Microsoft’s surprisingly strong E3

In the lead up to this year’s E3, Microsoft were touting that their press conference would be “game changing“. While I it wasn’t up there with Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone, fanboys around the world would have been shocked when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XIII for the Xbox 360.

The bulk of the presentation centred around the new Xbox Experience, integral to which is a complete dashboard overhaul. Microsoft have unsurprisingly chosen a different direction for the new dashboard interface to that proposed by the community but are clearly listening to Xbox Live’s now over 12 million members. Looking like a close relation of the Windows Media Centre dashboard, Microsoft do not hide the fact that the new Xbox 360 interface is aimed squarely at the living room family audience. The introduction of ‘avatars’ might be a natural extension of gamerpics but on the face of it look like Nintendo’s Miis with a few more polygons.

Identity and community have always been integral to the Xbox Live experience – something Microsoft has excelled at – and they are taking this further in the dashboard overhaul. An integrated 8-player party system means players can team up with their friends across games, media and chat. The idea of consuming media with your friends virtually is something many people have investigated (including me during my time at BBC R&D) and it will be interesting to see if the Xbox implemtation will work. I simply don’t use my 360 in that way so am skeptical at the moment but a cross-game party system should benefit casual and hardcore gamers alike.

It was a safe bet that Microsoft would continue to probe the newly expanded casual game market. Their challenge is making the Xbox 360 the platform of choice for everyone while keeping die-hard Halo fans happy. Not easy. But by stealing long-standing PlayStation exclusives from Sony, grabbing exclusive downloadable content from cross-platform titles and showing some awesome new Gears of War 2 footage, I think the Xbox’s core audience will see this as a strong showing too.

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