game player

Kevin Casey won­ders if the game is up for Xbox

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Will any­body be talk­ing about the Xbox 360 by 2009? Mi­crosoft has just slashed the price, bring­ing the starter pack in at un­der the cost of the Nin­tendo Wii. It seems like a lot of con­sole for your money and sales of the hard­ware have surged on the back of it.

There are two ways to look at this de­vel­op­ment. Ei­ther it’s a com­pet­i­tive move de­signed to strike back at arch-ri­val Sony, or Mi­crosoft’s ac­coun­tants have de­pre­ci­ated its stock and it needs to shift units be­fore the profit mar­gin bot­toms out.

The Xbox 360 has taken a past­ing from both the PS3 and Wii. It’s now in third place in terms of monthly sales. Mi­crosoft’s strat­egy of cre­at­ing an all-round home-en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ence is also un­der­cut by the the fail­ure of HD DVD, the Mi­crosoft-en­dorsed ri­val to Sony’s Blu Ray movie disc. HD DVD was scrapped in Fe­bru­ary – one for­mat war which was over be­fore it started.

Wa­ter off a duck’s back for Mi­crosoft, which im­me­di­ately claimed it would have no ef­fect on its for­ays into movie and mu­sic con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion. The films would be avail­able for down­load any­way via XBox Live.

Yet hav­ing an in-built high-def disc player cre­ates one more rea­son to plump for a PS3 when it comes time to choose an en­ter­tain­ment pe­riph­eral for your HD TV. With its greater ver­sa­til­ity, it looks like Sony is hold­ing the up­per hand as far as movie sys­tems go.

Mi­crosoft still has the beat­ing of Sony with its in­ter­net strat­egy – for now. Xbox Live is well es­tab­lished, even if ac­cess is tightly con­trolled by Xbox HQ, and the sub­scrip­tion costs a bit, too (when, as ex­pected, Sony gets its in­ter­net act to­gether, it will be of­fered for free).

Both con­soles have sim­i­lar games and good graph­ics, so on that front nei­ther can claim pre-em­i­nence.

Mi­crosoft has blamed its re­cent fall­ing sales on sup­ply short­ages. Yet the Xbox’s re­li­a­bil­ity has been a huge is­sue – the in­fa­mous Red Ring of Death, in­di­cat­ing a trip to the fac­tory is needed for re­pairs, has struk many a gamer, In fair­ness to Mi­crosoft, its cus­tomer ser­vice has been good, but re­pairs cost them $2 bil­lion (¤1.27bn) last year alone. That’s not just un­for­tu­nate; that’s a black hole.

Time is catch­ing up on the ol’ 360. The first one was re­leased in 2005. The ques­tion now is, will Mi­crosoft forge ahead and cre­ate a next gen­er­a­tion of Xbox? It has poured bil­lions into it, only to see Sony’s PS3 catch up, af­ter start­ing much later. That said, Sony is also still lick­ing its wounds from the launch of the PS3.

Con­soles are de­signed with one pur­pose in mind – con­trol­ling the con­tent you buy for it. Con­tent con­trol is not pop­u­lar with the con­sumer. And, in the high-stakes game of con­sole man­u­fac­ture, it’s not clear if any­body can win.

Ex­cept maybe Nin­tendo, which has just re­leased a new Su­per Smash Brothers Brawl game that sold 1.4m copies in the US in its first week. Imag­i­na­tively, Nin­tendo’s sin­gle-pur­pose strat­egy is to sell games, not dom­i­nate your mu­sic and movies too. It seems to be work­ing.

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