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Interview: How Xbox 360 Will Entice Casual Consumers

Aiming to broaden audiences over the Holiday season, Microsoft looks to price cuts and accessibility-focused additions to the Live experience -- most notably the Netflix video service. Is Xbox 360 the newest console to style itself as an "entertainment hu

October 29, 2008

5 Min Read

Author: by Christian Nutt, Leigh Alexander

Microsoft has taken several initiatives in recent months to broaden the appeal of its Xbox 360 console to a more casual consumer. Alongside price cuts and more family-friendly "channels" slated for the Live service, perhaps chief among these is the "New Xbox Experience," the extensive interface revamp behind which the company's making the biggest marketing push in the history of the Xbox 360 brand. And in a portion of our interview published yesterday, group product manager Aaron Greenberg told Gamasutra that more broadly-appealing games are part of this strategy, too -- but is there a real transformation happening in the Xbox 360's consumer base in response? "Sure," says Greenberg -- but games may not necessarily be what's driving it. Price Is Key "The challenge is that we know it's hard to reach a mainstream audience when your console is priced at three or four hundred bucks. So, I think, people underestimate the power of price. That is, actually... If I had to say, prioritizing those levers there, price would be the most important." 75 percent of last-gen console sales happened below the $200 price point, Greenberg maintains. "If you assume the same applies to this generation, we haven't even spoken to three quarters of the market until now." "While you may have games that appeal to them, if they can't afford your console it doesn't matter what your content library is like." The Entertainment Experience According to Greenberg, for this newer, broader audience, a console purchase is "not just about games" -- consumers expect a broader entertainment experience included. Interestingly, it would appear that was Sony's strategy with the rival PlayStation 3 right out of the gate, an approach that attracted criticism -- and prompted Sony to reverse its position, at least in the press -- from those who thought the PS3 should focus largely on games. But Greenberg says that for Xbox 360, it's the right time to begin focusing on the full experience -- and Microsoft's partnership with video rental service Netflix is a lynchpin. "That's why [we're] having the exclusive partnership we are launching with Netflix, building our video library between Netflix and everything we have in our video store," says Greenberg. He says that this season, Xbox 360 will have over 30,000 movies and TV shows available -- an on-demand library to rival that of satellite and cable providers. "I think, you could argue that Xbox will have more entertainment from our box than any other device connected to your TV," says Greenberg. "We feel like being able to do that at a great value is definitely important in reaching those consumers." Is The Consumer Equipped? But also important in reaching those consumers is that those consumers are ready to be reached -- in order to access Live, receive the Netflix downloads and view on-demand movies, after all, the household requires a broadband internet connection, potentially even a router. We asked Greenberg if Microsoft has done any research into just how broad accessibility of these offerings really is. The product manager's thoughts on accessibility, however, hinged largely on the relatability of the Netflix brand as an aid to attracting new consumer attention. "It is interesting because what we find with a lot of mainstream consumers is that the experience has to be really simple, and also, they have to have a point of reference," Greenberg says. "It has to be somewhat familiar." He says that Xbox 360's existing video store had done "extremely well for us," but that consumers that don't own Xbox 360s were unaware that they'd gain access to it with a Live-enabled console purchase. "The fact is that as soon as we announced Netflix, everybody knew -- 'Wow, Netflix is on Xbox'," says Greenberg. "People know what Netflix is. So, it is almost like announcing Netflix for a lot of mainstream consumers was like announcing entertainment content for the first time on the console." And while he says the company's trying to make the Netflix service "super simple" to use -- "it's instant watch" -- he also seems to feel there is a sufficient user base adequately equipped on the technical side. Netflix on Xbox 360 can also check connection speeds and "center" video feeds based on them, he says. "Most people have internet connectivity in their home now, high speed," says Greenberg, promising an "out of the box experience" to consumers "whether they're connected wired or wirelessly." A setup and welcome channel complete with new intro videos should help with barrier to entry too, Greenberg adds. "So, we've made it a lot easier for new users to get in and have a good experience right out of the box. So, I think that is important as we're speaking to that more mainstream audience." But What About The Games? Back to the games, though -- have more accessible or more casually-oriented titles been selling better on the Xbox 360 amid all of the announcements and initiatives than in recent years? Not yet, apparently. Although Greenberg reiterates a doubling in console sales since the recent price drop, "Most of the titles that we are launching this holiday for that haven't hit yet. They tend to hit closer to the holiday season." Greenberg notes Lips, You're in the Movies and Scene It, all launching through November and into the Christmas season, as the titles likely to perform well with Microsoft's coveted new demographic. Their performance with these audiences will ultimately determine, most likely, the overall success of the company's accessibility initiatives.

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