Xbox Live Finally Going Mobile

A recent job listing on Microsoft’s corporate site has the blogosphere buzzing about the reemergence of Xbox’s Live Anywhere plan.

The Live Anywhere plan was first introduced in 2006 as an idea that Xbox Live doesn’t have to live just on the Xbox, but could be available through multiple mediums.  So far, only the PC has had limited Xbox Live integration, and everyone thought the Live Anywhere concept would die on the vine.

The job listing suggests the Live Anywhere approach is going to tackle mobile and social platforms in a big way, something we should see in the next several months.  Zune HD is rumored to work with the Xbox 360 in the near future, but nothing has been announced.

What are marketers to make of this   One thing’s for sure, it s yet another way to engage a very captive audience from day one.  The mobile and social platforms will only be as good as game developers and publishers make them out to be, so getting ahead of the game is step one.

There are only a few chances to be one of the first in front of an emerging market, and this is one of them.

[More at Ars]

New Sega Chief Talks Seganess

The new head of Sega West, the merged group of Sega America and Sega Europe, made the rounds in New York City the other day.  Kotaku had an interesting sit down with him, and we’ve pulled together a few key quotes from the guy in charge of turning around the once-dominant publisher.

On the idea that there’s a unifying feel to Sega’s games:

“In some cases, but not all,” Hayes said, answering this early question with the thoughtfulness and lack of diplomatic self-censorship with which he’d field all of my questions. “When we are trying to do core games like Aliens vs. Predator from Rebellion, I don’t think you’ll find any Seganess in that. However, there are a lot of games that we do do whether it be particularly with our old intellectual property, like Monkey Ball, like with Mario and Sonic and things like Let’s Tap it’s that kind of slight risk-taking that Sega was renowned for as innovators that we still do and we still intend to do.”

On Mature-rated Wii games:

Another hyped grouping of Sega games has been its trio of Wii games targeted to the demographic of gamers that prefers a good headshot or chainsaw kill to an interactive sit-up routine: House of the Dead Overkill, MadWorld and the Conduit. Hayes views their fortunes as mixed. Sales reports don’t show blockbuster numbers for any of the games, but, Hayes said, “I just don’t think, categorically, that you can therefore concludes that mature games won’t work on Wii.”

On MadWorld, the critically-lauded hyperviolent M-rated Wii game:

It is the mostly black-and-white, hyper-violent MadWorld that Hayes dubbed a “disappointment” for reasons he can’t yet nail down. “It could be the consumers didn’t like the art style,” he said. “It could be the consumers had enough Mature-rated games to play on 360 and PS3 and didn’t need a new experience on Wii.”

The publisher famously left the hardware business after the disappointing Dreamcast, though that system still maintains a huge following.  Characters like Sonic the Hedgehog still sell millions of units in critically-panned games on current generation systems, but Sega still has a long way.

Anyone have any suggestions for how to help Sega market itself to that audience that has since left?

[More at Kotaku]

A Live Peek Into The Future

This week, Xbox 360 underwent a dashboard update that, among other features, added the ability to download select Xbox 360 games right to your console hard drive.  Loop out the game retailer and sell directly to the customer, right

How well has this been working out and is marketing doing what it should?

ArsTechnica outlines some pros and cons of the system in their look at the new feature, but one thing struck us:

In many ways it would have been easier to sell new games via Games on Demand; we’re used to paying the standard $60 price for new releases, and not having to worry about a game being sold out would have added to the convenience factor. Older titles face fierce pricing competition from stores getting rid of stock, used game sales, and borrowing the game from friends.

The problem with a day-and-date release on Xbox Live and retail is you risk angering your biggest point of distribution, but you also under-deliver on the potential a system like Xbox Live can give you.

Can marketing allay some of those fears by pinpointing digital distribution as a low-cost, convenient way to play a full retail game   Right now we ve seen very little advertising of this option except on a small panel in the Xbox 360 dashboard, and we wonder if that s mainly because of fear based on retailer perception.

What do you think?  Register for a free account or login through Facebook to leave us your thoughts.

While My Guitar Gently Beeps

The New York Times takes an in-depth look at Harmonix and the upcoming The Beatles Rock Band as the marketing for the upcoming music game hits a fever pitch.

Among some of the points in the nine-page article is that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul will make it as downloadable full albums for the game.

The perfect storm is brewing, with the marketing hitting at just the right time with just over three weeks to go for what is arguably the biggest music game so far.  It’s also (arguably) the most important, as music games are showing massive decline in sales, signaling the fad may be over.

