The original emphasis placed on the TV and multimedia functionality of the Xbox One may have been met with frustration by the core gaming community, but there’s no way of getting around it: Microsoft and Sony are counting on their next consoles to do more than just play games. So while first- and third-party developers work on completing games before the consoles launch, the manufacturers are focused on something else: advertising.
That might be a dirty word in this current climate of ad-supported iOS games and ‘freemium’ titles, but Microsoft sees things differently. In a recent showcase, the company’s advertising team explained that next-gen hardware means advertising on the Xbox One won’t just be more effective, but less offensive to users.
Speaking with the Xbox Live team in London, enthusiast site StickTwiddlers heard firsthand about the changes in direction that Microsoft is implementing with the Xbox One. For starters, while the Kinect functionality is being implemented by triple-A developers already, those on the team are willing to accept that motion controls aren’t the answer to everything.
As an unnamed Senior Digital Art Director puts it, it’s the more subtle aspects of the Kinect and player interaction that the team sees as a future for advertising:
“Lots of people are using Kinect for voice control on dashboard and some games. I’ve played Mass Effect and Dragon Age and it’s awesome, it’s amazing… one of the disadvantages of Kinect is that’s it’s not always useful for certain interfaces. We’re all excited about the Minority Report of doing this stuff, but try doing that for half an hour. It’s not very pleasant and you might break something in your house. So actually you feel like the controller makes perfect sense in this situation, but the Kinect makes more sense when you’re doing something more interactive, a bit more engaging in a game or when you’re prompted.”
The Technical Account Manager for Xbox LIVE Advertising elaborated on the importance of voice control, not motion control or attempts to ‘game-ify’ advertising:
“With the new Xbox One, the technology and Kinect has improved a lot, so that actually the voice recognition, the way you speak to your Xbox and the transition between gaming and watching TV is a lot smoother, and hopefully we can transpire that into advertising that we do.”
If that sounds a little too close to the ‘stand up and shout ‘McDonald’s to make the ad go away’ technology patented by Sony, don’t worry. Apparently, Microsoft isn’t quite ready to sacrifice user experience or trust in favor of advertising dollars:
“There’s the game producers who have a different API, so a different set of code and system that they use, and they’ve got a lot more control of the whole thing. Whereas from the advertising point of view we have a slightly more limited set, which is designed to protect the user. The company is very keen on protecting the user from any sort of abuse so we can’t do certain things.”
Given the amount of information that can now be gleaned from the new-and-improved Kinect and user profiles – ages, buying habits, whether the Xbox One is located in a central or private area (given the number of regular observers) – it’s good to know that Microsoft is drawing the line somewhere. The company didn’t exactly earn consumer confidence with their restrictive and unapologetic DRM policies, so muscling in on a player’s enjoyment in the name of advertising won’t seem out of the question for the system’s biggest detractors.
For now though, it seems that those entrusted with designing the Xbox One’s advertising strategy from the ground up have their heads in the right place (or are saying all the right things). It’s hard to believe that the growing disdain for their own customers exemplified by several social games won’t influence the bigger players in some way. But then, consumers consume, so motivating users to buy a product doesn’t have to be a nuisance – not according to the development team, anyway:
“I’m always after very simple user journey so if someone forces me to introduce another step in the way, I will be fighting against it. Because technology is one thing that allows us to do lots of amazing stuff but sometimes people forget about that the technology is only the catalyst. If I have to use this technology I will use it because it adds something to the journey and the user experience, but just for the sake of using it I think it might be confusing for the user.”
“It’s going to be an exciting transition though because the 360 console wasn’t built with advertising in mind, it was more of an afterthought, so we’ve had to adapt to the technology and how we work to fit them in to the console. Whereas this new one is going to have advertising in mind. So a lot of the limitations that we have now, hopefully the release of the boundaries will widened so the opportunities will be a lot greater.”
Although hardware and processing power is usually where the battle between console makers takes place, this generation is starting out a little differently. Microsoft is putting their emphasis not on the hardware but the overall experience, rewarding sociable players and punishing the most offensive. That’s no guarantee that the company will truly avoid annoying or abusing users at every turn, but it’s certainly a promising direction.
Do you believe that both console makers will realize that annoying gamers isn’t an effective strategy for selling products? Would advertising being integrated into games – not unlike product placement in film or TV – make them less annoying, or more so? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.