LOS ANGELES – June 14, 2010 – Details around the controller-free Kinect device, a surprise new Xbox 360 console, and a deal with ESPN were among the announcements Microsoft’s Xbox team made Monday to kick off its presence at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
Xbox 360 will release a new version of the popular Halo: Reach game later this year.
In what they called the “biggest year ever” for Xbox, Microsoft’s Xbox team also shared details about – and in some cases demonstrated – anticipated new installments of Halo, Call of Duty, and Fable. The company also announced Kingdoms, a brand new gaming franchise for Xbox 360.
Kinect for Xbox 360, a product kept under tight wraps since it was introduced at E3 last year, will be available in retail stores this holiday season.
Kinect’s launch will be accompanied by the release of a number of games built especially for the controller-free platform. Four of those new games will be from Microsoft.
Kinect has audio and video sensors that eliminate the need for a traditional controller or joystick. Players use body motions to play games, pan through entertainment options, and interact with other Xbox LIVE subscribers.
The new Xbox 360 console being released for sale today is “sleek, silent, and sexy,” the company said in a press release. The new console can connect to Xbox LIVE in seconds using built-in WI-FI. It also can store twice as many games as the current version on a 250 GB hard drive.
The console comes with a controller, headset, HDMI input, USB flash drive storage capabilities, and a one-year warranty. It goes on sale this week for $299.
Xbox LIVE team members made several announcements Monday, including a deal with ESPN to bring more than 3,500 live sports events a year to subscribers. These will include college sports, the NBA, and international soccer.
“We’re very excited about ESPN,” said Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox LIVE. “Not only do we get this great content, but we change the way people think about being able to watch sports. Sports are such a connecter between people, and being able to enjoy sports together socially even if you can’t be together in person is an ideal thing to show the power of what Xbox LIVE is all about.”
As they can on the United Kingdom’s Sky TV, friends will be able to watch a game together via Xbox LIVE – whether they live across town or across the country. They will be able to chat and interact just as they would if they were watching the game at a sports bar, or watching it live from a stadium.
Kinect will change the way games are played
The new game Kinect Adventures takes players on a wild river raft ride, down a log-flume obstacle course, and through similar adventures.
Microsoft Kinect is different than anything else in the gaming market because it makes the user the controller, said Mike Delman, corporate vice president of Global Marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Business. “Kinect makes the gaming and entertainment experience more organic and free flowing,” Delman said. “It doesn’t have the barriers that can sometimes keep people from participating.”
Delman said going hands-free will transform how “you and your friends experience games and entertainment.”
Microsoft’s game offerings will include Kinect Animals, Kinect Joyride, Kinect Adventures, and Kinect Sports. Players can do things such as build friendships with tigers, knock in winning soccer goals with their heads, and use their entire bodies to steer racing carts around turns and over jumps.
Whitten said Microsoft Kinect’s hands-free capabilities also will redefine the way non-gaming experiences happen on Xbox.
With Kinect, a person can simply wave at a TV and Kinect will recognize them and their preferences. That makes it easier to find entertainment, Whitten said. Users will be able to launch or control things with the wave of a hand or using their voice.
“If you’re watching a movie in Zune or Netflix and you want to pause or fast forward, you just say ‘Xbox pause’ or ‘Xbox fast forward,’” Whitten said. “It’s really that simple.”
More than 40 million Xbox 360 consoles are on the market today. Microsoft leaders think Kinect could help increase that number because it appeals not only to traditional gamers, but more broadly to pretty much every kind of non-traditional gamers – young children, mothers, and grandparents – and even non-gamers.
Feeding the core, reaching new audiences
While the company made a big splash at E3 with Kinect, Microsoft also announced a fall lineup of non-Kinect games for its core gaming audience. These include Halo Reach, Gears of War 3, Fable 3, and a brand new game called Kingdoms.
Halo Reach is a prequel to the Halo series, and tells the story of a team of Spartans on the planet Reach, which plays an important role in the history of the Halo universe. Halo Reach incorporates 10 years of learning and is the biggest and best Halo game Microsoft has shipped to date, said Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios.
Gears of War 3 is the final installment of that game’s trilogy, and on stage at E3 Microsoft demonstrated the game being played live cooperatively by four players.
Fable 3, created by one of Microsoft’s game studios in England, is a story-based game set in ancient England. It’s the story of two brothers, one who becomes an evil tyrant king, and the other whose choices, including whether to become good or evil, are controlled by the player.
Activision also will announce that it is releasing a new version of Call of Duty at E3. Though Call of Duty is produced by Activision, not by Microsoft Game Studios, Spencer said the two companies have a good and longstanding relationship. Gamers play Call of Duty more on Xbox than any other console, and the companies were both happy to announce the holiday release of the game’s newest installment, Spencer said.
Releasing a new game franchise and renewing core gaming franchises is something that the company needs to continue to do to keep Xbox’s core gaming audience happy, Spencer said.
The company also wants to use Microsoft Kinect and Xbox LIVE to reach millions of people who traditionally don’t play video games.
“Most people look at something like Xbox LIVE as teenage boys playing shooting games online, but an interesting statistic over the last year is that Netflix is the second-highest used Xbox LIVE feature, from an hours perspective,” Spencer said.
Spencer hopes that the broad range of Xbox-related announcements that the company is making at E3 will attract consumers that the company hasn’t reached before.
The new Kinect controller and Xbox 360 console.
“In the biggest year of Xbox history, we’re delivering on the things that have made Xbox great, but we’re now unlocking what we think is the best form of entertainment out there,” Spencer said. “Kinect is state-of-the-art, something no one else has done. It brings the whole experience to life. The challenge we have in front of us now is to get it in their hands.”
Spencer paused. “Or, rather, not in their hands,” he added.
Microsoft made a splash at E3 a year ago with a short video introducing the concept of controller-free gaming and entertainment on Xbox 360.
Then called Project Natal, Kinect was top-secret until that moment at E3, and after the conference it once again returned to secretive status even inside Microsoft walls as the Xbox team worked to move it from prototype to product.
In keeping with the secrecy surrounding the project, there were only two Kinect-related announcements since E3 last year: Sunday night, Cirque du Soleil helped reveal the name of the much-anticipated product, and earlier this year, Microsoft announced that Kinect would be in stores this holiday season.