Interview with Graeme Boyd!
Recently we had the honour of interviewing none other than Graeme Boyd, Xbox’s EMEA Social Marketing Manager. To many Xbox fans in the UK he’s a familiar face, having worked at CVG – Computer and Video Games – and Official Xbox Magazine before becoming a part of the Microsoft fold as the Consultant Community Manager and latterly the Social Marketing Manager. During this period he occasionally appeared on the Inside Xbox video series and is now one-third of the XboxUK YouTube channel with the Xbox On series.
So if you’ve ever wondered where ‘AceyBongos’ came from, are curious as to his thoughts on ID@Xbox and would like to know the context of the time he ‘dressed as an 80s hair metal rock god in spandex and a wig’, read on!
Xbox One UK: Let’s start by taking a quick look back. There are many great games and franchises of yore that either haven’t been brought to the new generations of consoles or have been introduced but changed. Is there a classic you’d like to see remade?
Graeme Boyd: Tough opening question! Thankfully most of the games I loved as a youngster have been remade or rebooted, but I guess something I’d like to see more of on Xbox One specifically are creative strategy games like Sim City, Civilization and Theme Park. Those are the kinds of games I was obsessed by as a youngster and I spend time playing them on PC, but it’d be great to have them on Xbox One. I see Cities: Skylines is coming to ID@Xbox, which is great, so that might encourage more games of this type. Oh, and XCOM! I know it was rebooted for Xbox 360 and I LOVED that, but I’m a bit sad that XCOM 2 is not planned for console…
XOUK: The new backwards compatibility feature on Xbox One is an exciting addition; have you been using it to live a game all over again?
GB: I was delighted when I heard we’d be announcing this at E3, and was really excited to see what the reaction would be. It was great when it got a huge cheer in the auditorium – it was one of those brilliant E3 moments where people are genuinely surprised and happy. We don’t get enough surprises at E3 these days! The game that I tried first was Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, and I basically haven’t stopped playing it since. It was once of my first and favourite Xbox 360 games at launch. At the time I was working on Official Xbox Magazine and we all had an epic high score leaderboard battle going on. Every morning we’d come in and compare scores on the leaderboard and tell our stories. Somehow I managed over 1M points in Retro Evolved mode back then… I’ve not even come close lately, but I was almost ten years younger then! It’s such a classic, pure game that I like to use as a warm up before gaming sessions to sharpen my reactions and get into the zone. Perfect for backward compatibility! And I’m excited to see what else comes in the next few months. It’s awesome that our community has cast over 3M votes for their favourite Xbox 360 games and I’m looking forward to every Xbox Live member getting to try it out this November – for free!
XOUK: And, for the ultimate nostalgia trip, what’s your earliest gaming memory?
GB: When I was 4 (a long time ago now!) my family got our first home computer – an Acorn Electron – and even though I can’t remember much else from then I vividly remember the off-yellow plastic casing of that computer, the way the keys felt, and the amazing artwork on these mysterious cassette tapes that came with it. I think the first game I played was a cheap Space Invaders knock-off but it totally blew my mind. It genuinely felt like magic, and I was forever in love with videogames right there.
XOUK: Jumping forwards to the past couple of years, if you’ll excuse the Back To The Future-esque phrasing of that, what do you consider to be the greatest success to have emerged since the release of Xbox One, be it feature or revolutionary game?
GB: I think the greatest success of Xbox One is how we have listened to our fans and community, made positive changes, and continued to listen and make ongoing changes at such a high pace. I can’t think of any other consumer product that has evolved so much over such a short space of time, with fan feedback right at the heart of that evolution. As we all know we had quite a difficult reveal and E3 in 2013, and the 6 months after that period were very challenging, but I love how we adapted and focussed on the feedback from people who loved Xbox. Phil Spencer has been such an incredible part of that, but the whole Xbox team around the world pulled together to help make it happen. That is the root of where all the successes of Xbox One have come from. It starts and ends with the Xbox community.
XOUK: To take a wild step away from Xbox for a moment, imagine the following. An auditorium with dimmed lights, a bustling crowd, and a stage set with a karaoke machine in its centre. Which song are you going to pick and why?
