Friday's other keynote speech at the Tokyo Game Show saw Robbie Bach, Chief Xbox Officer and Senior Vice President, Home and Entertainment Division, Microsoft Corp, talking about the prospects for the Xbox 360 and Microsoft's plans for the next-gen console, which now has a confirmed release date
for all territories.
Bach spoke confidently and forcefully
on his company's strategy, talking of the need to "change the realities of the video game industry", but it was notable how his company's vision differed from that of Nintendo, whose TGS keynote followed immediately after Microsoft's.
While Nintendo advocated a paradigm shift to attract new gamers, Bach and his colleagues also saw a 'revolution' coming, but focused on convergence in the living room. The Microsoft executive's primary position was that "Xbox 360 will be the ultimate digital amplifier for the digital entertainment lifestyle", and the 'hi-def' nature of Xbox 360, much used as a buzzword by J Allard during his 2005 Game Developers Conference talk, was again a major keyword.
Bach pointed out that, around the world, over 100 million homes will have HDTV by 2008, and 8 million HDTVs a year will be purchased in Japan by 2009. In addition, by 2011, all Japanese terrestrial broadcasting is moving to a digital format, and Bach's speech tried to connote this "mindblowing visual entertainment experience" with the Xbox 360 launch. Some of the presentations shown alongside Bach's speech were the same as those showcased at yesterday's Xbox 360 press conference, including a word-for-word retelling of the Gears Of War
story and real time footage from Epic's Cliff Bleszinski, as well as a highlights reel.
However, the new demo element came from a practical demonstration of Xbox 360's media convergence functionality by a Microsoft Japan product manager, who demonstrated plugging an iRiver MP3 player and an iPod Shuffle into the Xbox 360 situated onstage and then playing music from the portable MP3 units, complete with Jeff Minter-authored visualizer, directly on the next-gen Xbox.
He also demonstrated the ease with which pictures could be viewed on the Xbox 360 using data from a Windows XP multimedia PC, with music playing simultaneously, and even streamed a Star Wars clip from the PC to the Xbox 360, explaining that you could watch a pre-recorded movie or TV, streamed from Windows XP, in between playing an online game on your Xbox utilizing this method. None of this functionality was necessarily unknown, but the crowd seemed to appreciate seeing it practically shown on Microsoft's next-gen machine.
Bach finished off the talk by referencing the personalization craze, and pointing to the faceplates and other custom elements of the Xbox 360 as helping to advance this, also mentioning that the first production version of Microsoft's next-gen console has now been completed in Taiwan, and production capacity is ramping up for launch.
But, in a key exchange, Bach then addressed the Xbox 360's imminent battle with the PlayStation 3, clearly stating his belief that "we have the most powerful platform". He went on to qualify this explaining that, from a sheer power perspective, in his opinion, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 will be about the same, and the net result will be a 'jump ball'. But, Bach argued: "Our platform is something other people don't have", likely referencing both the Xbox Dashboard and simplification of technical requirements for offline, and the substantial Xbox Live service for online use.
In his conclusion, admitting both that the first Xbox "didn't exactly win any design awards", and also commenting that Microsoft intends to "succeed as famously here as we did not succeed in the previous generation", Bach used an arguably correct amount of self-deprecation on behalf of Microsoft. In addition, the Microsoft exec's note that all major Japanese third-party publishers have now signed up to make content for Xbox 360 certainly puts the console ahead of its predecessor in Japan.
Yet overall, Microsoft's talk at today's Tokyo Game Show ended up sounding strong on rhetoric but a little unexciting, being a partial duplication of yesterday's Xbox 360 press conference, and entirely devoid of new information. The Microsoft booth on the TGS show floor, showing playable versions of titles including Ridge Racer 6
and Ninety-Nine Nights
was a much better cheerleader for the console. And for Microsoft, the proof will be whether they can continue to successfully persuade third-party Japanese developers to create major titles such as Final Fantasy XI
or Dead Rising
without Tecmo-style financial incentives in two, three, or four years' time, and imponderables like this will only become self-evident as the platform matures.
[UPDATE: 2.47pm PST - added photo of keynote.]