Tag Archives | Xbox 360

Sony vs. Microsoft: A History of Trash Talk

xbox360ps3When Microsoft boasted of 1 million sign-ups for the Xbox 360’s Netflix application — covered briefly Thursday in Harry’s “5Words” news roundup — Sony struck back, saying the Playstation 3’s movies and rentals download faster and don’t require subscription fees. Ouch.

But this was just the latest in an endless back-and-forth between the rival companies. Taken as a whole, this record of petty bickering actually makes for a good overview of each console’s pros and cons. Join us after the jump for more snipes, disses and burns. Continue Reading →


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Xbox Live Gets Into Inauguration Day Spirit

Xbox PosterAfter a hard day’s work, and a bit of watching the Inauguration Day festivities, I popped on my Xbox to find some of the presidential pomp and circumstance billed prominently for free viewing over Xbox Live.

The handful of video clips include the swearing in of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the performance by Aretha Franklin and the classical number featuring Yo-Yo-Ma and Itzhak Perlman. There’s also a video of “man on the street” Xbox Live gamers talking about what they’d like to see from Obama when he takes office.

Apparently, Microsoft’s PR wing announced this earlier in the day, but seeing it on my own was pretty cool. A rep tells me by e-mail that this is “less about political awareness and more about activating the LIVE community around events that are relevant and social,” and says a similar initiative is in the works for football fans.

Of course, scrolling down from the free content reveals a whole bunch of things you can buy, like network news specials and movies related to the presidency, but that’s okay. I’ve always hoped that Microsoft would use free content (besides demos) as a lure to the paid stuff, and this is a good place to start. I’m even tempted to use my handful of spare Microsoft points to rent “All the President’s Men” later.


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Sony’s Hirai Suffers Delusion, Thinks PS3 Leads Market

sonylogoI think somebody’s off their rocker. In comments to the company’s official rag PlayStation Magazine, Sony Computer Entertainment Chief Kaz Hirai made the unusual claim that install base numbers are worthless: the PS3 is still the official leader in the industry.

Pay no attention to the fact that the console is in third in overall console sales, that it was outsold by the Xbox by a 2-to-1 margin over the holiday, or that it still cannot attract decent exclusives. Because Mr. Hirai says it, we shall all bow to the PS3’s power.

Of course, Hirai’s comments are peppered with jabs at its competitors: that the Xbox is aimed at short term success while the PS3 is on a ten-year plan, and that Nintendo operates “in a different world.”

Nevermind that the console is difficult to program for because Sony did that on purpose, Hirai claims. His argument is this: if the console was easy to develop for, then developers would not take full advantage of the consoles power.

Okay, that makes sense. Make life difficult for the people who sell your equipment. That should work! I bet any game developer wants to spend twice the amount of time just to develop for a console that in the end has a smaller install base than its competitors.

I think its time for Sony to start realizing that the PS3’s business model did NOT work. I sure hope when it comes around to the fourth generation the company applies what it learns, but as stubborn as Sony is, I’m betting that won’t happen.


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Wild Prediction: New Game Consoles in 2010, 2011

Nintendo Entertainment SystemAdmittedly I’m no Michael Pachter when it comes to foretelling the future of video games, but with Microsoft exec Robbie Bach saying that we won’t see a new Xbox 360 for a while, the temptation to speculate is too overwhelming. So join me as I wildly predict when the next round of consoles will come along.

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Xbox Explores Its Adolescence

It seems the Xbox 360 is confused with itself, judging from a recent New York Times blog post entitled “What Xbox Wants to Be When It Grows Up.”

The author, Saul Hansel, notes that Microsoft “has resisted making the Xbox some sort of Frankensteinian MSN Windows Live Game Center Personal Spreadsheet Platform and Household Vacuum Robot.” Yet, that seems to be examctly what Shane Kim, the console’s head of strategy and business development, is angling for.

“We don’t have the hubris that says we have been supersuccessful in gaming so let’s chase this separate entertainment thing,” he said.”We are building out from where we are at.”

Right. So scrolling down the interview, you’d expect to see some discussion of how to improve the Xbox brand, perhaps by capturing some of the folks who strayed to the Wii. Instead, Kim says he’s thinking of a music service (like iTunes?) or a way to watch sports clips while talking to friends (like television?). He then says integration with sites like Hulu and YouTube are his first instinct (but not for free, we imagine, given Xbox Live’s pay-for-everything  MO).

So much for not trying to be all things to all people.

Expanding the Xbox’s capabilities isn’t a bad idea, but it’s not the best one either. The article notes how the Wii is walloping the Xbox 360 in popularity, but glosses over the fact that casual, family-friendly games are the reason why. Even if it wants to expand its multimedia offerings, the Xbox still has to build a healthy body through widespread gaming appeal as opposed to a few niche services. Unfortunately, Kim doesn’t get one quote in the article about game development strategy.

And here’s the kicker: Hensel says Microsoft is looking to integrate Xbox Live with Windows, eventually connecting it to MSN and Windows Live, pretty much exactly what he said the company had avoided in the past.

Mary Shelley would be proud.


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Xbox Games by Xbox Users

xbox360In theory, the concept of Xbox Live Community Games is pretty great. For $100, anyone with a bit of programming knowledge gets access to a development kit and can start making games for the Xbox 360. After a bit of peer review, garage developers can send their creations out to the open market and name their own price (forfeiting a cut of the profits to Microsoft, of course).

