Xbox’s Don Mattrick Joins Steven Spielberg and George Lucas at USC Panel

This afternoon, our Interactive Entertainment Business President Don Mattrick, participated in a speaking panel at the University of Southern California (USC) to celebrate the opening of a new hall dedicated to interactive experiences, the USC School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media Building. Mattrick, a USC board member for the last 13 years, was joined by luminary filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for a fascinating discussion on the future of entertainment. The panel was moderated by Julia Boorstin from CNBC.

Role of Technology in Storytelling

Spielberg discussed how technology was the basis of his career – where the camera was literally his “third eye” – and this technology led to storytelling. “You had to have a light to see and you were forced into a technology choice. I went to Sears and bought a bunch of floodlights and used scotch tape. I had the will and technology was the way in for me.”

Lucas agreed, “All art is dependent on technology, because it is a human endeavor. Everything involved in art – inventing oil paints, using charcoal on a wall – you are dependent on technology. In film it is the same way. Eventually the art bumps up against the technology ceiling, so you push harder. I had very imaginative movies that were impossible to do with the technology at hand, so I had to come up with new technology that would allow things that were unthinkable before. It was like going from frescos to oil painting. The technology keeps moving forward and it makes it easier for artists to tell their stories with the tools they want.”

The Advent of Digital

All three luminaries discussed the value of a digital world. Lucas spoke about how the advent of digital has changed filmmaking. “It’s easier to work in the medium with digital technology – it’s more malleable and cheaper and more people can work with it.”

Lucas described his early involvement in the adoption of digital because it was difficult to do visual effects in analog – across the photography, editing and distribution of visual effects. Spielberg and Lucas discussed how digital technology led to the first character ever developed digitally – which appeared in their film The Young Sherlock Holmes. And Spielberg described the evolution of digital technology and the role it played in the creation of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

Mattrick described how the gaming art form started 30 years ago and was built on interactivity in a digital world. “We built on great work in film and TV. The movement from a physical to a digital world that is connected and social is how content comes alive,” said Mattrick. “The relationship between the cloud and the creator can deliver lifelike experiences.”

Mattrick explained there are currently about 300 million people with game consoles – with much more to come. “There are 2.5 billion devices now and we expect it to more than double in the next five years. We think this audience will continue to grow as we build a digital community and as we give new tools to the creators; their stories will get better with help from their community. And we will empower more people to create rich stories. The next wave of gaming will take communities of people and immerse them in rich, two-way experiences.”

The Future of Interactive Entertainment

To Lucas, there is no distinction between the entertainment medium and other forms of storytelling. “Content will progress as it always has – from the days of the storyteller around the fire to the first books to today’s stories. What will change is the technology, not the storytelling process.”

Mattrick discussed how the new Xbox One will deliver a new platform for interactive entertainment, using your voice and natural gestures through Kinect and the multi-modal technologies delivered from SmartGlass.

Spielberg agreed, “When your hands get out of the way and the player can get immersed in an experience and the player has to make choices – hands-free, totally immersive experiences are possibe.”

Mattrick described how the blend of film, TV and interactivity is taking entertainment to the next level. With games being the newest form of entertainment, compared to film and TV, but with the fastest growth rate, Mattrick sees great benefits to the technologies becoming interconnected.

“The best tool we have is our imagination and our ability to tell a story that interests people,” said Spielberg. “A lot of the ways to tell our story aren’t on the drawing board yet. With future technology, imagery will envelope us – you won’t even sense that you are on a chair watching a show or movie.”

A highlight of the conversation was Xbox’s efforts to deliver interactive television, starting with a new Halo TV series and a groundbreaking deal with the NFL to move football into a new generation. “We know people spend the majority of their time watching TV, yet it hasn’t been an interactive experience,” Mattrick said. “We are creating a live community, making TV interactive and immersive with experimentation so great storytellers and creators will push the bounds. Interactive television will provide the ability to participate in the content in real-time, like changing the flow of the show based on your interests.”

Spielberg is also the producer for the new Halo TV series. “Microsoft is a great partner,” said Spielberg, “I’m a big fan of Halo – the game and the mythology. My job is to make a series of films that can be strung together into a story, with the synchronicity of me as the storyteller and Microsoft’s technology.”

Valuable Advice from Spielberg

To wrap up this special conversation amongst entertainment luminaries, Spielberg’s advice for the USC students in attendance at the panel? “Find something you need to say with a passion and make it the star.”