Slim’s Coming: UK PS3 Shipments Drying Up

From MCV:

Rumours and speculation have been rife for many weeks now, but MCV can reveal that Sony is clearing PS3 hardware stock from the channel ahead of what is expected to be a new price point introduced from early September.

The rumormill has been running rampant in regards to a slim PlayStation 3, and the latest news from the UK shows that we re probably looking at a system refresh in September.

PlayStation 3 and Sony have been lagging behind in third-place after getting to the market after Nintendo and Microsoft, and at a significantly higher price point.  Sony needs to move quickly by aggressively cutting the PS3 price point ahead of this year’s all-important holiday season.

Europe Finally Gets PS3 Movies

From CVG:

The video-on-demand service went live on the U.S. PS Store in July last year, but was later confirmed by former SCEE boss man David Reeves not to be coming to our store until 2009. Well, it’s August already so where the bloody hell is it?

Thankfully, Sony will be announcing video plans for the EU at next week’s Gamescom show.

But this should be an example of how, even the best laid plans can be affected by global coordination.  The U.S. has had HD video rentals and purchases on the PlayStation 3 for over a year, and the global licensing considerations hasn t allowed for a concerted marketing push of a pretty nifty system feature.

It’s time for the movie studios to really start loosening up.  Global marketing plans would be so much more effective if given a chance to coordinate without the cumbersome hurdles thrown up by Hollywood.

Starcraft II Gets The Razer

From the Razer press release:

“It has been a little over a decade since StarCraft first rocked the video game industry and began a legacy that continues to this day,” said Robert Razerguy Krakoff, president, Razer USA.   We’re extremely excited to be working with Blizzard Entertainment on the StarCraft II gaming peripherals and gear. The project is in the development phase with a focus on serving up innovative features while offering precision, cutting-edge technology, accuracy, speed and comfort.

The peripherals will include a tournament-grade mouse, keyboard and headset, as well as a specially-designed messenger bag.  Just another example of how the marketing of a game doesn’t have to just be on traditional media, but can extend to things (like peripherals) that target your core consumer.

Video Of The Day: The Holodeck Is Here

Augmented reality is catching some huge buzz, but one of the problems with virtual worlds is you can see and hear them, but you can’t feel them.

The University of Tokyo is working on a solution to that.  Using motion sensors and highly-tuned compressed air, the system simulates the sensation of touch as a user, say, bounces a ball, or touches a surface.

Bonus points for the use of Wii remotes about a minute in.

It’s A Halo Future

The Halo series single-handedly created the Xbox brand.  While that may be an overstatement to some people, Master Chief and his Xbox launch title gave Microsoft the credibility it needed to go up against the then-leader Sony PlayStation and the now-leader Nintendo.

The Bungie Studios-created game starred Master Chief, a super soldier set in a future war between humans and the Covenant, and was based on the older, critically-acclaimed Marathon games.  The sci-fi action adventure was exactly what Microsoft needed to grab all-important mindshare from a jaded gaming audience.

The three games, two on Xbox and one on Xbox 360, went on to break all sorts of sales records on their way to selling almost 25 million copies worldwide. Halo 3 set an all-time record for entertainment revenue in the first twenty-four hours of release with $170 million.

So it must have been a shocker to everyone when Bungie confirmed Halo 3 would be the last game in the Halo trilogy.  But the Halo universe extends far and wide, and Microsoft’s recently announced group, 343 Industries, has been created to ensure we hear of Master Chief’s exploits for a long time to come.

Let’s take a look at how Halo is being marketed to gamers and other audiences well after its “final” hurrah in an attempt to see how far video game brands can extend to other mediums.

Halo Legends (Anime)

Halo Legends is a series of seven anime shorts done with careful care to pay heed to the Japanese art form.  Microsoft’s first foray with 343 Industries will be these films, and it is going to be a key experiment to see how successful Halo can be outside of its games.

The films are expected to launch this fall with a preview on Xbox Live through a new Xbox 360 feature allowing friends to watch videos with each other at the same time (Xbox Parties).  The films will them hit on other mediums, including DVD, digital distribution and, funnily enough, Blu-Ray, a key system feature of the PlayStation 3.

The important key Microsoft is pushing is the fact it’s taking the anime art form very seriously, enlisting people like Shinji Aramaki to gain that all-important street cred, Aramaki is the director of anime classics Appleseed and Ghost In The Machine, and his attachment has the anime community buzzing in anticipation.

