XBox LIVE Environment Refresh
Mindshare, December 2011
A year after launching its first console in November of 2001, Microsoft released the video game world's first-ever online platform, Xbox LIVE. The subscription-based service allowed console owners to play with other subscribers around the world and also download content directly to the system's hard drive. Within two months, more than 250K people had signed up.
Four years after the original Xbox's release, Microsoft unveiled a successor, and within a year, the Xbox was discontinued. The Xbox 360 provided superior storage, audio, and video capabilities for its players, but the main draw was the integrated capabilities of the enhanced Xbox LIVE service. With it, gamers could now compete online more fluidly, download arcade games, game demos, trailers, TV shows, music, and movies more easily, and port PC content via its Windows Media Center more handily. Microsoft's goal: to make the console appeal to anyone that had a desire to be entertained.
Over the years, Microsoft has undertaken a series of refreshes in order to make the environment itself more attractive to a broader demographic. Ease of use was a key component of its vision, and such refreshes continuously advanced this notion, removing the need to understand how to function the console's complex controller and make the user feel as if maneuvering through the environment was on par with television surfing.
The first major refresh occurred in November of 2008, and accomplished just that: users could now flip through the environment and select what they wanted to see, play, or download. It was the first step towards broadening the Xbox LIVE demographic base, namely making the environment more appealing as an entertainment system for men, women, children, elders, and core gamers, casual gamers and non-gamers alike.
The second major refresh occurred in November of 2010 and coincided with the release of Xbox's motion and voice controlled camera accessory, Kinect. The sharp graphics and slants of the environment were replaced with softer tonality and curvatures, as well as standard squares vs. overlapping, tiled panes. With Kinect's revolutionary, no-hands-needed technology attracting an entirely new set of video game players, and with new entertainment additions going live on a consistent basis and increasing the already-existing options such as Netfilx, ESPN, and Facebook, it was time for the feel of Xbox LIVE to appeal to the broadest pool of people possible: everyone
This December, LIVE has been refreshed once again. 2011's additions are geared towards adding new groundbreaking technology elements while unifying the look and feel of Microsoft's Windows platforms across PC, console, and mobile. Doing so will allow users to feel comfortable performing linear actions across the three while making entertainment experiences transferable via a cloud. The new look on Xbox will mirror that already found on the Windows Mobile handsets and upcoming Windows 8 OS, with square tiles representing options within various channels (called a Metro style). Screen space is saved by cycling spotlight content through a large, central tile, with a small handful of tiles in each major category dedicated to advertisements.
New features will include downloadable apps, and users will now be able to save the specific programs they are interested in using. Kinect capabilities will become more engrained in the dashboard environment; whereas until now they had been restricted to a very limited Kinect Hub, many components will be Kinect-enabled. The two will even be combined with Kinect-based apps being offered; an example of this: Burn
, an app that tracks exercise stats based on physical game activity across various titles.
Bing has been integrated into Xbox Live, giving users a more intuitive way to search for content on the Live Marketplace. By simply saying "Xbox, Bing, X-Men" will bring up not only the games, but also a wealth of related trailers, movies, themes, music selections and even apps.
Microsoft has also partnered with various cable providers, bringing more live TV channels to the entertainment box. Should a user find all of his or her favorite channels on Xbox, the console will be able to replace cable boxes and save subscribers monthly box fees; only a cable service subscription will be needed.
Lastly, avatars will play an even larger role in the experience, and more elements will become personalized with such representation; new content-finding components, such as Bing search functionality, will continue to be introduced as well.
The December 2011 refresh will build towards Microsoft's much-talked-about feather-in-its-cap unveiling in Spring, 2012: NuAds
. Adding interactive and social features to television-based advertising through the console, users will be able to dive deeper with messaging and information while sharing what they like with others through simple verbal commands. The new environment will act as the new platform's support system, and by the time NuAds
are released, users will be fully comfortable with the refresh's look and features and will be ready to embrace them.
For advertisers, there is much to be excited about when it comes to the refresh.
First, the hype will lead to more activity; participants are looking forward to seeing what the new environment will look like and how the new features will function. When they see that the new features are fun to play with, time on Xbox LIVE will only increase, and that means more potential for brands to be found.
Second, the brand experience has the potential to be enhanced should the brand so choose. Brand pages can be more interactive, exciting, and personalized. Brand pages will now be able to be downloaded in app form, and can always remain with the user, with content and messaging updates occurring seamlessly.
Lastly, the new features will give the brand more options and visibility. Brands can embrace new opportunities available, and will be able to be found specifically or through content associations quite easily.
Microsoft is making a number of major advancements in the Xbox LIVE environment, and is being very strategic in its rollout to make sure that users are excited while not capsizing any of its audience. Such changes will lead to a more seamless experience across all of the Microsoft tech platforms. All of those who know of the upcoming changes are very much looking forward to seeing what lies ahead, and those who are not aware of what the upcoming additions will be very pleasantly surprised. All of this leads to a plethora of benefits for advertisers and they should absolutely be salivating to embrace it all.
Xbox LIVE continues to evolve and there has never been a better time to be a part of it all.
Written by Geoff Greenblatt and Sam Kerr, December 5, 2011