I just finished watching the live feed (and a bunch of live blogs) covering Microsoft's E3 press conference. I say "watched" loosely here because I am not a gamer and have no interest in becoming one. Console gaming bores me. (So does 99 percent of what's on TV, but that's another post....)
Microsoft is out to get me to change my mind about becoming an Xbox user (not a gamer). After today, however, I still have to say I am still unconvinced.
You can't say it's because the Softies aren't really trying. Microsoft has been seeking ways for a while now to broaden the audience for its Xbox console.
The company has been pursuing partnerships with makers of casual gaming titles, attempting to prove that the Xbox isn't just for hard core, first-person-shooter, almost entirely male audiences any more. It's a family hub -- suitable for all ages, genders and family configurations, the Softies claim. Yes, Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty are still Microsoft's biggest gaming draws, but there are other kinder and gentler titles mixed in among its demos, too.
On June 14, Microsoft introduced some new elements into its gaming line-up intended to broaden its appeal further. The company rolled out a new, sleeker, "whisper-quiet" Xbox 360 Slim model which will be for sale in retail stores here in the U.S. this week.
It also previewed the Kinect (formerly known as Natal) controller technology, that will free Xbox users from increasingly powerful and confusing gaming controllers with a "webcam-on-steroids" unit that recognizes gestures and voice. There will be 15 new titles, a handful of which will be bundled with Kinect once it is available on November 4. On the Kinect-enabled roster are a virtual animal petting zoo (Kinectimals) and a Your Shape fitness program, and a "So You Think You Can Dance" tutorial package known as Dance Central. Microsoft also announced a partnership with ESPN, via which ESPN live and recorded content will be available for free to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. (As more than one male and female follower of mine tweeted, "Too bad I don't care about sports that much.")
The Xbox and Kinect aren't like the new Microsoft Kin phones, in that Microsoft isn't claiming they are aimed at a specific age demographic. So I can't claim I fall outside the customer base Microsoft wants to convince to go buy a console and a controller.
Bottom line is I just don't find the idea of watching a World Cup match in tandem with a Twitter or Facebook or Messenger friend of mine to be a "fun" activity. I am sure it is for some people. I'd actually rather go to a real game or even to a local pub and watch it alongside live human beings (as long as they don't have any real or virtual Vuvuzelas at their disposal). If I'm going to run, give me a treadmill, at least; I don't want to jog in place in front of my Xbox. In other words, give me real life over virtual life. Every time.
For me, the most interesting thing about today's soft launch of Kinect and the new Xbox weren't the devices themselves. Instead, it felt to me as though today marked the start of an era where Microsoft is positioning its gaming console as a platform on the same level as the PC.
It was less than a decade ago that Chairman Bill Gates championed the concept that the PC -- not the TV -- would be the hub of the digital living room. If you asked CEO Steve Ballmer today what the living room hub should be, I'd be he'd say it's up to customers, who are free to choose whether they want to make it the Xbox, PC or TV. When you're counting up the "three screens" in Microsoft's three-screens-and-the-cloud vision, those screens are variable (gaming console, TV, PC, phone, other mobile device, etc.).
Anyway, back to the new Xbox and Kinect. Are there any non-gamers out there who are ready to take the plunge and become one of the Xbox/Kinect faithful as a result of what was announced today? (Or any users of other gaming platforms who are ready to defect?) Why/why not?