For many years a bitter rift has existed between hardcore PC and console gamers, but Microsoft is planning to unite the two camps.
The software giant has not had an easy ride in the console market. Since it burst onto the scene the firm had to build its market from nothing with its Xbox in March 2002, in a market dominated by Sony and Nintendo.
However, five years later and two years into the life of its Xbox 360 console, the picture is very different.
Sony is struggling after launching its PlayStation (PS) 3 and Nintendo has been lifted by sales of its Wii gaming platform. According to analyst firm IDC, none of the three new consoles will dominate the market in the next five years; however, Nintendo’s Wii will outship and outsell the 360 and PS3 in 2007 and 2008.
IDC said Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was the best-selling current generation console for 2006 because it enjoyed a full year’s lead in the market. Microsoft is relishing in the PS3’s launch slip-ups, where PS3 supply deficits diminished profits, according to IDC.
However, with the hand-held gaming market it is a different story. Microsoft has no competitor for the Nintendo Dual Screen or Sony PlayStation Portable, nor does it intend to.
Stephen McGill, head of gaming and entertainment at Microsoft UK, said: “We are going to leave [Nintendo and Sony] to it. It is great to have three players in the market because gamers can compare the technology and make their own judgement. We are not planning to launch a hand-held console. We are interested in bringing the PC and console platforms together.”
Next month Microsoft will launch its first title that will pave the way for more harmony between PC and console die-hards. ShadowRun will for the first time allow PC and console gamers to play each other via Microsoft’s Live online portal.
Microsoft’s Live online gaming community now boasts over six million members worldwide, McGill said.
“However, we are also working on creating some developer tools for Joe Public, using XMA technology that will allow them to create their own games. It is completely players’ choice if they develop on an Xbox or PC; other people will be able to play the game online, rate it and communicate.”
McGill said part of Microsoft’s success with Live is the fact that players log on using the same name for every game. “Our rivals have different identities for each title, which can get very confusing,” he said. “Using Live, my friends can tell where I am and I can also use our Windows Live Messenger service to contact them.
“Success all comes down to what kind of gaming experience a vendor can deliver. The attach rate of software [to a console] is where the profit is and although Nintendo is aiming itself at the younger gamer, its portfolio has been lacking. The attach rate with Xbox 360 is the key to our success.”
However, according to IDC, Nintendo has designed its latest hardware and software to be more inviting and fun, and less intimidating for non-gamers. Nintendo also enjoys support from the fan base it has captured with successful first party franchises. IDC believes that hardware shipments of Nintendo’s Wii will capture more than a third of the worldwide market by 2008.
Billy Pidgeon, program manager at IDC’s consumer markets: gaming program, said: “With the Wii, Nintendo is abdicating the specification war, leaving Sony and Microsoft to slug it out. We believe concerted efforts to broaden the appeal of videogames beyond the traditional enthusiast/hardcore base will deepen the industry’s penetration. This is good news for an industry that seemed to be receding last year due to over-saturation of the core base.”
In terms of route to market, Microsoft sees online sales and traditional retailers as equally important. “It depends on the individual preference,” McGill said. “Some prefer quick clicks, but others like to see what they are buying. They also prefer the service that a more specialist outlet can offer. Overall we are very pleased with our position in the market.”
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