REDMOND, Washington (Reuters) - Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and sporting unkempt graying hair, Larry Hryb looks like just another guy in Microsoft’s corporate headquarters.
But Xbox 360 players know Hryb by his alter ego, “Major Nelson”, the endlessly energetic and unusually frank voice of the Xbox Live online service that serves as a sort of social networking community for hard-core video game players.
Hryb’s business card describes him, rather blandly, as “director of programming” for Xbox Live. In fact, he runs a mini-empire of Xbox-related media: blogs, podcasts, text messaging and social networking sites that potentially reach some 8 million users in what could be called Xbox Nation.
Hryb is their Walter Cronkite -- someone who gamers can turn to for the straight story on all things Xbox.
“His blog gets hit up pretty substantially. He’s kind of delivering the information that gamers are usually left in the dark about, so users really enjoy that,” said Erik Brudvig, Xbox editor of gaming Web site IGN.com.
A long-time gamer and former programmer with radio broadcaster Clear Channel Communications, Hryb’s media output combines elements of TV news reports, video game fan sites, corporate press releases and customer support.
He estimates he gets 500 e-mails every day, and last year he posted 1,550 times on Web messaging service Twitter to distribute news and information as fast as it comes in. But that does not mean he is short on facts or data. His year-end podcast, for instance, ran three hours.
“The news cycle is not monthly, it’s not weekly, it’s daily and frankly it’s hourly sometimes. Blogging came from setting straight some misinformation that was out there,” Hryb said.
A TV game-show addict who used to schedule classes around “The Price Is Right”, Hryb began his blog, www.majornelson.com, three years ago, picking the Major Nelson moniker after a character on the 1960s U.S. TV comedy “I Dream of Jeannie”.
He recently started “Major’s Minute”, a 60-second video clip streamed over Xbox Live that highlights new features and content. A far cry from super-slick productions featuring coiffed hair and crisp suits, the segments are more like a YouTube video someone shot with a Web cam in a dorm room, and Hryb even did one recent episode in his pajamas.
“This audience is really, really smart and if there is a whiff of marketing they run the other way,” Hryb said. “The first ‘Major’s Minute’ we did was showing a bunch of products. People were like, ‘Don’t sell us that stuff, we want to see what’s going on.’ So we took cameras through the offices and had people give holiday greetings.”
While he fits in well with his video game audience, Hryb is not immune from fan criticism, as reaction by players to recent connection problems on Xbox Live demonstrated.
One post on Hryb’s blog about the troubles garnered more than 1,000 responses, some thankful for his frequent updates, but many voicing anger at being left in the dark about details and when the problems would be fixed.
“I wish they would just tell us. I‘m getting pretty sick of Major Nelsons ‘It’s getting worked on’ posts on Twitter. Just tell us the problem,” one user wrote in frustration.
Hryb takes the criticism in stride and views it as one way to get valuable feedback on new features or emerging problems.
“I just love the fact that there’s so much passion around the space,” Hryb said.
Reporting by Scott Hillis; editing by Bob Tourtellotte