Saturday, 26 July 2008

Blu-Ray On Xbox? No Way

Give up any hopes you might have had about adding a Blu-Ray player to your Xbox 360. Shane Kim, vice president of strategy and business development for Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment business, tells me that the company has "no interest" in adding Blu-Ray functionality to its console, opting instead to focus on digital distribution.
"I can categorically say that we're not working on a Blu-Ray player for Xbox 360," says Kim. "To my knowledge, we don't have any intent to do that."
Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) made a losing bet in the high-definition DVD wars, publicly endorsing HD-DVD and marketing a pricey peripheral that would play the format on the 360. The gaming world has been rife with speculation that Microsoft would eventually create a similar device that would allow owners to watch Blu-Ray films on their Xbox 360s.
Kim, though, says the company is more interested in pursuing digital distribution as a method for building its non-gaming audience. Microsoft backed up those claims Monday, unveiling a partnership with Netflix (nasdaq: NFLX - news - people ), allowing Xbox Live subscribers the ability to stream up to 10,000 movies and television shows directly through their Xbox 360 starting this fall. (See: Microsoft Goes For Movies.)
Microsoft also announced plans to launch programmed multiplayer gaming events for the mass audience Monday. Dubbed "Xbox Live Primetime," the program (also set to launch this fall) is a clear shot across the bow of television networks, which are already facing declining viewership numbers.
"We are in the entertainment business," says Kim. "Many of our partners are the major networks and entertainment studios ... Being in the entertainment business, you partner with people and you may compete with those people as well."
The first game in "Xbox Live Primetime" will be an online version of "1 vs. 100". The company says players will have the chance to compete for "real world" prizes, rather than virtual ones (such as trophies or gamer points) but declines to provide any more details at this point. Kim said Microsoft has also not yet determined if Xbox Live Silver subscribers (who do not pay the $50 annual fee that other subscribers do) will be allowed to participate in "Primetime" games.
To underscore its digital distribution strategy, Kim says that Microsoft will have downloadable holiday goodies available exclusively on the Xbox--and the company hopes to lead the list with fresh material developed by the Rockstar Studios team at Take-Two Interactive Software (nasdaq: TTWO - news - people ). That seems like an excessively optimistic schedule: Rockstar only began working on the content after "Grand Theft Auto IV" shipped in late April. And the company's exacting standards ensure they won't ship it until they are satisfied with the quality. Even so, Kim was upbeat: "Of course, it's up to Take-Two ultimately, but our hope is it's going to release later this year," he adds. Another game unlikely to see release this year is the long-in-development "Alan Wake." Made by Remedy Entertainment, the company behind the successful "Max Payne" franchise, "Alan Wake" is eagerly awaited by core gamers, who were disappointed by its lack of mention at Microsoft's press conference.
Kim says the title is alive and well, but noted "we wanted to show games that would be coming out this year" at the press conference.
There's no real rush on either the "GTA" content or "Alan Wake," though, in the long run. Kim says he expects the life cycle of this round of consoles to have "long, long legs," lasting much longer than previous videogame machines. It's a view many industry observers agree with. Few expect to even hear the words "next generation" for at least another two years.
What will that next gen be, though? A system brimming with cutting-edge technological and graphical enhancements--or one that's radically different than anything Microsoft has tried before?
Kim offers a third alternative: "There's just as likely to be a case that the next generation will be about software and services," Kim says। "And if that's the case, we are very strongly positioned for that."
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Nasser Hajloo
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