Microsoft plans mobile and PC version of Xbox Live

16 May 2006

Microsoft is planning to win the battle for hearts, pockets and eyeballs of the world’s gaming community by having an installed base of 10 million Xbox 360 users by year end, before Sony’s PlayStation 3 (PS3) and Nintendo’s ‘Wii’ products enter the fray. A senior Xbox executive told that opening up Xbox Live to internet over PCs and mobile phone users will be key to this.

The annual E3 in LA is the Mecca of the world’s gaming industry and the industry got the first viewing of the much-delayed PS3 console which has done away with the use of ‘force feedback’, opting instead for the use of a ’tilt sensor’, which moves the screen with the gamer’s physical moves and the advent of the high-definition Blu-Ray DVD standard. The PS3 is due to hit the market this Christmas after numerous delays.

The E3 show also saw the onset of Nintendo’s Wii (pronounced ‘we’) console which also deploys motion-control sensors in an innovative way. To bat a baseball you swing the controller and to play tennis you swing the Wii controller like a racket. Unlike the PS3 or Xbox 360, the Wii is not being targeted at high definition and is not due to hit the market until next year.

Microsoft, which was first to market with its next generation console Xbox 360, is maintaining sangfroid in the face of impending competition, betting its chances on being first to market and having a year-long head start, giving it a current five-million installed base and 10 million by the end of the year.

The company wowed the E3 event with numerous peripheral devices for the platform such as wireless headsets, video cameras, a high-definition DVD player and a wireless steering wheel for motorcar games. The company also demonstrated forthcoming games such as Halo 3 (due out by Christmas) and other exciting games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Gears of War.

Speaking by telephone from E3, Richard Teversham, director of Xbox Platform Marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told that the cement behind a loyal user base that Microsoft is banking is the Xbox Live internet community which he expects will have some 6 million gamers connected to the Xbox Live network this time next year.

Teversham said the company will be allowing gamers to have the ability to access the Xbox Live world (currently only accessible through the console) through their PCs. These experiences will debut with the Windows Vista operating system and the Shadowrun game later this year.

He also said the company will be allowing Xbox Live users to buy games through Windows Mobile and Java handsets. Users will be able to send messages and download games onto their consoles from their handset. They can also sample, purchase and play games such as Bejeweled, Zuma and Hexic.

“Integration” was a word Teversham repeated as he pointed to new peripherals such as a USB receiver you plug into the back of your PC so that all Xbox 360 wireless accessories can work with a PC.

“It’s all part of this ‘Live Anywhere’ vision we’re bringing to the PC and mobile. As well as organising downloads of games, users will be able to see who’s playing what and see what their friends are doing. The whole gaming environment is expanding.”

Rumours abounded at this year’s E3 that Microsoft were planning a handheld version of the Xbox 360, bringing Microsoft in closer competition with Sony’s PS3. The rumour grew out of a claim by author Dean Takahashi in his book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked that the Xbox 360 hardware team were hard at work on the new machine.

Teversham wouldn’t be drawn. He said: “Takahashi likes rumours. All I can say is let us make the Xbox 360 a successs and continue with the momentum before making any announcements about a handheld. Rumours are rife but Microsoft are looking at all the different technologies available. We won’t be making any announcements about this now or in the near future.”

Returning to the forthcoming PS3 release, Teversham maintained that Xbox 360’s edge will be in the fact that a lot of publishers will have already developed games for the Xbox platform. “We will have 160 games by the end of the year. Publishers have businesses to maintain and what’s more attractive: 20pc of a 10-million install base or the competition which will probably have 100,000 units out at launch?

“We planned to get first-mover advantage and intend to win on our installed base. At the same time all competition and innovation in the games market is good. It keeps everybody honest. All I can say is that the gamer in Ireland is going to be very happy this Christmas with all the stuff coming out,” Teversham said.

Speaking at the E3 event in LA last week was Microsoft chairman Bill Gates (pictured) who explained the move of the Xbox 360 universe towards mobile and PC. “By opening the Xbox Live entertainment network to the entire universe of Windows and mobile gamers, we’re creating unparalleled game-play opportunities that will drive incredible growth of the online community,” said Gates. “Our vision is to deliver consistent, compelling experiences that make it easy for consumers to jump in and play, from any device at any time. It’s a vision that only Microsoft can deliver.”

By John Kennedy