NEWS - Thursday, July 12, 2007

Microsoft Making Xbox 360 More Family Friendly

Microsoft’s deal to offer Disney movie downloads on the Xbox 360, as well as new video games unveiled this week at the E3 game conference in Los Angeles, demonstrate the company’s strategy of broadening the console’s family appeal. With game industry growth slowing, Microsoft is apparently trying to take the Xbox beyond the young male gamers who have been the core audience for the console and its rival the Sony PlayStation. The Disney deal "is definitely a push in which Microsoft is saying, ’We’re not just for 18-year-old guys playing football. We can do family things as well,’ " Paul Jackson, an analyst for Forrester Research, told InformationWeek on Wednesday. Among the most popular video games in the industry is Madden NFL. In the agreement with the Walt Disney Co., Microsoft will offer through its Xbox Live online service high-definition and standard-definition feature films from Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, and Hollywood Pictures. Some films are available as of Wednesday, with more coming. Microsoft has offered movies on Xbox Live for a while, but not from the family-oriented Disney brand. On the game front, Microsoft introduced new versions of Viva Pinata and the movie trivia game Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action, which comes with a controller that’s been designed for use by novice players. Both games are family friendly and are taking Microsoft in the direction of games that multiple family members can play at the same time on a big-screen TV, Jackson said. Microsoft has lagged Sony and Nintendo, maker of the Wii video game console, in these types of multiplayer games. "This is an arena for them to try to get into, and a very wise one, if they’re looking to broaden their appeal," Jackson said of Microsoft. While trying to appeal to all members of a family, Microsoft is not ignoring its loyal base of hard-core gamers. Microsoft said new versions of the popular Grand Theft Auto, Madden NFL, and the Xbox-exclusive Halo, would be available this year. The three games are expected to account for a third of all console new-release sales in the United States during the second half of the year, Microsoft said, quoting from a report from IGN Entertainment’s GamerMetrics. In honor of the release of Halo 3, set for September, Microsoft plans to release on Aug. 24 a special edition Xbox 360 Elite, which features a green and gold finish and matching wireless controller. In making the announcements at E3 late Tuesday, Microsoft also tried to put behind it an extensive Xbox repair initiative, which the company launched last week. Microsoft said it planned to spend more than $1 billion on an extended warranty program that would cover an "unacceptable" number of repairs to the consoles. "The important impact for us is that our customers know we’re going to support the console and support them and, if they have issues, we’ll take care of it," Robert J. Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, told The New York Times in an interview.

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