First thing was to compete on price, so in September ‘08 we saw major price cuts for the 360; next came the launch of NXE, with the friendlier dashboard and the introduction of Avatars. What a fuss that caused across the forums – Avatars were either the next big thing or an evil attempt to copy Nintendo. Well the launch came and went and three months later, after proving their support for Avatars with regular outfit updates, the fuss seems to have disappeared and pretty much everyone has bought into their miniature look-alikes.
Now for the third and key element – using their price advantage. This was always going to be the hardest part, there is no point being the cheapest if Joe Public doesn’t want to play your games. The key was to aim games at the whole family. The 360 already had some of these games on the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA), notably Bomberman Live, Boom Boom Rocket, Feeding Frenzy, Luxor 2, UNO and Pac Man CE. The problem being, you don’t get to know about these games until you are on Xbox Live or someone recommends them to you. Not the best marketing in the world!
Luckily for MS, Harmonix gave them a helping hand by making a little game called Rock Band and making it timed exclusive for the 360. Quick to make sure they added some of their own titles to the casual gaming list they released Scene It Box Office Smash, Lips and You’re in the Movies in time for the Christmas rush. EA also released Monopoly. Unfortunately the sales of all these games were sluggish at launch to say the least; it looked like the MS assault on the casual market had failed and there were many pundits out there willing to proclaim it so.
MS had one more card up their sleeve or, should I say, one fat wallet. Pre-Christmas, MS launched the largest advertising campaign in gaming history and the public took the bait. Consoles were flying off the shelves in record numbers and their casual games started to sell well too. These sales have continued well into the New Year and all the games are still selling well today. This is undoubtedly helped by the fact that the games have been bolstered by downloadable content, unlike earlier efforts at breaking into the casual market (the original Scene It comes to mind).
The buyers of Xbox 360s over the last three months have helped change the demographic of the Xbox owner, and casual games are selling accordingly. The current crop of casual XBLA games, notably A Kingdom for Keflings, Funtown Mahjong and The Maw, are all selling well.
MS have made a conscious point of using XBLA to push casual games. Already we have had the release announcement of the ultra addictive Peggle. Plus probably the most exciting move, the announcement of The Hasbro Family Game Channel on XBLA. This will be a one stop shop where you have a virtual games cupboard and your host Mr Potato Head guides you to your favourite Hasbro games, including Scrabble, Boggle, Battleship, Yahtzee, Connect Four and Sorry, with more classic games to follow later in the year.
The one area that is relatively untapped and unknown right now is the Xbox Live Community Games Channel (XBLCG). I highly recommend that you download the demos of Blow, CaveIn-Miner Rescue Team, Classicard, Hexothermic, Lady Bird Galaxy, Poker Squares and Word Soup. Right now XBLCG doesn’t get much publicity, but I think you will find that over the next couple of years there will be a large number of very good Community Games and it will become a very important part of the MS push for the casual gamer.
So, has Xbox cracked the casual market? Well in my opinion not yet, but with MS’ clear appetite to continue the assault, it can only be a matter of time before the answer is yes.
Now if Rare would get off their hands and announce the heavily rumoured motion controller, MS could be set to challenge Nintendo in the casual market even sooner. A 360 Fit would be nice too! (Note: look out for more on this topic…)
As for those of you reading this that already play casual games on your Xbox, congratulations on being ahead of the game. You have plenty more to look forward to.