The Death Of The Gaming Console

...And the rise of the media console.  This year's E3 paved the way for a revolution in digital content.  As my fellow columnist Shankar Gupta pointed out last week, Microsoft's press conference stole the show.  But while Natal is very interesting, a lot more is going on with Microsoft's strategy than just motion-controlled gaming.  In essence, Microsoft is going to kill off the "gaming console" to pave the way for a broader "media console."  The Xbox 360 is getting several enhancements, each of which are groundbreaking -- but combined, they indicate an amazing future on the horizon.

Social TV: The Xbox 360 is getting Facebook Connect and Twitter to enhance the social aspects of the Xbox LIVE offering.  At the same time, the company is rolling out a social viewing feature for its video content.  This system allows multiple users to view content, chat, and interact within a theater-like framework.  This looks to be the first large-scale enabling of social TV, where a user's social Web can experience content together on a television.



High Quality: One of the best parts of attending E3 was seeing Microsoft's demo of its new 1080p video streaming on the Xbox 360, as I wouldn't have believed it otherwise.  Admittedly, the server was probably on a low latency LAN, so it didn't represent actual viewing conditions, but the HD stream of "The Dark Knight" looked comparable with my Blu-Ray copy - and I'm an HD snob.  This quality is much higher than broadcast television HD, and is going to be delivered over broadband. 

Natal: Even more than just the gaming possibilities, I'm intrigued by the impact Natal will have on content in general.  Consider some scenarios: A user sits down after a long day, and Natal automatically logs that user into Xbox LIVE, and a list of personalized media content comes up.  Maybe Natal logs a user into his account, and through Facebook connect, brings up his friend feed.  Or what if a user could navigate a Mass Effect inspired video content sequence based on smiles, frowns, head nods, etc.?  Imagine if Tinkerbell in "Peter Pan" were actually brought back by the audience's claps.  There could be applications even for music. If Natal saw multiple people milling about, it might DJ party mixer music, and as the party died down, move to more mellow tunes, adjusting the volume as needed based on conversational volume levels.

Microsoft will likely need to do a lot of tuning to get these properties to all interact properly, in a seamless manner, and with the right business model.  The company is also going to face the same issue Nintendo currently faces: working to broaden its audience without doing so at the cost of its core demographic. 

Despite these concerns, I personally can't wait to see all of these features come to fruition.  For someone who constantly looks at new media, it's very exciting to see multiple features all come together on a platform with an install base in the tens of millions. 

(Full disclosure: Josh Lovison works for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Both Microsoft and Sony are agency clients.)

3 comments about "The Death Of The Gaming Console".
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  1. James Lee from, June 12, 2009 at 4:16 p.m.

    Weren't they saying the same thing about the PS3 a few years back? How the new Playstation would become the living room HUB of all things media?

    I seriously doubt a suped up Xbox360 will displace a personal comuter as the gateway into social media channels. For one thing - there's no keyboard (standard) on an Xbox or any other gaming platform.

    I would think pc/tv hybrids (if that finally catches on would become the "first large-scale enabling of social TV."

    BTW, Natal, as it was presented at E3, will not survive.

  2. Steve West, June 12, 2009 at 7:58 p.m.

    Hi James,

    The hype about the PS3 you're referring to came mostly from Sony's own marketing and they were banking on the fact that Blu-Ray would catch on more quickly than it has (or hasn't). Unfortunately they were wrong--Blu-Ray has not been widely adopted, largely due to the exorbitant pricetag and the growth of downloadable and streaming video content on-demand. In this case, as many times in the past, Sony appears to have backed a loser and Microsoft's partnerships with Netflix and now streaming 1080p-video via Zune make it look ever more likely that the final nail will be put in Blu-Ray's coffin in the next 5 years.

    While I agree that Xbox's upgrades won't be the death of the PC, it's certainly a huge step toward Microsoft's ultimate goal--complete integration of your TV, movies, PC, and game system into one box.

    Regarding your reservations about Xbox's social networking integrations--Who wants to be tied to a keyboard while they're relaxing? Seems very old school. Besides, if that's what a user wants, they can already pick one up for $25 bucks at Best Buy.

    I'm curious why you think Natal will not survive. I do agree that it will need some refinement and probably won't be as mind-boggling in actuality as the demo makes it out to be, but I still think it is leaps and bounds above Sony's unnamed "wand" motion technology and even outclasses Nintendo's Wii-mote.

    Bottom line--Microsoft dominated this year's E3. Sony needs to stop focusing solely on games and Blu-Ray and start focusing on innovation. Microsoft has them beat on content, on price, on usability, and on interactivity. Sony has been able to hang on thus far largely due to their strong brand loyalty in Asia, but if they don't get their heads back in the game soon, they'll soon find themselves outdated and outgunned by Microsoft.

  3. James Lee from, June 22, 2009 at 3:02 p.m.

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the comments! Glad to have some intelligent feedback.

    The "integration of media channels" concept was the same goal that Sony expressed years ago before the launch of the PS3. I do agree with you that price and the slow adoption of Blue Ray were primary reasons that the PS3 didn't catch on. However, I believe that the underlining cause is much more straightforward than that.

    Very simply, people buy gaming consoles for gaming. It is true that the capabilities of these consoles have improved over the years (i.e. internet access, improved video/audio playing capabilities, etc...), but unless said capabilities have bolstered the primary purpose of the machine (gaming), these additional bells and whistles have not caught on. For example, who really uses an Xbox, PS3 or Wii to surf the internet? The capability is there, but the interface just isn't optimized to support it (which is why I brought up the keyboard issue). In additional, everyone already owns another machine that serves that function better.

    The only way I see social media taking off for the XBox is if it is specifically designed and introduced to the public as a means to enhance the current video gaming experience (such as how internet access improved the overall gaming experience via XBox Live and the PSN network).

    In regards to Natal, unless the finished product captures live motion as accurately as what the demo video purports (I'm assuming the actual accuracy will be much more in-line with what we saw at E3), it will not catch on as many pundits are theorizing. Natal is a great concept, but the scope of the idea is way beyond current technological capabilities (i.e. Nintendo's Power Glove back in the late 80's/early 90's).

    True video-game immersion (the holy grail of motion sensing technology) cannot happen without the requisite accuracy. It's like owning a luxury car without wheels. What'd be the point?

    I believe that the PS3's motion sensing technology has much more of a chance to truly define the next generation of motion sensing technology. Although it's conceptually very similar to the Wii, what gamers (especially "hardcore" gamers) want at this point is this pinpoint accuracy. True one-to-one motion is what gamers have been clamoring for since the Wii was first introduced.

    PS3's pin-point technology would have mass appeal as well, satisfying the needs of both the casual and hardcore gamer alike. Natal, in it's current iteration, would likely pander primarily to the casual crowd, a demo already owned and dominated by Nintendo.

    Sony's new motion-sensing technology has the greatest chance of enhancing the current video gaming experience. With the right marketing strategy, this new technology could easily catapult the PS3 into relevance in this generation of console wars (where it continues to be viewed more and more as an afterthought).

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