E3 Thoughts: Microsoft’s Press Conference

Microsoft led off Monday’s rush of pre-E3 press conferences and observers may be forgiven if they got the idea that Microsoft forgot the XBox 360 is a video game console.

Sure, Microsoft opened their presentation with new Halo 4 footage, but company seemed to spend more than half of its time promoting anything the XBox 360 can do besides play video games, such as the aforementioned Halo 4.

Microsoft’s biggest announcement was for a forthcoming feature called SmartGlass, in which customers would be able to link smartphones or tablets to their 360 and access info related to a movie or television program while the content streams through their console. Microsoft also promised SmartGlass functionality with games, so it looks like somebody in Washington State liked Nintendo’s planned tablet controller for the forthcoming Wii U.


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Happy 10th Anniversary Xbox!

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Today marks the 10th Anniversary of Microsoft’s Xbox, the console that launched a revolution and raised the stakes in the ongoing war between the gaming giants. To many, most especially its biggest fans, the Xbox brand has proven to be a worthwhile gamble on the part of Microsoft and a tremendous success in ousting rival Sony from the top spot and standing firm in its place as a serious challenger for billions of gaming dollars.

Halo became the killer app that would go on to become a multi-billiion dollar franchise. Western developers would make dramatic splashes through its hardware expanding on what players should expect from a console. Titles such as Bethesda’s Morrowind and BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic would help set the kind of foundations that would eventually propel these and other Western developers into superstardom. And when the Xbox 360 hit, fans only wanted more and Microsoft obliged – though RRODs were far less appreciated. Yet that didn’t even slow the Xbox juggernaut from rolling ahead on multiple social fronts.

Business site, Gurufocus, notes that CFO Kevin McCarthy has stated in a recent conference that its Xbox Live service now boasts over thirty million plus subscribers. Xbox Live was introduced in 2002.

In October, Yahoo reported on Microsoft’s quarterly report revealing that over 57.6 million Xbox 360s have been sold worldwide and remained the “top selling” console in the United States, a place it has held for nine months straight.

With Netflix and a host of other social tools introduced to the console since its inception and building on the Live model begun with the first Xbox, Microsoft’s foray into a high-stakes arena strewn with dramatic risks and billions of dollars has evidently paid off.

Helping to celebrate this anniversary, Xbox Live users get a free avatar prop up until this Saturday. Also, Venture Beat’s Dean Takahashi (Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft’s Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution) has written up a two part piece on Microsoft’s Xbox journey from the first console and into today’s market with the 360.

It’s a remarkable success story that has propped the software company up as a member of the worldwide console triumvirate alongside Sony and Nintendo. As for what the next ten years will do for gaming, who can say? But one thing’s for certain – Microsoft’s Xbox will do everything it can to be there in making it happen.

Report: Microsoft to cease production of Zune

Microsoft is expected to stop producing its Zune MP3 player, although the software is expected to live on in smartphones running Windows operating systems, Bloomberg News reported.

Zune, introduced in 2006, never managed to break the iPod’s
grip on the music-player industry and became the brunt of late-
night talk-show jokes. Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPod led the market with 77
percent of unit sales last year, while the Zune failed to crack
the top five, according to NPD Group Inc. By adding the Zune
features to the Windows Phone software, Microsoft aims to gain
ground in another challenging area — mobile phones — where
it’s lost market share to Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., declined to
comment on plans for the Zune.

I would comment if I have an opinion as to whether the Zune was or was not actually superior to the iPod, but I have a Sandisk Sansa, which it totally OK.

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The MIcrosoft Zune, shown here in many versions, is reportedly leaving the marketplace.

Candid Kinect

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Kinect came out yesterday amidst much hoopla and joy for those that managed to snag one. If you haven’t heard of what it is, it’s the motion sensing accessory for the Xbox 360 that essentially follows your body to do stuff onscreen – like control your dashboard or actually play games using it.

It’s got a leg up on the Wii and the Move by not forcing you to hold anything, but did you also know that it takes pics of you? That’s what Destructoid is reporting.

Apparently, someone “got too hot” while playing Dance Central and took off their clothes. What they didn’t realize is that Kinect randomly took pics of them and now they have no idea how to delete the potentially embarrassing album on their console.

So I guess the moral of the story is: Kinect is watching you? Play safe, my friends.

Review: Fable III (Xbox 360)

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Steve Jobs isn’t the only person equipped with a reality distortion field.

Peter Molyneux’s evangelism of the first Fable touted it as a revolutionary step forward for RPGs. It was a bold claim, but when it came from the man with as many accolades as Molyneux, you had to wonder whether or not he could actually pull it off.

Once Fable became reality, however, it came up short of what was promised – yet the undeniable charm and fairy tale whimsy glossing over what it didn’t bring to the dungeon had found an audience that loved it for what it was. For adventurers that didn’t like poring over statistics or lists of equipment, Fable’s simplified approach to role-playing was a welcome mat to what might have been an intimidating genre to many.
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A New Experience on your Xbox

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Have you logged into Xbox Live today? If you did, you would have gotten the update to the dashboard which changes how it looks and likely gets it ready for Kinect’s big retail debut this week. But there are a few more things that it adds on that go beyond looks alone.

It also adds ESPN, improved Zune offerings, and streamlines a few things such as connecting to a wireless network or take new snapshots with your avatar. I’ve been tooling around with it for awhile and its not bad, though I also looked at what Gamasutra had pointed out with Indie Games. It’s a little puzzling why Microsoft decided to define Indie Games as a Specialty Shop – because that’s where it’s at now – instead of under the more intuitive header of Games & Demos.

The download only takes a few minutes – at least outside of peak hours – and after it’s done, you’re ready to go.

Review: Halo Reach

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Everyone might know how many of the battles in WW2 ended, but that didn’t matter to gamers seeing it through the lens of countless RTS titles re-enacting famous confrontations to the glut of first-person shooters taking them to the beaches of Europe and the Pacific. The same can also be said for the story behind the prequel of Halo: Reach – at least to the fans that read the books.

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