Microsoft can put a Holodeck in your living room, they just don’t know it yet.
Like Smartphones and iPads, the Xbox 360 is a personal product. It is loved by tens of millions of people of all ages who spend countless hours enjoying it. They have a deep sense of ownership and loyalty to the brand. It has become a large part of life for over 70 million families.
Microsoft using Windows 8 could expand the high emotions and success of the 360. Parley them into PC and Tablet sales with integrated features and strategy between platforms, like Apple has been very successful at, but they blew it.
The Xbox One is one of the worst product announcements in recent gaming history. It was packed with features to make a marketing executive drool, and a gamer run to the competition.
The console and Xbox Live service are the only two properties left that Microsoft has any real customer value. Everyone I know does not like Windows 8, RT or Phone.
They should do what works: copy Apple. Use the Cloud to make Xbox One and content fully integrated across Windows devices. Focus on each platform as access points to the same content in the Cloud, providing high value to the customer in every form factor. Then they will have a reason to buy Windows Devices. Harness the success of competitors who beat you in the Smartphone market by selling games and content on mobile Xbox Dashboards across iPhone and Andriod devices.
Microsoft can change its fate by making a bold move to save the Xbox One and beat Sony. An opportunity that can directly lead to increased hardware and Win 8 sales.
Acquire Oculus Rift (for the right reason)
Oculus Rift Virtual Reality is the cutting edge platform that has really swept the gamer community up like no other product in recent memory. To be honest, I wonder if I am the only one who noticed but it is missing something important for real immersion: data about your body and spacial topography of the room around you. The Rift is blind.
The current device has accelerometers which can only provide head tracking. Fine for simple mapping head movement of the gamer to the virtual character on screen. This indeed, turns out to be perfect for putting the gamer into their Avatar, but I believe it can do so much more.
The Rift is really the first step in game immersion in its current state. Now that, I am my avatar, It is a natural feeling to want to see my body and have my movements appear in game. My contention is the true power of the Rift is untapped.
Consider how much more fun the Rift would be if instead of using a controller to play while wearing it, you’re holding a real sword, and see in game, your arm and body as you swing it in real time. Walk forward and Back in your living room and your avatar does the same. Even a rifle with trigger and reloading, fully digitized in game along with your body. Whatever you do, the game does. Then the Rift is really immersive. Then you are really in your Avatar. You need to perform movement like a real soldier to win: ducking, strafing, reloading and firing. A Knight when using a sword and shield. Achieve a truly next-gen experience by blurring the division between the game, the controller and the room the gamer is in. Our own personal Holodeck and Microsoft is in the best position to do just that.
The biggest challenge with Virtual Reality (VR) is movement. The holy grail in gaming is to have high definition head tracking VR headset that lets you walk in real time and register in game. Classically, the problem from an engineering perspective is this is very hard to do, and if you get it wrong people can get hurt and property damaged easily.
Most solutions include a large apparatus in one form or another to keep the user stationary as they move. These are expensive, far from plug-and-play and break over time. It is much better to have no extra hardware or constraints and instead sense the gamer and room in real-time. This requires fast scanning at high resolution of a wide area. This is where the Microsoft Kinect sensor shines.
The Kinect, on the other hand has the problem of being an amazing high fidelity sensor but only providing a one dimensional lame gaming experience that can’t compare with the famous anti-privacy lurker reputation it has achieved. Outside of the hacker community –and real applications they use it for– the Kinect and games for the Xbox are baby toys and a big part of the reason gamers are mad they are forced to pay another $100 for the XBone when they don’t want it. There is a way to fix this…
Your chocolate in my peanut butter
By adding Kinect data to the Rift display, you can not only see your body when you look down or raise your arm into view, but your couch and other furniture can become rocks and other obstacles in your virtual world. The Kinect sensor can provide the real-time spacial data and the Rift can render this any way the designers imagine.
Your room and body can be digitized into the game and together create a true next generation, immersive, 3D gaming experience. leap-frog over Sony. Turn any room in your house into a Holodeck straight out of Star Trek. You can walk around and have the real things in the room appear as virtual things (even skinned) in your game while still being in actual space. The game will understand where you shouldn’t walk and make those places walls or areas in the game you can not go. So, theoretically you can walk around your room and be walking in game without hitting anything.
