how does Ireland rate internationally for Xbox?

Ireland rates very highly. When talking with global colleagues, Ireland is in the top 10 of units sold, not per capita. Ireland is also one of the highest-installed bases for the next generation of Xbox consoles, the 360.

Internationally, Microsoft has sold more than 17.7 million Xbox 360 consoles. Some 10 million users of these consoles subscribe to Xbox Live. Around 8.1 million copies of Halo 3 have been sold and every day there are 1.5 million people playing the game online.

Overall, there are 14 million games being played every day on Xbox Live. Between Ireland and the UK, there are one million Xbox Live subscribers.

The unique selling point for the Live experience is that most people will join up because their friends are already on it.

Microsoft has started selling movies, including high-definition content, on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Is the goal to move the internet experience into the living room?

The way we look at it is that the PC is an enabling device, it is a working productivity tool. The TV and devices like the Xbox 360 are your entertainment. But it’s not a lot of fun watching a beautiful high-def movie on a PC screen. The vast majority of people would rather be on their couch on a Friday night than sitting in a high-backed chair in front of a PC.

Microsoft is positioning itself to be a leader in the entertainment world, through gaming, movies and now in music with the Zune device.

At present Irish Xbox users can only download around 40 movies. Will this be increased?

Our intention is to increase the number of movies available for download to Irish Xbox Live users from 40 to up to 400. The expansion for this is imminent.

At present, users in America can download between 300 and 400 standard and high-definition movies and we want to make this available in Ireland, possibly within days. We also intend to introduce TV boxset products such as The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives for rental and this will hopefully happen later this year.

In terms of music, the Zune media player isn’t currently available in Ireland. We are studying our business model for music in North America and we’re aiming to get it right there before we roll it out here.

We are studying what the modern person wants to do today and it’s all about content at the moment. As we figure out the best way to get it to them, the over-arching word at present is ‘choice’.

It has been said that Ireland can build up a strong games industry, but there is little evidence of this as yet. How will this be achieved?

There is no reason why Ireland can’t be a leader in the field of games. It’s really about creativity and R&D. We have the cultural history to say we can do it. It’s a question of deploying the tools and the infrastructure for this.

One of the things Microsoft is doing is rolling out XMA Games Studio 2.0 to colleges like Trinity College and also to start-ups, which in turn could ensure that the best games are built for the Xbox platform.

Making such tools available is crucial to creating a games industry ecosystem.

By John Kennedy