Xbox Momentum Rolls On: Xbox, Kinect Help Microsoft Connect with Consumers

Editor’s note – Jan. 7, 2011 –
Visit the Xbox at 2011 CES

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Editor’s note – Jan. 6, 2011 –
This article was updated to correct the current number of Xbox LIVE members to 30 million.

LAS VEGAS – Jan. 6, 2011 – The sales figures released at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show made it official: Kinect has connected with consumers.

Over the past two months consumers have snatched up Kinect almost as quickly as retailers have stocked the shelves, according to sales figures Microsoft reported Wednesday at 2011 CES. Since its release on Nov. 4, more than eight million Kinect sensors have been sold. That figure easily outdistances the five million unit forecast the company had predicted to sell during the sensor’s first 60 days.

Kinect for Xbox 360 was a big hit with consumers over the 2010 holiday season, with eight million sensors sold over a 60-day period.

The wild ride to close out 2010 capped the “biggest year ever” for Xbox, said David Dennis, group public relations manager for Xbox. Over the holiday season, console sales for the Xbox 360 hit 50 million. It also was the No. 1-selling console in North America over the past six months. Meanwhile, the Xbox LIVE community continued to grow strongly overall in 2010, adding a new member every two seconds. Xbox LIVE now has more than 30 million active members.

Dennis said the announcements made at CES, including new Kinect-enabled entertainment experiences and new Xbox LIVE gaming titles, signal that the momentum behind Xbox should continue through 2011.

“It used to be you would go buy this piece of plastic and put it under your TV, and five years later it’s the exact same thing that you bought at the store,” he said. “I think Microsoft has shown the ability to innovate and bring new experiences like Kinect as well as Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN, all leveraging Xbox LIVE, to continue to reinvent what you think of as the Xbox. You turn it on, and we continue to update it, keep it fresh, and bring new features.”

Kinect Transforms Entertainment in the Living Room

Kinect is a prime example of how natural user interface (NUI) is transforming gaming by making it more social and approachable than anyone ever thought was possible, but it’s just the beginning, Dennis said. Several CES announcements showed how Microsoft will take Kinect’s controller-free experience beyond gaming and into entertainment throughout the year. This spring, for example, Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers will be able to use Kinect to control Netflix on Xbox LIVE. Viewers will be able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward streaming movies with only their voice or gestures.

The company also announced that Hulu Plus will be coming to Xbox LIVE as a Kinect-enabled experience this spring. As with Netflix, subscribers will be able to use controller-free motion and voice capabilities to instantly watch full-screen popular TV shows anytime in HD.

Also at CES, the Xbox team introduced a new social experience called Avatar Kinect that will use Kinect’s camera and sensor to bring a player’s avatar to life. It leverages Kinect’s facial recognition technology to let a person control their avatar’s movements and expressions; when they smile, frown, nod and speak, the avatar will do the same, Dennis said.

With Avatar Kinect, a player can invite up to seven friends to join them in one of 15 imaginative virtual environments. One of those worlds is a performance stage, where friends can record their performance and share with friends.

New Gaming Experiences Span Platforms

Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) team’s focus at CES wasn’t limited to Kinect. It also highlighted its ongoing efforts at developing a strong portfolio of games across all its platforms, including the PC and Windows Phone 7.

Avatar Kinect uses Kinect’s camera and sensor to bring a player’s avatar to life. With Avatar Kinect, a player can invite up to seven friends to join them in one of 15 imaginative virtual environments, including a stage or a tailgate party.

“Windows is far and away the largest gaming platform in the world, so it’s an incredibly important part of Microsoft’s business,” said Letty Cherry, a senior group public relations manager with IEB. “Whether core games like ‘Age of Empires Online’ and ‘Fable III,’ or casual and social titles like we recently debuted on the new MSN Games, more gaming happens on Windows than anywhere else.”

At CES, Microsoft showed off Ages of Empires Online and Fable III, which had previously been announced. When the company started work to continue the two franchises, it looked at how people are playing games today – namely the social and connected experiences players increasingly crave, Cherry said.

“We want to play with our friends, not just against them, to make the community a built-in part of the experience,” she said. “It’s about being able to connect to the entertainment we want, and sharing it with the people we care about.” With an unprecedented co-op experience in “Fable III” and an ever-changing online world in “Age of Empires Online,” both of these titles deliver a rich, social games experience with the LIVE service at the center, she said.

Since the release of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has been bringing the Xbox LIVE service to a mobile phone. Now players can earn Achievements and stay in touch with the 30 million Xbox LIVE members right from their phone, putting the power of Xbox LIVE in the palm of their hand.

Upcoming titles such as Fable III: Coin Golf, Game Room, and Full House Poker all made their debut at CES. All three were developed by Microsoft Game Studios, making Windows Phone 7 the first mobile platform to be supported by a first-party game studio.

“We’ve found that in a sea of apps, gadgets, and gizmos, the hardest part can often be finding the games you want to play,” Cherry said. “With Windows Phone 7, we’ve taken a fundamentally different approach, delivering a managed portfolio of high quality games from the best minds in game development, whether it’s an AAA publisher on the console or a great independent studio looking to break into the mobile space.”

Microsoft will continue to deliver new and improved gaming experiences throughout the year, Cherry said. Kicking off on Feb. 16 with “Hard Corps Uprising,” the second annual Xbox LIVE Arcade House Party will deliver five weeks of the best games of the season available to instantly download and play, including “Full House Poker,” a new interactive game that features an inventive and exciting live poker game show called Texas Heat and companion Windows Phone 7 game.

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