Microsoft aims to get casual gamers turned onto Xbox

Microsoft aims to get casual gamers turned onto Xbox
Friday, August 22, 2008
The Irish Times
Cian Ginty

MICROSOFT IS stepping up attempts to attract a wider range of consumers to its Xbox 360 games consoles with the bait of casual games that reject traditional games controllers

Two of the main casual titles set for the Xbox 360 use non-standard controllers – the karaoke game Lips, which uses wireless microphones, and You’re in the Movies, which is controlled by an Xbox Live camera – and are due for release by the end of the year.

“I think for a lot of people holding a games controller is a barrier in its self – holding a microphone anyone can do. Singing a song anyone can do, and women love to sing songs, girls love to get up and sing songs,” says Alex Weller, brand experience manager for Xbox 360, to the backdrop of female journalists singing into Xbox microphones in a London hotel.

Lips, unlike previous singing games, comes with the ability to play tracks from an MP3 player connected to the 360 console rather than just a set playlist – although Microsoft is still in talks with record companies about the legal niceties.

The pre-Christmas releases include a second edition of the film quiz Scene It?, first released for the Christmas market last year with controllers that looked inspired by the Playstation 2′s popular Buzz!.

These casual game controllers have allowed Xbox to target potential buyers more easily. Microsoft says over 20,000 people played Rock Band at the Xbox Live stage at this summer’s Oxegen music festival. At a smaller event last weekend in the Bernard Shaw bar in Dublin, Rock Band was also used with its guitar and drums as controllers. “You get people interested after they first think it’s a real band playing,” said a Microsoft spokesman.

Weller says from a range of “female press and very broad lifestyle press”, the reaction has been “phenomenal”. But that should not be too much of a surprise given Sony’s take on karaoke – SingStar – managed to attract women before, and Buzz! generated tales of families missing out on Christmas Day television to play the quiz game.

The rival Wii console from Nintendo has already seen success by using a non-standard controller with sensors and bundling the console with a set of simple games. It was towards the end of the last hardware cycle of game consoles where new types of controllers were introduced to attract the masses. For the PlayStation 2, Sony released controls in the form of a camera named EyeToy, microphones for the SingStar karaoke games, and four-player miniature TV game show devices for Buzz!.

This time around, the Wii has a head start and Sony’s casual strategy is already in place for the PlayStation 3. One way or another, Microsoft is playing catch up, even if the company is in a bit of denial.

“Xbox 360 has a really strong gaming heritage, it always has done, and we continue to make fantastic games for the gamer. What we’re doing now is using our knowledge of making games to create games for a much broader audience,” said Weller.

“I don’t think there is a boat to miss, the gaming industry is really strong right now – Wii is carving a certain path and PlayStation is carving a certain path, and we’re carving our path.”

While the console maker now talks of “connecting people to the entertainment” and of downloadable film content, the hardcore gamers are not being abandoned. The line-up of games due for release proves this; the focus is just being widened.

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