Advantage Microsoft

By Johnny Minkley
As the champagne flowed and back-slapping began in earnest, the first of the Big Three unveiled its vision of the future of video games ­ Microsoft last night lifting the lid on Xbox 360 in its much-hyped and star-studded MTV special in the US.

Sleek, slim, customisable, white, wireless and with removable storage, Xbox 360 is the console the Redmond giant needs to evolve its 20-year video games vision to the next stage in its fight to dethrone Sony.

The industrial design is a radical departure from the bulk of the current model. And Microsoft's launch strategy is equally dramatic. As revealed by MCV (11/2), a global launch is planned for Q4.

"We think there are some significant changes going on which make it appropriate for us to be launching this next generation now," chief Xbox officer Robbie Bach tells MCV in an exclusive interview in today's print edition of MCV. Customisation is a fundamental part of the Xbox 360 experience - hence the name.

"The idea behind that name is that this is a product that's going to revolve around the gamer. "It's customisable in significant ways. You can change the look on the outside and there'll be customisation available in the games."

As predicted, the front of the system snaps off, allowing users to add themed covers of their favourite game or band to personalise the console. At this stage Microsoft is remaining coy on pricing details. But, Euro boss Chris Lewis is insistent the mistakes of the last generation will not be repeated.

"We learned a few key lessons, some of them quite painful, in terms of the price point when we first came out," he said. "That's not a mistake we'll make again. We'll make sure we have the price point and the product offering that talks to the mass-market."

The global strategy is sure to be cheered by the trade, and is key to Microsoft's efforts to prove Europe is every bit as important as the US. "The industry has treated Europe as a second-class citizen," added Bach. "Certainly we've been guilty of that in the past. But we're really trying hard to change it".

"This business is becoming a Microsoft space" With Xbox 360 Microsoft thinks it can and will beat Sony. As Bach put it: "In the next generation we'll turn our thought leadership into market leadership. "The business is coming around to being a Microsoft space. We're a platform company and this is about building the best platform. Compare us to Sony ­ it's a great company, but it's a consumer electronics company. It doesn't know software. Likewise, Nintendo ­ a really great company but, with respect, a great toy company.

I think they'll do great in that niche, but this isn't about the toy business anymore. This is the mainstream entertainment business." And Europe is on-message: "We don't do things by halves," said Lewis . "We're very ambitious. I wouldn't have signed up for this job if I hadn't thought that winning was a realistic objective. And I've gone deep and long in forming my own leadership team commensurate with that objective."

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