Microsoft’s E3 Event Shows Focus on Everything But Games
I’m not exactly sure who Microsoft’s Pre-E3 Press Briefing was for, but it wasn’t for your average gamer.
I found myself up in the nosebleeds at The Galen Center in Los Angeles (although I’m pretty sure I saw Obsidian Entertainment’s Feargus Urquhart in general admission too, so I didn’t feel so bad), and halfway through the briefing, I was wondering what happened to all the games. Microsoft started by showing off trailers (for third-party non-exclusive titles), and then shifted toward something else entirely. Not video games — entertainment.
Sure, it’s the end of a hardware cycle, and Microsoft is coasting a bit. So is everyone. It’s a year of sequels and spin-offs, with Microsoft showing off just five (I think) exclusive titles: Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment, a game from Twisted Pixels, whatever that Gore Verbinski thing was, and a first-person Angry Birds clone that uses Kinect called Wreckateer. Oh, and Dance Central 3. So six games.
The rest of the games featured were not exclusive titles. The majority of the gaming discussion at Microsoft’s event focused on Kinect compatibility with games, so you’ll be able to whisper to trick terrorists in Splinter Cell: Blacklist and verbally abuse the refs in FIFA. And then Microsoft segued into the arena where it looks like the company is dumping the most money when it comes to Xbox: entertainment partnerships.
Microsoft wants you to watch all your sports on Xbox. It wants you to watch your movies on Xbox and listen to your music on Xbox. It even wants you to use your iPad and iPhone and Android tablets and phones on Xbox — and Microsoft has a smartphone operating system. But Microsoft wants Xbox to be ubiquitous, so badly that it’s willing to shoot its mobile division in the foot in order to make its Xbox division more viable to more consumers. That’s extremely telling.
What’s interesting about the whole situation is that the plan seems to be working.
Microsoft has pretty effectively stolen what Sony has been trying to get for years, and that’s the centralized, one-device living room control point. Now, before you go freaking out, fanboys, yes, Sony is definitely a viable competitor in this market. But Xbox has Kinect, and Kinect really has helped Xbox start to be come king of the living room. All those media partnerships with Kinect compatibility are interesting, because Microsoft undoubtedly spent a lot of money on them. For at least the next year — possibly longer — the Xbox strategy isn’t really about video games. It’s about everything else you do with your TV.
Next year, almost undoubtedly, Microsoft will be talking about a new console. It’ll be showing off big new games in the triple-A category and it will have many gamers excited. But at this E3, the press briefing felt to me as though it was geared much more toward casual gamers than the hardcore crowd. Hell, Microsoft even had a musical interlude with Usher to introduce elements in Dance Central 3. Hilariously, Usher twice tried to call on the audience to jump to their feet. A huge room full of game journalists, half of them with computers on their laps, were not about to jump to their feet at 10 a.m. on a Monday. What was Microsoft thinking?
That’s just it — Microsoft isn’t thinking about you, average hardcore gamer. It’s thinking about people who like Usher. It’s thinking about people who own Kinect. It’s thinking about people who own iPads and iPhones and about people who watch ESPN and Major League Baseball. It’s thinking about people who want to use Nike+ to work out in their living rooms. It was thinking about people who have Xboxes and rarely use them for games, but still use them. Microsoft’s fight this year, and probably in the future, isn’t so much to control the game-playing space, but to be the machine that you have turned on when you’re not playing games. And it rolled out a bunch of new partnerships and improvements toward that end. It wasn’t focusing on video and tablets and phones and other junk just because those things happened to exist under the broader Microsoft corporate umbrella, either. Microsoft is coming to consumers on their existing platforms, not asking them to buy a bunch of Microsoft-branded stuff to get this kind of synergy.
Not so long ago, Microsoft was breaking into the video game market, and it did so with some remarkable success. Now, it seems to me that the company is ending up where it wanted to be, using video games to segue into much broader appeal. Is it a fundamental shift we’re seeing, with Microsoft backing away from an extreme focus on the pure video game space? Maybe — it’s early yet. But while Microsoft may not be shifting focus, what we’re seeing is clear evidence that it’s continuing to expand it.