The Xbox 360 is currently one of the best-selling home games consoles on the planet (alongside rivals PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii), but a senior member of staff for console developers Microsoft is trying to start a personal campaign to show the hardware in a different light.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who has been known to come out with some radical comments at times, might have topped the lot with his latest observation, stating: “Xbox isn’t a gaming console.”
He does then go on to try and justify this comment, though, by describing: “Xbox is a family entertainment center. It’s a place to socialise. It’s a place to watch TV. We have ‘Hulu’ coming. It’s the only system where you are the controller. Your voice, your gestures, your body”.
In a trend started by the family-friendly Wii in 2006 (which focused on party games and multi-player), new home gaming systems have been on a charm offensive these past few years, trying to show that the systems are not just for stereotypical ‘gamers’ but casual fans also, with games and features now being sold to users of any age and gender. With Microsoft also releasing a new technology for the console known as ‘Kinect’ (where the user’s movements correspond with the on-screen character) added to the mix, the Xbox seems to be doing its part in the battle to win over this new demographic in the gaming industry.
Ballmer uses his own life at home as an example of the change, claiming: “My wife used to say, ‘No, no, that’s the machine the boys use,’ and now she says, ‘Yeah, I want to go watch movies. Let’s go play the dance game’.”
With home consoles seemingly being ‘rebranded’ as home entertainment centers, it is only fitting that TV seems to be included as part of the mix, with an online connection (and in some cases, a subscription) all a console now needs to watch live and catch-up content from selected providers, with innovations such as ‘interactive online viewing’ (users can chat with online friends and be represented by avatars while watching shows) used as unique selling points for the Xbox. With deals with local providers depending on country (e.g. American systems have the likes of Hulu and MTV shows available, while UK users can access BBC iPlayer and Sky Player, amongst others).
Regardless of the level of success that games consoles can now have in entertaining casual users and providing an alternate way of watching shows, Ballmer is adamant that there is room for improvement, and now wants to take the lead in the race for what he believes to be a final untapped area of the market, and possibly the most difficult: “You go to your average 15-year-old boy, and he will say, ‘I’ll take an Xbox’, I want that average 15-year-old girl as excited about the Kinect, and we haven’t done as good a job drawing in that broader set of demographics.”
With each console offering their own unique features (Sony’s PlayStation 3 also includes a Blu-Ray player as part of its hardware) to appease the undecided, it seems that online viewing is one of the only constants amongst the various new ‘casual’ features provided these rivals, but who will be the one, if any, to dominate this new and exciting market?