The grandly-titled "New Xbox Experience" is currently slated for a massive rollout on November 19 -- and begs a few questions. First, why a complete interface overhaul at what's thought to be the midpoint of the console lifecycle?
And if the goal of Microsoft's recent initiatives -- adding family-friendly entertainment "channels," avatars and, most recently, price points low enough to make the Wii look even whiter -- is to draw in a new casual consumer, then how will the company inform these relatively uninitiated audiences about the update?
Xbox 360 group product manager Aaron Greenberg tells Gamasutra that such an update at this stage is just the next step in a progression. "We are already delivering games and entertainment in high definition; we have already got storage built in," he says. "We already have high speed internet connectivity -- so we are no longer limited by the power of the hardware."
So for Microsoft, the next frontier for innovation is, logically, software. And Greenberg says the company's aiming high: "As dramatic as going from the original Xbox was to when we launched Xbox 360, this is just as much of a dramatic jump with the New Xbox Experience," he says.
Clearly, the new Minority Report-inspired Dashboard is a dramatic visual overhaul, but what about it is so momentous as to compare to the last console transition?
"I think it really does transform us from being a game console to an entertainment system," Greenberg explains. "I think that it makes the Xbox 360 much more approachable and inviting to a much broader range of consumers."
While Greenberg stresses the addition of new features like improved navigation, chat and other functions requested by the existing consumer base, he says the company also realized -- "hey, as we're looking at our fourth holiday in the marketplace, the type of consumer that buys a console at this point in the life cycle is different from people that bought year one."
New buyers found the current "blades" interface "intimidating," Greenberg says -- even something as simple as showing "real boxes of titles" rather than game lists is a decision made with accessibility in mind.
So if the aim is ultimately to draw in brand-new audiences, how does the company plan to engender awareness of the changes among the type of consumer who isn't already familiar with the console?
The lower price points across the board for its console models were part of that attraction strategy, Greenberg explains: "Dropping to the $200 price point was really significant."
"The fact that we are now cheaper than the Wii and half the price of the PS3, I think, is a pretty big deal when the consumers are looking at comparing us to the competition."
But the "re-launch" of the entire Xbox 360 experience will also be accompanied with in-store outreach, says Greenberg.
"We will be launching the largest marketing campaign in the history of Xbox," he says. "We will be spending more money in marketing in advertising this holiday than we ever have in the history of our business."
Finally, what Greenberg claims is the industry's "biggest and broadest" games lineup rounds out the appeal, he says. "We have had some broad-appeal games in the past, but we have never had a year where we had... Think about the music genre and all the titles we have there; from Rock Band, to Guitar Hero
, to Lips
, to the social games like You're in the Movies
and Scene It
Alongside core titles like Fallout 3, Fable II
and Gears of War 2
, Greenberg says, "we really have the best and broadest lineup we have ever had."
"So, we feel like the best games, the largest online community, and the best price puts us in a pretty good position heading into the holiday season."