Starting this week, Xbox 360 owners will get a new version of the game console's dashboard software pushed to them, and this fairly radical update further blurs the line between games, television, and social networking. I've been checking out the beta version of the update for several days, and there are some interesting gamification developments in there.
It's odd to think of the video game company or device having to 'gamify' part of itself, but this is the latest step on a long road for the Xbox 360 (and indeed the entire current generation of living room consoles). Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are already part of Xbox Live, and there's no better example of competitive badge-earning than the points and awards that come from the console's 'achievement' system. It just so happens that one currently earns these achievement badges on the Xbox for playing games, but it could just as easily be for downloading music videos, buying virtual goods, or exercising with the Xbox's Kinect camera via a personal trainer program.
This new update, besides radically overhauling the visual look of the Xbox dashboard (and actually going back to a horizontal orientation after a couple of years of a vertical menu bars), adds new TV and video services, and a Bing-branded search engine to connect them all.
The most interesting part, from my point of view, is the upcoming implementation of a new UFC app (that's the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, if you're not familiar). Essentially a combination of live streaming events and on-demand video content, there are also some potentially very interesting interactive features for anyone curious about how to gamify the TV-watching experience. Through an "Interactive Fight Card," you'll be able to check out upcoming matchups and pick who you think the winners will be. These choices will be up loaded to leaderboards so you can compare with friends and the global audience. Especially for sports fans, this seems like a great way to engage viewers in a game-like experience, and it could be a great foothold for the Xbox 360, or other game consoles, to fulfill their long-time dream of replacing your cable box. It's also much more viewer-friendly than those TV news or sports polls Time Warner and other cable companies trot out occasionally using colored "vote" buttons on your remote control (In NYC, the local news station NY1 does this almost daily). Check back for a hands-on take of the UFC interactive content and some of the other Xbox 360 dashboard updates.