It's no secret that after Microsoft had established itself with core gamers, they switched gears and targeted our living rooms. With the Kinect, key partnerships with multimedia giants like Netflix and YouTube, as well as a new metro-style interface--the Xbox 360 wanted to be the most used electronic device in the living room. It seems that with rumors swirling around the New Xbox, Microsoft is taking this ideal one step further with a partnership with Comcast to allow consumers to have full live TV and DVR functionality through the New Xbox--which would essentially replace your existing cable box. In theory, this sounds pretty cool... for existing Comcast subscribers... but what about the rest of us? Am I going to have to lock myself into a Comcast TV subscription if I want a new Xbox? How much will Microsoft jack up the price for an unsubscribed console? Will there even be a console that doesn’t have some sort of subscription?
One positive with some subscriptions is that the consumer is paying to get there content ad-free… whoa, hold on one minute... ad-free? Don’t forget that Xbox customers already pay a subscription for their online service and still have more ads than the classifieds of the Sunday newspaper. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, besides the metro-style’s bold window interface was created with ad fronting in mind. With live TV being sidelined for DVR and OnDemand services, commercials are becoming a less prominent source of advertising; look for Microsoft to integrate their marketing style into more of your TV/DVR content.
The New Xbox wants to pool all of your entertainment content into one device and attract more families to the console, but the problem is that families aren’t looking for a new device. Early adopters are, and always will be, the core audience—which are, in this case, the gamers. Cable boxes, smart TVs, tablets, smart phones, and even the current-gen Xbox already do everything that a casual consumer wants, and with enough ease that there is no reason for them to change devices. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, DVR, and video games are all just one or two clicks away now, and this is more than simple and streamlined enough for the casual audience. To put it plainly, Microsoft is appealing to the wrong people. Nintendo Wii and the first smart devices already reeled in the casual consumer… back in 2006; Microsoft and the New Xbox are a bit late to the party. The attempt to attract the family with an “all-encompassing” media console was proved ill-advised when the Nintendo Wii U launched last year to overall dismal sales numbers. That’s because the family/casual audience wasn’t interested (and is completely satisfied with Call of Duty on their Xbox 360s and checking their Facebook updates and Twitter feeds on their iPhones) and the core audience was offered almost nothing in the way of innovative and interesting software launch titles. Now, I do believe that once there are core games (i.e. Zelda and Mario proper) and possibly a price drop, that the Nintendo Wii U will see sales increase; not because the casual consumer all of the sudden feels a desperate need to play deep and engaging games like Metroid, but because the core gamer is finally getting what should have been announced in the first place… GAMES.
Yes, Microsoft – games. The importance of title exclusivity has long been a topic of discussion amongst the gaming community. Is it all that necessary? For hardware developers, of course it is. Nintendo would not be making consoles anymore if it weren’t for their first party titles. SEGA isn’t making consoles anymore because their games (and I know I’m going to catch a lot of shit for this) sucked. PS3 was kept alive by God of War, Uncharted, and Killzone. Exclusive titles matter to the success of a hardware developer… and Microsoft’s lineup is wearing thin, fast. The Halo franchise was recently revitalized by 343 Industries with Halo 4, but how long until we see Halo 5, 2 or 3 years? Forza is speedily being driven into the realm of over-saturation, with a new Forza game out every year. Gears of War is facing much uncertainty with key creators like Cliffy B and Mike Capps jumping ship and retiring. And XBLA is a shadow of its former self, now steadily being eclipsed by the aggressive and gamer-centric Sony PlayStation brand. Sony’s recent press conference, and even on PSN before that, has shown that Sony is taking a huge step in the direction of welcoming indie development on to their platforms. They've got a leg up on the rapidly growing indie game scene and are leaving Microsoft in the dust.
Xbox owned the last generation of consoles with the Xbox 360 because of its incredibly slick online service, innovative Xbox Live Arcade which brought amazing and unique new content to the players, and a focus on exclusives and games for the core gamer—pretty much what the PS4 is doing now. Microsoft is trying to recapture an audience that the original Nintendo Wii captured in 2006—an audience that has no interest in “keeping up with the latest in cutting-edge technology. And let’s be frank, the Nintendo Wii was a game industry phenomenon (in regards to its sales) that will probably never be repeated.
Microsoft must recognize that the core gamers are the first ones in line to support and purchase a new product that interests them. They are also the first people online to share, like, and tweet about this new device or game, be it good or bad; the word of mouth branches out from the root audience and will, ultimately, determine the public perception of the New Xbox regardless of the in-house marketing strategy. Right now, what seems like a majority of the gaming industry—both developers and consumers alike— aren't showing much interest toward the “educated” rumors floating around about the New Xbox. All we can do now is wait for May 21 to see what Microsoft has up their sleeve for the next *ahem* “New” generation.