Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Initial Thoughts: The Xbox One Launch

The Xbox one launch was interesting, but not that surprising in tone, especially when compared back with the PS4 launch. The difference in tones boils down to the way both companies approach ‘gaming’ and ‘entertainment’. Sony’s presentation was much more focused on the pure ‘gaming’ elements a console can offer and supporting features that would enhance that experience. Microsoft, as they both stated and implied throughout the presentation see their opportunity as part of the wider entertainment offering a console can supply. The company seemed to do a balancing act between providing enough credentials to support those looking for reassurance of a next generation gaming experience (especially through showing how the next Call of Duty looked on the hardware in game) and laying out their vision for how one device can bring convergence into the living room beyond what we’ve already seen.

The Kinect’s upgraded functionality was interesting, but the fact that it was phrased as the device hub between controller, user, system and other possible peripherals/devices was even more telling. Microsoft integrating elements of the vision for UX behind Windows 8 was inevitable, but the introduction of ‘snap mode’ allowing multitasking in a clear fashion speaks to the company’s view of this as an intuitive computing device and set top box for the living room, with gesture and voice becoming more refined for user input. The view of the Xbox One as an overall entertainment device, especially with the focus on DVR possibilities, almost framed live TV in the same way previous console launches talked about launch game titles. The referenced partnerships with the NFL and the adaption of premium video content from the Halo TV series indicates Microsoft can see the console’s possibility to create more active viewing experiences and a more intuitive ‘social TV’ experience.

Up until now, social TV and more engaged activities while viewing content have always been the domain of ‘second screen’ devices such as tablets, mobiles and laptops, simply because of ease of use. However, Microsoft’s mentions of smart glass and their rather clear moves towards creating a more refined way to interact with the console and on-screen content seems to indicate that they are taking their ambition to make the Xbox One the next ‘water cooler’ seriously.

From a gaming perspective, Microsoft said enough to reassure consumers that the graphics, titles and experience will be more than iterative, but the wide focus of the console may alienate those looking for more dedicated gaming announcements at launch.

From a wider consumer electronics perspective, Microsoft laid out plans for an ambitious home experience delivered by its next generation device, which many will wait to have substantiated in the coming months.

From an advertising point of view, the console looks to make steps forward in the way brands can target and speak to consumers, given the recognition for users Kinect will feature and the integration with live TV. The value of Microsoft’s TV integration, as seen with the NFL, will hinge on how clearly the company can create a frame work for similar content integration partnerships. The Kinect's ability to recognize users and auto-log in brings up interesting opportunities for addressable advertising and content, especially with Microsoft's announced mixture of video content and gaming.

Overall, Microsoft delivered something expected, while still giving a few surprises. Clearly going for the middle of the road, ‘all-in-one’ market for the console, the months between E3 and Christmas will be interesting to see how Sony and Microsoft position themselves relative to each other.

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