INTERVIEW: Steven Blackburn: Xbox manager New Zealand

James Cullinane
INTERVIEW: Steven Blackburn: Xbox manager New Zealand

Within 12 months, a small New Zealand team have propelled Xbox 360 into the number one position for console market share over five consecutive months.

MCV Pacific spoke to Xbox New Zealand's Steven Blackburn at E3 this year to learn how the Xbox achieved this success, how it intends to extend its lead in the year ahead, and what Blackburn makes of developments the local market.

Some of Microsoft’s success has been due to a strong line-up of first-party titles. 2011 saw the releases of Gears of War 3, Halo: Reach and Forza 4 for the core gamers, while the casual market quickly adopted Kinect Star Wars.

Blackburn told MCV: “We did really well on a lot of our games. Kinect Star Wars – which isn’t necessarily a core gamer’s delight – was the number one New Zealand game for five weeks. I’ve not seen that in many territories around the world.”

Nonetheless, Blackburn calls out a change in marketing strategy as one key to the company’s recent success: “We’ve done a hell of a lot of TV advertising this year. Some of it worked really well, some of it you think, ‘Probably would’ve spent that differently if I had the time over.’ Same with cinema: we’ve had some really good cinema execution, and that’s something I’d like to look at doing a little bit more of. We did some stuff with Forza, which was really impactful and getting pick up in the press, and the cinema guys said, ‘we just don’t get ads like this!’ Stuff like that you learn.”

As to the market for games and consoles in New Zealand, Blackburn states that while Xbox 360 is growing year-on-year in every metric, it’s softer than had been projected a year out: “The economic situation globally is pretty rough. New Zealand seems to be OK, and if I look across to Australia, gosh, you know, I’m glad I’m not dealing with a lot of the problems they’ve had there.”

Dramatic changes in the Australian retail landscape don’t appear to have affected the New Zealand operations of trans-Tasman outlets, says Blackburn: “The trans-Tasman retailers, from our discussions with them, seem to be pretty healthy. I don’t know whether that’s just because they’ve been more focused, more lean, not sure. But definitely there doesn’t seem to be the kind of war of attrition that’s going on over there, with people going under.”

Pricing in Australia is something the company is monitoring closely, however: “Where we’re concerned is if prices suddenly tank and we see a wash of stuff come into the New Zealand market. We’ll have to look at what we do in terms of pricing and what makes sense. It’s one of those things where you lay out your business and you build a whole profit and loss [statement] off what you can bring in to keep the business running, then reinvest it back in terms of marketing and so on.”

“So changes in pricing could have dramatic effects, and hopefully that’s [avoidable]. We’d love to keep going, and investing and growing the Kiwi business for the next few years.”


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Tags: Retail , xbox 360 , console , new zealand , Star Wars Kinect , steven blackburn

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