A new Xbox is coming, this we all know. However Microsoft might be about to surprise us and games will only be a small part of its launch message.
When the Xbox 360 launched, it was primarily a games machine. Sure it could kinda play other media, but there were none of the streaming options for TV and film we have today, the external HD-DVD (remember that?) drive had not launched (and when it did, it died soon after), and more importantly the message from Microsoft was all games, games and games. It was seen as the hardcore gamer’s console, with the PS3 strangely being seen more as a lifestyle product, less hardcore and a box of many tricks.
Over the years, since it was released, Microsoft have slowly changed the strategy and image of the console. The change has been a two pronged approach, firstly slowly adding more and more media channels, and then introducing Kinect.
Looking at Kinect, it’s clear that at first it was seen as Microsoft’s way of trying to react to the success of the Wii, with motion control. However as time has gone on, we can see that Microsoft have much wider plans for Kinect. The games might have got the headlines, but most people probably use their Kinect device to enhance the user experience of the main menu. Indeed for hardcore games it has so far made no impact on the user experience and is not a priority in the eye’s of the gamers. Smart glass, at this stage, probably offers more in the short term in terms of additional, cool ways of playing games on the Xbox, just as a second screen certainly enhances experiences on the WiiU where used with thought by the developers.
The fact that Kinect has become more of a mainstream solution for controlling the Xbox tells us a little regarding where Microsoft see themselves positioning the console. The multitude of streaming services, along with the motion and voice controlled user interface demonstrates how Microsoft is trying to change how we access content in the living room. Very little of the above involves games at all.
Ironically, despite Microsoft’s attempt to almost abandon the ‘we are for the hardcore gamer’ message, it seems most of their userbase are quite core. The PS3 continues to be the most used device for Netflix whilst Xbox users stream very little across the device.
So where does this leave Microsoft in the years ahead? Well as Nintendo have discovered, trying to get across what your box of tricks does in a press conference is becoming harder and harder. You only have a limited amount of time, and the audience can only take in so much info in one go. Sony have got around this by starting what will in effect be a number of conversations with the world with regard to what the PS4 can do. Microsoft, one fears, might try and do it all in one major splash at E3.
So will they speak to their traditional, loyal market – the core gamer? The last few years they have largely not spoken to this audience, but in the year of a console launch, surely they need them onside? However, this is Microsoft’s opportunity to take the now mature Xbox Live media service to the next level on a very powerful platform and communicate to the world that THEY have the media solution we all seek (and therefore beating Apple to the prize, before they launch their ‘TV’).
Launching a product or service that does it all, often makes logical sense, but in the real world customers sometimes can’t process that concept, and prefer to think that they have a Tivo or Sky for TV, a console for games, a phone for calls and casual games, and a Vita or 3DS for hardcore gaming experiences on the move. The more you do, the risk is that all your messages become diluted and lost in the media frenzy involved in the tech world.
What matters to you? An Xbox (or PS4) that does it all, or a box that does gaming at the heart of it’s activities at launch, with other services coming ‘as and when’?