GB: Ha ha! That sounds like a dream come true for me! I do love karaoke, but you could make it even better by making that a Rock Band setup. That game has given me some incredible memories of forming a band and performing in front of a crowd, and the song that really sticks in my head is Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’. It’s a cracker for every member of the band – great bassline, amazing mix of rhythm and lead guitar, nice variety of drumming styles, and a great guitar solo sections where everyone gets to rock out. And since I always hog the mic it’s a great song for a singer too – nice quiet start, rocking chorus, and a brilliant crescendo that you can totally ham up. Classic. Needless to say, I am delighted that Rock Band is coming back. I actually played it at gamescom at our FanFest party – I don’t think Kenny Loggins’s Footloose has ever sounded so good.
XOUK: ID@Xbox and independently developed games in general are a rising star of the current video game scene. How pleased are you with the ID@Xbox program and what’s your favourite indie title?
GB: I’m delighted with it. I think it’s really bearing fruit now and developing into what we hoped it could be. I love how it’s rounding out the gaming portfolio on Xbox and influencing the big AAA titles and creating such buzz and excitement. Look at Cuphead – that game continually gets people excited, but if you said to anyone 2 years ago that a retro-themed side scrolling shooter with 30’s animation graphics would be such an anticipated game I doubt they’d believe you. In terms of my favourites, I’ve always wanted to play more of The Escapists, but it’s Elite Dangerous that has me the most excited. It also shows the breadth of ID@Xbox – big devs like Frontier can bring this huge and epic game to Xbox One players via ID@Xbox and the Game Preview program, as well as tiny independent bedroom developers bringing their baby to the same audience.
XOUK: The next question may be a slightly tougher one: do you think indie games will become more popular than AAA games?
GB: Honestly, I don’t think that should be the measure of success for indie games. For me indie games are wonderful because they’ve opened up this whole ecosystem of small or strange or unique or funny or completely mad gaming experiences that we’d never have seen from AAA titles. And I think we’ve seen them positively influence AAA titles by making people expect more innovation, better storytelling, and more open game mechanics – just look at the impact of survival games, which really came up through the indie scene. Ultimately that improves the whole gaming scene and I think that’s the best way to measure the success of indie games. I think it’s amazing that ID@Xbox is such a vibrant part of the overall gaming scene.
XOUK: Something that’s likely crossed the minds of many people when wanting to enjoy the various social aspects of Xbox Live is getting together with the right sort of people. Do you have tips for finding friendly players on Xbox Live?
GB: Use the Xbox.com forums and the forums of your favourite gaming websites. Start with your own friends – if they don’t have Xbox Ones then you know what to do! And sometimes the best way to meet good folks on Xbox Live is just to spend time on Xbox Live and speak to people!
XOUK: The answer to this I’ve literally wondered about for years: is there a story behind ‘AceyBongos’, or are you just a particularly proficient performer on the bongos?
GB: Well, yes, I am indeed a master of the ancient and proud art of the bongo. But aside from that, it’s just something my mate Hadyn Cooper in Aberdeen used to say when we were teenagers. It meant that something was even better than ace – it was aceybongos! When I was choosing my GamerTag back in 2004 I actually wanted ‘Bacon Crisps’ but someone had that already, so I thought something that was unique to me and my friends and reminded me of home would be good. Honestly, I never expected it to be something that I’d be saying on live broadcasts 11 years later… But I’m happy with it!
XOUK: Having such a key job within the Xbox brand and a passion for video games could mean, we imagine, a lot of your time is spent involved in some manner or other with video games. Are there any pursuits outside of video games you enjoy to a similar degree?
GB: I’ve got two kids and a wife now, so my gaming time is a lot more limited than it used to be! Outside of gaming I love football – my Sunday league days are over but I still play friendlies with friends locally every week, and I’m a daft Aberdeen FC fan too so I follow the Scottish Premiership very closely. I’m also really into running now. I try to get out 3 times a week for 5ks and 10ks, and I love doing the British 10k in London every year to raise money for Special Effect. Away from sport, my other main love is LEGO. I’m obsessed with the stuff – especially Star Wars LEGO – and having 2 boys hasn’t helped my habit!
XOUK: Possibly inevitable but always producing an interesting answer: what’s your favourite (Non Microsoft Studios) Xbox game across all Xbox Platforms?
GB: The two games that stand out for me in terms of time spent and enjoyment earned are Fallout 3 and Skyrim. I’ve always been a fan of the Fallout series since the first game, so Fallout 3 was a huge moment for me and I absolutely loved it. I’m really into that whole post-apocalyptic after-the-bombs-drop setting, and I loved the world Bethesda created. Skyrim took me by surprise a little because I’m not usually into sword and sorcery RPGs, but again Bethesda put so much character and atmosphere into the world that I was hooked for months. I’m starting to feel the same way about The Witcher 3 – I just wish I had more time to play it! Oh – and XCOM! I don’t mean it to keep being an afterthought… Absolutely adored that game on Xbox 360, and recently completed the Enemy Within version on my iPad.
