I can understand why Microsoft’s current approach to the Xbox 360 seems peculiar to people, and I get why this seeming shift in priorities seems strange. I mean it’s meant to be a box that plays games right? Surely that’s the primary purpose of a games console, anything else should just be a bolted on extra.
It’s lovely that we can watch movies on Netflix or baseball (the latter of which I think Peter may be overly excited about) on your game playing machine, but at the end of the day what it’s really meant to do is play games.
This is all well and good except for one minor thing: I’m not sure Microsoft see it that way. From day one Microsoft have talked about the 360 as a multimedia hub, as their presence in your living room. They’ve tried this approach with things like the Media Center edition of Windows, but in my experience these have never been great.[drop]There’s generally been a flaw, normally it’s either too technical to set up, the UI is awful, or you need something bonkers like a second machine running Windows Home Server to get the best out of the service (and people complain about Microsoft ripping you off with the 360).
They don’t have this issue with the 360. By their very nature consoles have to be simple to set up, that’s basically the point; if they were technical then people would be buying PCs.
You can complain about the ads on the new Metro UI on the 360 dashboard, but putting those aside I actually think it’s a well implemented interface.
Yes, the way they’ve organised content within it needs work, but as a general look I like it. To top it off there’s no Windows Home Server in sight, someone on the 360 team probably realised that people want to stream media to their box without anything extra.
So remembering that Microsoft have always talked about the 360 as their multimedia presence in the living room, I was surprised that people were so shocked that it looks like they’ll be focussing on media at E3 (or at least they will if you listen to Pachter). I’ll admit that E3 might not be the best venue to focus on their other media options, but the show gets enough mainstream coverage these days that it’s probably worthwhile doing all of their announcements there.
The important thing to remember with this shift though is they’re giving their users what they want.
We might not like it, but Microsoft announced back in March that just over half of the activity on Xbox Live is streaming media; games are no longer taking up the majority of the service. With those figures in mind why not switch the focus to their media offerings, that area’s already growing and a gentle push could drive it forwards even more.[drop2]The other thing to consider is their recent subscription announcement, put down $99.99 and then pay $14.99 a month for two years, getting Xbox Live Gold in the deal. Whilst that approach is certainly more expensive than just buying a 360 straight out, it has its merits for people who can’t afford to buy a 360 in one go (or don’t want to).
Now this just might be me, but announcing that deal in what many are calling the tail of this console’s lifespan seems like they might not be appealing to people who play games on their consoles.
What if their plan is to appeal to people who want just the media offerings, or the media offerings with a bit of light Kinect gaming thrown into the bargain? I mean I can’t see the offer being of any significant appeal to the core gaming market, but I can see it attracting people who want to watch Netflix.
I mean those people aren’t going to want whatever Microsoft’s shiny new console will be. Sure, it’ll play newer games, but if their main time spent with the console is media streaming then the 360 will be fine for them. In much the same way the Sony kept the PS2 selling by dropping its price ridiculously in their traditional markets, and then launching the console into emerging markets like Brazil, Microsoft could keep the 360 going by selling it as a media box.
I know this approach probably holds no appeal to anyone reading this article, but the console market is much bigger than just us now. And who knows, maybe if Microsoft can hook people with the media offerings they might slide into gaming gently. Wouldn’t that be nice?