Microsoft’s holding of preview events on Xbox Live is a masterstroke, allowing a feature that may be underused (simultaneous movie watching) to take the spotlight, getting users acclimated to using their console in other ways than in just playing games.  It should also be a relief to 343 Industries that Microsoft is releasing these films in other mediums, most notably Blu-Ray.

Halo Legends is taking a very open approach to pushing the Halo brand, regardless of the medium or delivery, and its success should grease the wheels of other publishers when faced with any exclusivity arrangement for a game or DLC.  More potential users equals more paying users, period.

Halo (Movie)

A live action movie for Halo seemed like a natural fit given the blockbuster success of the game series.  Microsoft went so far as to commission a short-film by Neill Blomkamp, director of this weekend’s anticipated motion picture District 9.  We’ve embedded the video below.

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Pretty cool, huh? Blomkamp was tapped to direct a full motion picture, and a script was written and picked up by 20th Century Fox.  Peter Jackson was set to be executive producer, but the movie was held up after five months in production.  Jackson and Blomkamp went on to create District 9, and the Halo movie was on indefinite hold.

Earlier this week, more news came out of Hollywood regarding Halo, with Steven Spielberg taking up the executive producer reigns to take a new script to fruition, although Microsoft is denying the movie has resumed production.

Ultimately, it’s to everyone’s benefit to get Halo onto the big screen, and it will happen.  It’ll just be a matter of time.  And with names like Jackson’s and Spielberg’s being attached to the project, our money is it’ll be a quality production (unlike video game movies like Doom or Super Mario Bros.).

Halo as a motion picture represents the ultimate test of how well Halo has marketed itself, not only to a hardcore consumer, but to the general audience who make films like Iron Man and Star Trek huge hits of the past couple of years.  If the Halo movie gets made and receives a warm reception, both critically and at the box office, the floodgates will open, and if you’ve got a cool IP, it could soon be ready for a big screen debut.

Halo Evolutions (Books)

This week, 343 Industries continues its multimedia push with a new book series announced taking place in the Halo universe.  Books based on the Halo series have been well received, and the latest book is rumored to be the basis of the Spielberg-helmed Halo movie.

The new book series continues work on expanding on the Halo universe, similar to how Star Wars used novels to expand that universe and maintain a hold on its fanbase for decades between the two movie trilogies.

“The chance to explore corners of the Halo universe, whether obscure or popular, is something we are always excited to do, but the chance to shine light on these dark corners with the talents of these wonderful luminaries, is a pleasure indeed,” says Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director, 343 Industries. “The combination of fresh eyes and old hands guarantees a brilliant continuation of a Halo tradition.”

You may think gamers don’t read, and you could be right.  But Halo is making its push into non-traditional (for gamers) mediums to make sure that the hardcore user can satisfy their appetite for as much Halo as possible.  Those are the users that are the hardest to please, but once you’ve won them over, they’ll never be able to get enough (again, look at Star Wars).

Halo Waypoint (Games)

Speaking of the hardcore, Microsoft will be launching Halo Waypoint on Xbox 360 later this year.  The vision of Halo Waypoint is to have videos (everything from classic ads of the first Halo to the latest Halo Legends anime shorts), mini-games and more to appeal to Xbox 360 owners regardless of how much they like (or loathe) Halo.

This will be an interesting experiment, and one Sony has been trying with the different spaces in PlayStation Home.  The idea is to engage users right on their console with a variety of multimedia and games, continuing to push that series as games, movies and books come out.

Halo Waypoint will segue into the anticipated launch of Halo 3: ODST later this year, which will in and of itself be a test of whether the Halo name or the Master Chief character is what resonates with gamers.  The game, a prequel to Halo 3, deals with members of the human army, fighting the alien army on Earth.

Not only that, but next year has the launch of Halo Reach, a game that has very little details behind it, and this one is expected to be the last in the Halo franchise developed by creator Bungie Studios before they move onto a new, unnamed IP.

Microsoft and 343 Industries have a bunch of hurdles in front of the Halo series, but they look to engage the right people in the right ways and mediums to make this an unequivocal success.  The marketing of Halo will be extremely important as Microsoft looks in the medium-term to continue a Halo push, both with and without Bungie, both with and without Master Chief.  The pieces are in the right place, it’s just up to Master Chief and his cohorts to take aim and pull the trigger.