XOUK: To round off the focus on Xbox in particular, you’ve had a reasonably long career with the brand so far (and long may it continue!) during which we’ve seen you at locations and events around the world. Is there a stand out, epic moment for you from this time that’s a memory you love to recall?
GB: I think this year’s gamescom tops it all off. We’ve had a great year so far, we’ve got an amazing line up of games and new features coming, and I feel like we’re at a point where we’re really delivering on the potential of the Xbox One. The Xbox community and fans have been at the heart of that so to spend so much time with European Xbox fans at gamescom was amazing – from our FanFest Showcase, to getting them into the Xbox booth on the Wednesday, to our boat party on the Wednesday night… It was very special indeed. Aside from that (and a little more selfishly!) I’ve enjoyed some of the weirder opportunities the job has given me – like playing Rock Band to a crowd in Ibiza while dressed as an 80s hair metal rock god in spandex and a wig, or driving the Top Gear test track in real life in a Lotus Exige. It’s certainly been interesting!
XOUK: You’re an ambassador for Special Effect, a fantastic charity that allows people with physical disabilities to experience the fun of playing video games via customised input devices and controllers. It can also help with confidence and allow people to connect through play. Is there anything in particular that drew you to becoming an ambassador?
GB: You’ve really said it already. It’s a fantastic charity doing incredible work that makes a huge positive change to the lives of kids and adults. The folks behind Special Effect are genuinely wonderful, passionate, honest people. I was fascinated with their work as soon as I saw it and I feel very proud of being involved with them in some small way. For me it always comes back to – how would I feel if suddenly I couldn’t play games? That would hugely impact my life in a negative way. And now that I have kids, and I can see how much they love videogames, it makes me so happy when I see Special Effect enable young kids with disabilities to play games for the first time. As you point out, it’s not just that they get to play games – it helps them spend quality time with their friends and families, build confidence and self-esteem, and deepen relationships. I literally cannot watch their case study videos without crying, but then I am a bit of a softy with that stuff. At the end of the day, Special Effect help tell a fantastic story about the positive aspects of videogames. I think every gamer should get behind that. [Ed: You can find out more about SpecialEffect and the work they do on their official website.]
XOUK: Turning to the future, Phil Spencer recently stated “We need to do better in Europe.” Are the results of this focus something European gamers can expect to, or become, excited about soon?
GB: I’m really pleased that Phil said that since it proves that his mind – and the mind of the business – is on Europe. I hope that our showing at gamescom demonstrated how serious we are about Europe and our European fans, so yes, please be excited. And in the meantime, keep feeding back to use about your views, especially on features and functionality and ideas that are specific to Europe. The louder and more constructively you shout, the more everyone pays attention. Feedback.xbox.com is a great place for that, or you can get in touch with the Xbox team directly on Twitter.
XOUK: This year’s E3 and Gamescom heralded exciting announcements for Xbox players and, as the final games of this year start to line up for their release, might there be any other news that, however small, could still prove popular?
GB: Yes. Next question. But seriously – I am so proud of how we’re always adding features to Xbox Live and Xbox One, so expect much more. We’ve got the Windows 10 update coming to the dash later this year, and backward compatibility opening up for all. We just announced over-the-air DVR so more to come on that. And there’s even more to come, and we’ll keep it coming.
XOUK: Our penultimate question – what’s the next upcoming game that you’re most eager to play?
GB: Can I choose a few? Fallout 4, for reasons already discussed. Mad Max because I thought Fury Road was an absolutely insanely incredible movie and I want more of that feeling, plus when I saw the game at gamescom I was very impressed with how it looked. And Forza Motorsport 6 because I absolutely love everything Forza and everything Turn 10 touch. There’s so much to look forward to!
XOUK: Finally, and something I’m sure everyone will have been waiting in anticipation to find out: Graeme, what’s your spirit animal?
GB: This is the best question I’ve ever been asked. It needs to be something Scottish. Small but scrappy, but friendly and loyal. So I reckon a wee Scotty dog. A black one, because they look cooler. Woof!
Graeme Boyd, AceyBongos, many thanks!
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