We’ve given Microsoft a solid couple of weeks to bulk up its selection of games (See also our coverage of Netflix for Xbox 360 and the New Xbox Live Experience). Prices range from the Gamerpoint equivalent of $2.50 to $10, but honestly I’m too cheap to buy them all for the sake of this post. Fortunately, all the games have timed trials, giving a pretty good idea of what’s worth your money to keep playing. After the jump, a rundown of some of my favorites, plus a few thoughts.

In The Pit: One of the most interesting selections available, this adaptation of an existing PC game contains no graphics. Players control a blind monster who feeds off humans that fall into its sunken lair. The screen is black; only sound and the vibration feedback of the Xbox 360 controller can guide you in the hunt. Headphones are recommended.

Aaron’s Ping Pong: Yes, it’s Pong. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most popular Community Games of the moment. The trial version is long enough to carry out an entire game, so don’t fret if you just can’t bear to purchase one of the oldest games of all time on one of the newest consoles.

Snake360: Another retro clone, the classic Snake game is revived here with over 200 levels, cooperative play, a battle mode and several special challenges. Its inspiration has endured through the years next to Spider Solitaire and Snood as the perfect time waster, and this one will likely eat up a good amount of hours as well.

sin(Surfing): There’s little to this game except for its coolness. Your avatar skates happily along on a constantly shifting sin wave, with only the goal of performing elaborate tricks while sailing over each crest. As you build up speed, the rocking-yet-ethereal soundtrack rises in pitch, only to come warbling down if you goof up and crash into the waves. Worth the $2.50 just to support the idea itself.

The most successful Community Games either innovate beyond the professional selections of Xbox Live Arcade or offer retro, familiar play that those other games are too proud to touch. There’s a decent amount of polish on some games, such as the Contra-inspired shooter Weapon of Choice and the cartoon fighter Funky Punch XL, but they do little to distinguish themselves from the games that Microsoft picks for its Arcade catalogue. Community Games will have to find a niche to sustain itself, and right now the trend is toward both obscure titles and shameless clones of proven ideas.


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Netflix on the Xbox 360: Not What It Could Be or Should Be

xbox360When I first heard about Microsoft bringing the Netflix’s streaming movie service to the Xbox 360, I pictured myself not in the usual hunched gamer stance on the couch, but just laying there, wireless controller in hand, 12,000 movies at my fingertips. That’s what technology is about, right? It’s connectivity with all the things you want, making life easier.

It was not to be. Xbox 360’s Netflix service is crippled by the inability to browse and select movies directly from the console. Instead, you have to search Netflix’s Web site on a computer and add movies to your queue from there. And this is after you download the Netflix program on the Xbox, register an account on your computer, go back to the Xbox for an activation code, then return once more to the computer to enter the code.

Do I sound lazy? Maybe, but think of the possibilities. You’re at home with some friends. They want to watch a movie but don’t want to go to Blockbuster. It’d be great to turn on the Xbox and choose a film by committee. Or maybe you’re entertaining a significant other, trying to rationalize your nerdy gaming box with a library of instantly available flicks. You get the idea.

To make things worse, Netflix’s online browser is already broken. Searching the service’s database is only possible for hard copy rentals. The instant-watch selections can only be searched alphabetically or by category. Good luck finding that one movie you wanted to see among 11,999 other titles.

In fairness, the streaming itself is great. Watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (don’t ask) on a 64-inch, standard definition television, I momentarily forgot the Internet was involved. I also had no problem loading up the streaming queue with over 50 movies, preventing quite a few tedious trips back to the computer. Still, there’s no denying how great it would be to have it all.

Microsoft has kept mum on this issue. A spokesman told me that there are no announcements on future Netflix queue management. Let’s hope that changes.


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The New Xbox Experience Makes Life Easier, Sells Things

xbox360Xbox 360 users got a thorough reskinning of their console’s dashboard this week. The one conclusive opinion I can offer is that “The New Xbox Experience” is markedly smoother and shinier than the old one. Other than that, I’m still debating whether this is actually a slicker way to navigate my console of choice or a veiled attempt to sell me more downloadable content. After the jump, a breakdown of the new features.

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Gamer at Play Reportedly Spots Obama Ad

A gamer has posted images of a billboard advertising Barack Obama’s presidential campaign which he says he came across while cruising the streets in the racing game Burnout Paradise for Xbox 360:

The Obama campaign and publisher Electronic Arts haven’t responded to press inquiries, leading bloggers to speculate whether the ad is just crafty Photoshop work or a real attempt to reach youngsters. Either way, as GigaOM’s Wagner James Au writes, the news raises an interesting question: Are in-game political ads a good idea?

The obvious answer is “yes.” Au notes that the Xbox 360 occupies a third of American homes. Combine that with historically low voter turnout from young people, and this looks like another way to bring out the vote.

Or is it? Utility for the political candidate aside, it’s worth finding out whether these ads actually work. Obama has been hailed for leveraging new technology in his campaign—My.BarackObama, Facebook, an iPhone app—and this is another piece of the puzzle. Unlike those other methods, which can convey detailed information, this is literally billboard advertising, but in a new, virtual space. Given the tendencies of young people to avoid polling places on election day, the Democratic Party–and the Republicans, for that matter–would be wise to study the impact of Obama’s methods. Perhaps they should invest in some exit pollers. I can see the question now: “Does leveling up put you in the mood to vote?”

If in-game political ads prove successful, members of Congress could try it again during midterm elections, particularly if the technology exists for location-based advertising.

At the very least, the ads’ presence might raise the mulitplayer gaming discourse beyond potty humor and bigotry. Although it’s possible they could also make the conversation even worse.


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