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 NYT.com 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.

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.

The Depression Comes To Xbox 360

If you’re still in the camp that believes virtual goods microtransactions aren’t an effective way to market, Kotaku recently interviewed a designer behind some of the new digital threads available for Xbox 360.

It’s self-expression that Connell hopes his work can further enable for Xbox gamers. “Once you see enough avatars, they kind of start to feel the same,” he said, recalling the initial wave of Xbox Avatar fashion that has been available for the past nine months, while he’s been designing the new lines. “The generic collection that we have out there currently doesn’t really offer any individuality. Certainly it’s a basics collection. but it’s generic in the worst sense.”

Today launches Connell’s wearable antidote. In the new Avatar store on online-connected 360s, buried behind banners advertising BioShock and Halo fashions for Avatars and tucked behind new pages that sell Adidas and Quiksilver Avatar clothes, are the first of Connell’s brand-free lines: Steampunk and the Depression-inspired Recessionista.

Quick movers can take advantage of the new ability to market wares and clothes to Xbox Live members, and if you re not doing it because you don t think there s a reason, Connell brings up a pretty good point.

We just think, if there’s a market for your games, there s a market for some $1 hats or free shirts with your game’s logo emblazoned on them.

Game-Branded Peripherals FTW

Unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero, these peripherals aren t required to play the game, but MadCatz today announced it would be releasing Modern Warfare 2-branded accessories and peripherals later this year to coincide with the big release.

From Mad Catz press release: {link no longer active}

We are excited to partner with Activision and Infinity Ward to create branded controllers and accessories based on what is one of the videogame industry s preeminent franchises, said Darren Richardson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mad Catz.

Mad Catz’s innovation and fresh approach from Day 1 has been great, said Vince Zampella, CEO of Infinity Ward. Their team has really poured their hearts into the new line of accessories for Modern Warfare 2 and we can t wait for our fans to have a chance to play for themselves this November.

Just another way to better market your blockbuster game, or to monetize the throngs of gamers waiting for the game s release this November.  Wait for the virtual goods to come out closer to the end of the year and we’ll see one of the first ever video game marketing trifectas as retail game is coupled with real world and virtual goods in time for a game’s launch date.

Where Are The Gamers?

Nielsen recently conducted a survey taking a look at this and last generation console hardware, and it has some interesting news for how popular these systems are once they get into people’s homes.

IndustryGamers reports: {link no longer active}

June data indicated that Xbox 360 is the most active console, with a 6-month trend showing Xbox 360 with the highest active users. Trailing the pack by a good margin in terms of active users is Nintendo’s Wii, which is even trailing its predecessor, the GameCube.

For a company that was on the brink of death just a couple of years ago, it s been a remarkable turnaround.  However, this Nielsen data may be proof positive that Nintendo’s machine is indeed a fad, and may not have the staying power needed to stay on top.

Nintendo has been absolutely genius in the way it markets its games, from general audience games like Wii Sports Resort to games for women and non-traditional audiences like Wii Fit.  Marketing the Wii as an anyone can play system has been instrumental to its success, but now the challenge will be to have an answer to an increasing number of consumers asking, what now

GI Joe Gets Multimedia International Push

GI Joe is a blockbuster hit thanks in no small part to the fact young males love explosions.  The international market has also been surprisingly receptive to the American-focused hero, but Paramont Pictures International is rolling out a multimedia campaign to continue the push.

From The Hollywood Reporter: {link no longer active}

The military marketing campaign will include media, social, viral and mobile Web during the international rollout of the action picture in August.

The digital campaign includes viral videos, extended clips, online games, Facebook applications, mobile sites and applications, as well as initiatives in Sony’s online community PlayStation Home, PPI said.

PlayStation Home has spaces promoting upcoming and existing games, but this will be the first time a non-Sony Pictures movie gets significant promotion on the PlayStation 3 social experiment.  We’ll hop onto Home later this week to see what s doing.