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What Is Microsoft Up To With Natal?14 Comments

Games E3 MicrosoftSteven Spielberg introduced it. It has its own YouTube page. And yes, it even made it onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. So what exactly is Microsoft’s “go to market” strategy with Project Natal? It’s a question worth considering, since I’ve never seen such a large consumer media push for a tech demo with no firm release date, price or even a final name. If my sources are to be believed, the hardware behind Natal isn’t even final, and a release probably won’t happen until late 2010 at the earliest. Or will it come sooner?

There are certainly elements to Natal that don’t add up for me. Why would Xbox aggressively build equity in the “Project Natal” name unless it plans to actually use it at launch? There’s also the photo of the Natal sensor. In its final form it will supposedly be all black, which definitely clashes with the 360’s white color scheme for Arcade and Pro units (the target market for Natal). In addition, why would Xbox spend so much time talking about a “controller free gaming platform,” only to say you first need to buy an Xbox with a controller and then purchase Natal on top of it? That’s not the way to court the Wii consumer. (And let’s face it — Natal is a directly response to the Wii).

Here’s one theory: In 2010 Xbox will launch a “new” re-branded console at $199 that includes the Natal sensor in the box, a new and simplier Xbox dashboard interface, and is aimed at directly competing with the Wii. Perhaps the rumored “Xbox Fluid” code-name will be used, and “Fluid” will be a slimmed down Xbox 360 arcade unit with Natal packed into the box. (The big question: Will it include a controller in the box or not?) Of course Microsoft will still make the Natal camera available for existing 360s, but the consumer push will be focused on converting the Wii audience to this “new” console.

At least I hope that’s Microsoft’s strategy. Convincing new consumers to buy a 360 and then purchase Natal on top of it is a messy and complicated proposition — especially for Xbox, which has never quite nailed the platform marketing. The fact that Xbox is still using a “code name” for the platform makes me think they haven’t yet decided on a go to market strategy.

Meantime, what does Xbox do for the next 18 months to compete with the Wii? The E3 briefing lacked any new mainstream games like You’re In The Movies, Scene-It or even a new Viva Pinata, which makes me wonder what Xbox’s strategy is to court mainstream consumers through the holidays.

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Bonus Round at DICE Episode 1 is Live3 Comments

This week The Bonus Round heads to DICE 2009 for a conversation with Mike Snider from USA Today, Alex Evans, co-creator of LittleBigPlanet, and ex-Newsweek journalist N’Gai Croal.  In this first part of our conversation we discuss the state of the console war, get into downloadable content, and even discuss how fans impact game designers via Twitter.  This is a great 4 part discussion with three smart guys in the business. Our discussion about DLC is especially interesting with some real fresh thinking put forward by our panelists.

[Bonus Round at DICE]

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Champions of Gaming on SpikeNo Comments

blog_championsofgamingCan Steve, a 52-year-old gamer from Australia take down Tiger Woods at his own game? That’s one of the questions we answer when Spike broadcasts the Gillette/EA SPORTS CHAMPIONS OF GAMING Finals on Wednesday, February 18. The show features sports legends such as Woods, Derek Jeter, Reggie Bush, Denny Hamlin, and Orlando Magic All-Star Jameer Nelson. That “pro team” has a daunting challenge ahead of them when they face off against the 5 best gamers in Madden, NBA Live, FIFA, NASCAR, and of course Tiger Woods.

CHAMPIONS OF GAMING is yet another video game special that we’re airing on Spike, and I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts. I’ve never been a big believer that “competitive gaming” will work on television, but this is the first idea that I thought could potentially translate to mainstream TV. Why? The focus of the show is about the drama that developers when pro gamers have to face off against their sports heroes. It’s amazing to see pro athletes – who normally have to answer to no one – go up against players who are geniuses at the video game version of sports these athletes dominate in real life. And some of these players are cocky about their skills. Our Madden NFL Champion is so confident he can beat Reggie Bush that he picks the worst team in the history of the NFL, the Detroit Lions, during the tournament. And then he says he’s going to beat Reggie by at least a touchdown!

So while this show may feel like it’s about “competitive gaming,” It boils down to a really interesting social experiment between gamers and celebrity athletes. Let me know what you think of the show when it airs, Wednesday at 11:30 PM on Spike. This is just the first of many video game specials I’ll be creating with Spike in 2009.

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