Perhaps the most interesting thing that will come out of Microsoft?s Xbox Reveal event tonight will be an insight into how the company will be angling its next-generation console experience.
While the Xbox was built on video games, today the name has become synonymous with cross-platform entertainment - TV, films and music - and there are hints that the next home console could drive that focus even further.
Since changing up the Xbox 360?s Dashboard UI and launching a number of entertainment applications last year, Microsoft has proudly declared
on occasion that more of its console users spend time on music and TV programs than they do playing games online. By the end of 2012, over 60 entertainment apps were added, in response to the seemingly overwhelming desire by Xbox users to consume non-gaming content.
This has, arguably, come at the expense of first-party core game development. In 2011, Xbox 360 users were treated to Forza Motorsport 4
, Gears of War 3
and a Halo
remake, with the other releases focused on Kinect. Last year, while Microsoft launched Halo 4
, its only other high-profile core release was Forza Horizon
. Gears of War: Judgment
is 2013?s sole major release for the console, compared with Sony?s God of War: Ascension
, The Last of Us
, Beyond: Two Souls
and Gran Turismo 6
for PlayStation 3.
The relatively anemic Xbox release schedules - with the console propped up by third party titles - could reasonably lead an Xbox gamer or two to believe that their favourite hobby is being left out in the cold somewhat. That, naturally, isn?t necessarily the case - as slim as the annual release schedules have been, you can?t deny that big franchises that Microsoft has been tapping into to cater to the gaming audience. But it is a valid cause for concern.
It?s perfectly simple to see where Microsoft is coming from with this new direction. The strategy for any console manufacturer, when introducing a new product, should be to maintain your current audience whilst seeking out a new one to expand your install base. Nintendo did it with the Wii, by convincing a cross-generational massmarket audience that playing games was fun.
Microsoft?s strategy with Xbox is similar, in that it intends to attract a traditionally-non-gamer audience, but the company appears satisfied with simply hooking them in with entertainment solutions, rather than invite them to play games. It?s this distinction that has gamers worried, to a degree - that such an approach could lead to a lack of first-party games to attract the core, in favour of nurturing relationships with content providers for other mediums.
It could be a strategy that ends up biting Microsoft on the behind when it comes to attracting the core gamer audience. But, the company is nothing if not reactive - it has clearly been paying attention to gamer grumps of the past year or two, and had promised to cater to gamers in a big way with exclusive partnerships and as-yet-unannounced projects.
Perhaps it is simply learning how to balance both a casual and core audience following some unprecedented success of its Xbox apps. At the end of the day though, if Microsoft is successful with its new entertainment strategy, then the Xbox platform can handily survive without the support of its core gaming audience. But it is still in the company?s interest to balance the interests of its original target audience. For if the next Xbox is not a games console first and foremost, then it simply becomes yet-another-set-top-box.