NEWS - Thursday, September 15, 2005

TGS: Xbox 360 Conference Impressions

In a room full of Japanese and international press, Yoshihiro Maruyama, the General Manager of Xbox Division, stressed that Japan was a key geographic area to the strategic marketing of the Xbox 360. The plan, as outlined, echoed the familiar three pillars of Xbox global marketing: "Hi-Def" gaming, "Always On" entertainment, and customizability. The concept of "always on" is fairly well covered by Xbox Live, but customizability seemed half-baked, resting mainly on the detachable faceplates. In a video, Microsoft showed off a slew of jauntily-colored covers for the 360, adding that matching screensavers would be available for download, too. "Hi-Def" gaming was not exactly defined, except by trailers that showed off Gears of War, Ninety-Nine Nights, Project Gotham Racing 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, Kameo: Elements of Power, Frame City Killer and many others. It was clear from the conference that the linchpin of Microsoft’s strategy is the games, and they were at the forefront. The visuals were almost universally impressive, featuring extremely high levels of detail, motion blur and lighting bloom effects, and depth-of-field effects. Maruyama exuded confidence as he pointed out that there are over 100 games in development scheduled to launch by the end of January 2006. The list includes many games from top-echelon Japanese developers like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Ridge Racer 6, to name a few. Another concern, and a lesson learned from the last launch, was that Japanese gamers were hesitant to buy into a new, wholly unfamiliar console. This time Microsoft hopes to entice gamers by opening a 360 lounge in the fashionable Aoyama area a full month before the launch date. The lounge will be a hip, comfortable place where gamers can play demos of 360 games before they buy them. In the question and answer session, many members of the press expressed skepticism. One man from an analyst firm asked exactly how Japan was important to Microsoft global strategy, but didn’t get a clear answer. At least three other reporters expressed some dismay at the high price point and asked if consumers would really accept the console at that price, and whether a second, cheaper SKU without the harddrive would be offered at some point. Maruyama was confident that the price made sense, and said that while a second, cheaper SKU in the future was not out of the question, the launch would feature only the one with the harddrive, mainly to support the beta launch of Final Fantasy XI on Xbox 360 this winter. Another reporter noted that that the much-vaunted launch list this time was not materially different from the current Xbox launch games. Another asked, but was denied, projected numbers of 360 sales in Japan: "Do you hope to sell 100 million?" An editor from the UK publication GamesTM asked flat-out whether 360 would really be able to be a success, and asked if they had a plan B in case the launch was a failure. Maruyama answered that failure was not part of the plan. At the Tokyo Game Show tomorrow we’ll be able to play many 360 games, some, like Ninety Nine Nights, for the first time. Stay tuned for our coverage.


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