Microsoft said it will define a new future for entertainment as it is set to unveil a new user interface for Xbox Live users complete with animated avatars, online parties, user-generated games and a market where games and movies can be bought alongside high-definition (HD) movies and TV shows.
The new interface will launch worldwide on 19 November, and is aimed at bringing Microsoft closer to its objective of being the operating system of choice for digital home entertainment, where games, music, favourite TV shows and HD movies can be bought and managed from the one place.
To promote the new Experience user interface, Microsoft will be giving free games with each console purchased. For example, the Xbox 360 Arcade entry-level console will come with six free games including Sega Superstars Tennis and five Xbox Live arcade games.
The standard Xbox 360 console and Elite will come free with Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures and Kung Fu Panda.
The new Experience interface will allow Xbox 360 users to create a virtual party on their TV with up to seven friends, comprising chat, real-time game play and other entertainment.
It also comes with a new, customisable, animated avatar that users can personalise. So far users have created 14 million avatars to illustrate their gaming personality.
In terms of on-demand entertainment, Xbox 360 now has more than 12,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix, as well as HD content from Constantin, Disney, MGM, NBC Universal and Warner Bros.
Also, for the first time in the history of console gaming, thousands of games developed by the creative community will be available to the public.
The Community Games channel on Xbox Live will include games made by students, hobbyists and ordinary people all around the world.
“Our industry is defining the future of entertainment,” said John Schappert, corporate vice-president of Interactive Entertainment, Live, Software and Studios, while at the Tokyo Game Show 2008.
“When the new Xbox Experience launches in just six weeks, we will be inviting the whole world to play. We will also have the games that everyone will want, including all-new social experiences like Lips, Scene It? Box Office Smash and You’re In the Movies, all launching this holiday, all exclusively on Xbox 360,” Schappert said.
“However, the heady days of Halo 3 and the hardcore gamer are by no means over as yesterday’s announcement at the Tokyo Game Show demonstrated. Microsoft announced the forthcoming Halo 3: Recon, a new game coming later in 2009 that is set in the Halo universe but will not star Master Chief.
Also mentioned was Halo Wars, the long-awaited strategy game from the Halo franchise set in earlier times than Master Chief’s Halo 3, which originally had a 2008 launch but has now been put back to 2009. So while fans will have to wait a bit longer, there will be plenty of Halo-related buzz in the coming year.”
By John Kennedy and Marie Boran
Pictured: Are you experienced? Microsoft says its new Experience user interface will mark a new departure in the future of entertainment