Part 1: The 360s Path Toward Domination
The Xbox 360 launch is only a little over a month away and it is increasingly becoming one of the most anticipated video game launches ever. We will soon be ushering in the era of photorealistic graphics, the era of thousands of onscreen characters at once, the era of gameplay that far exceeds our wildest imaginations. Luckily for us, the 360 is at the forefront of this revolution and is looking to please us beyond our dreams.
However, as in any market, there is more than one product being offered. With Nintendo’s withdrawal from the upcoming race, even stating “We want to be in a different market than them [PS3 and 360]”, this leaves Sony’s PS3 as the main competitor for the 360. No matter how you look at it, the PS2 was the obvious winner of this generation but Microsoft should be commended on breaking into a market with their first system and achieving second in sales.
However Microsoft wants more then second this time around, they need more than second. Current figures estimate that Microsoft lost over 4 billion dollars with the Xbox due to its powerful components that put it ahead of the competitors graphically. Microsoft needs to make up that money this time around, and if they don’t then we most likely will not be seeing a successor. The 360’s future looks bright, and if Microsoft plays their cards right, they could have a winner.
If there’s something that Sony does know how to do right, its building up hype. Showing a photorealistic future war torn battlefield, with perfect facial animations and explosions, and then claiming that it’s all in game? Absolutely brilliant. Yes, that was all sarcasm. Unfortunately, only 1 out of every 10 people realized as soon as they saw the Killzone trailer that it was all CGI and that PS3 games wouldn’t look that good for at least a year or two after launch. But the media took this deception and spread it absolutely everywhere. And people bought it. At E3, Microsoft was showing choppy graphically unimpressive gameplay demos of 360 launch titles. If you’re trying to launch in six months and get as many people as excited as possible for your console, it’s worthless to show games marginally better than the current generation. Microsoft’s E3 showing, although entirely honest and truthful, left much to be desired.
Then over the summer, we were left barren and dry. 360 information was about as hard to come by as a water faucet in the Sahara. But as soon as the summer ended, TGS was upon us.
TGS was where Microsoft was ready to win us all back. Developers had already had their final beta kits for a while and recently received their final dev kits. Games were beginning to represent a true jump in gameplay and graphics. The 360 easily stole the show with its presentation and playable booths whereas PS3 diehards were only able to enter a big black box and watch trailers. TGS converted many people but was it enough?
Microsoft felt that they needed to do more to showcase the true potential of the 360. So they called for their own event, X05 to be held in Amsterdam. X05 was to be an event dedicated solely to showcasing off the 360 and its optimistic future. Near final builds of games were shown and they looked great. PGR3 was promising photorealistic courses and cars, and Kameo quickly became known as “A great Nintendo game on the 360”. The fate of Perfect Dark Zero is still in the air and it is quickly coming down to a personal choice. But all in all X05 was a success. The media was able to play polished builds of games, interact with the controller in closer detail, and see the console upfront. And they came back ecstatic and throwing confetti in the air. It was finally believed that the next generation was in fact here.
Now the only question is how can Microsoft achieve the lucrative first place?
A few days ago I asked one of my friends if he was planning on getting the Xbox 360. He responded yes, and immediately asked the question “Is Halo 3 coming out on it?” When I told him yes but not at launch, a disappointed look appeared on his face. Then I asked him if he had seen any videos or screenshots of any games. To my surprise he said no. I consider him a fairly active gamer, and it was in awe that I received his answer. He had never seen the photorealistic PGR3, the war torn battlefields of Call of Duty 2, or the immense world of Kameo. I can only imagine what his response would have been to my initial question if he had seen those things.
Right now, Microsoft has one of the most advanced pieces of technology in their hands. They need to be able to market this to the masses. Now, no matter how you put it, the first thing looked at in a game is graphics. The 360 is capable of photorealistic graphics, and barely anybody knows this. Microsoft needs to capitalize on this and first and foremost for their marketing campaign, simply create a commercial.
Ideally this commercial will show a PGR3 race, maybe then merging into Shaq dunking in NBA 2K6, and then a multiplayer match of PDZ. At the end of the commercial a note telling us that what we just saw was not in fact real life. Then splatter the screen with 360 logos and release dates. If you will show people something as impressive as this, and if you do it right on their first impression, they will fall in love with it. Most people do not know that these type of graphics exist, and showing it to them firsthand will easily win many of them.
Besides exploiting the graphical prowess of the 360 Microsoft would also do well to use other marketing campaigns. You can say that they have attempted something noteworthy with their ARGs but in all reality, this is just marketing to the crowd already interested in the 360. Ask any casual gamer about Origen360 or the new “The End is Nigh” campaign. They’ll look at you like you were out of your mind.
The wisest campaign for Microsoft to pull right now would be another MTV special. Have commercials on MTV leading up to the special, talk about the 360 on TRL, and then during the special, come out with guns blazing. Show the casual gamer what the 360 is all about. Except maybe this time get anybody but Elijah Wood to host it.
If Microsoft ends up not doing any of these things the least they could do is hurry up and start their mass marketing. I haven’t seen one commercial for the 360 besides the Every10Minutes commercials, a few magazine adverts, no billboards (although I saw one for Oblivion), etc. Microsoft needs to get off their asses and market this baby.
Xbox Live was the first online service to bring console gamers together. Likewise, it was also the most successful, now hitting over 2 million members. Unlike competing services Xbox Live set up a central database for users, allowing them to use the same name and have the same friends across their entire game collection. This setup provided gamers a sense of unity with their system. Xbox Live brought many innovations to the console market, and the 360 version of Live is promising to as well.
The 360 features two forms of Xbox Live. The free Silver account, allows you to create a username, text and voice chat with friends, and play games online at certain events. This Silver option is basically an introduction to Xbox Live and incentive to make you get Gold, the next level. Gold is a fully featured online console experience. You can text, voice, and video chat with friends, play online games whenever you want, enter tournaments, keep a gamer card, and much more.
One of the most exciting new features of Xbox Live is the aforementioned gamer card. The gamer card is basically your identity card on Xbox Live. The gamer card tracks all your achievements of games you have played, both online and offline, how many achievement points you have received, what type of gamer you are, and other personal options. Another gamer can check out your gamer card to see what kind of games you’re into. He can see if you have beaten a certain boss in Kameo that he hasn’t yet. This will allow people to see just who they are (or aren’t) adding to their friends list. Things like this, personalize the whole experience just a bit more, and could potentially lead you to form the perfect PDZ killing duo.
Along with this new generation of Live, Microsoft has enforced rather strict requirements on developers to ensure that it is used to its full potential. Every single game, whether it features online modes or not, must allow you to access your friends list at any time and communicate with them. Games must also give out a certain amount of achievement points that are accounted for in your gamer card.
Another important new Xbox Live feature that won’t be making it for launch is video chat support. Just imagine blowing up your best friend’s mech in Chromehounds, and then seeing a pop up caption of him throwing his controller against the wall in anger. Absolutely priceless.
An online system as integrated and centralized as Xbox Live is something that no other next generation console will have. Next generation consoles won’t even have an already installed userbase of 2 million plus online players. Playing multiplayer games with your friends is one of the most important part of videogames. We can easily say that almost all of our most memorable gaming moments have been humiliating a friend of being humiliated in a game, not finally unlocking Super Sonic. Xbox Live is a community of dedicated gamers and adds important value to a game. This is perhaps Microsoft’s most important asset going into the next generation.
Please don’t forget to tune in later this week when we present Part 2 which will talk about the Guide, the games, customibilty, and the early launch!