I’ll admit this seems a little lofty. There are problems to solve, but they are worth it. Imagine all the accessories companies can make to work in the Holodeck? But even at a base level, using the room’s topological layout and contents as data points can also be used by the Rift for intelligent interaction with the player if they are simply immersed in a standard Rift game and decide to move in the room.
The game can pause and switch to a real view of the room, corrected for your orientation. Better yet, leave the game running and simply warn the user if they are close to real world objects by possibly presenting a highlight in that direction on screen showing the obstacle (Left for Dead outlines come to mind) that becomes increasingly brighter as the user gets closer. Even an audio warning.
Kinect+Rift love has other practical applications like people who walk in the room while you are totally into a Rift game, they will have a hard time getting your attention other than actually touching you. I can’t see that being fun for the gamer.
Instead, the Kinect can see the person walk in and they can become digitized and appear in your game to simply communicate with you or create an entertainment experience. Maybe even a hand signal will pause your game and switch to live video of the room.
New possibilities for sales if the platform architecture will have the ability to use more than one Kinect system with each console for even higher fidelity gaming. Things like this can drive the market and people will go from hating the Kinect, to empty shelves. Release an API and dev kits, be open for feedback for the community, appreciate the customer and gamer. I can’t see how Microsoft would lose if they were focused on the product and what the customer really wants.
Ram features we don’t want as mandatory for kiddy games and watching TV, then I and many have to think Microsoft does not care about the platform for real gamers anymore.
Sell an affordable Rift and Kinect bundle with all cables required for use with both Xbox and Win 8. Includes coupon for money off purchase of next version and stickers. Things like this can help future sales and brand loyalty.
Go to the Moon. If you build it, they will come
Gamers and developers will run out and by PCs running Windows 8 and Xbox One systems tomorrow. They will work around the bad features just to get the next gaming experience. They will stand in line for days if they can purchase a Windows exclusive Rift+Kinect set that works on both Xbox and PC/Tablets with true plug and play for an affordable price.
I am taking liberty here, but I think this would be the best shot Microsoft has at a possibility to be the next Apple overnight. The Kinect here is the key, it is the better sensor perfectly made as the missing piece for the Rift. But alone it is just seen mostly as a $100 part we don’t want for kids under ten.
Full Integration: the Cloud is either the real answer or don’t talk about it
This is the 21st Century, don’t boast about Cloud services and then fall short of real value to the customer.
If I am an Xbox Gold Member and I have a PC running Win 8 with enough specs to run games, even better than Xbox, I should have full access to all my Xbox games from the cloud and the ability to play them on my PC, Tablet or Smartphone as a feature part of my membership.
My brother can be using the Xbox, I can jump on the family computer and play my brother in real time. I should only have to download and install free software which will be a special version of a a virtual machine or the same type of easy to use service similar to the current developer toolchain used on PCs when developing for the Xbox today.
There is no reason this can’t be packaged up and made to work on end user PCs and emulate an Xbox dashboard on the PC. Give me a break people, this should be obvious. Microsoft should have the advantage with the best gaming console and Windows OS. So far they squandered it and made it painful as possible.
I have to buy a full version of every game I want to play on the PC regardless if I own it on Xbox. I have to buy a special version of the Xbox controller to work with PC and fumble with drivers and configuration. I have to deal with setting up each game including networking and game matching. Games that do not run on the console will still be full installs that require special considerations. That doesn’t change. But Xbox games, there is no reason they can’t run on my PC if it is fast enough. Give me access to that content and I will buy a PC and Tablet running Windows 8 tomorrow.
All of this Xbox is the best at doing, why isn’t the Xbox Dashboard and lessons learned about gaming rolled back into he PC as a flagship app??? Microsoft is asleep. Seriously. With an integrated Dashboard marketplace, they can be selling games and add-ons via every platform. Windows phone a failure, fine we will make apps to run on the popular phones and up-sell our consoles, PCs and games through our competitor’s successful penetration. Use our adversaries gains as to our benefit.
Windows/Xbox experience should be the best in the industry as they have full access to integrate with Windows 8, they own the OS! If there still is technical challenges, solve them. If this is just a fabricated firewall for the sake of marketing and selling more games, it is a dumb one. Once I purchase an Xbox system and a Windows 8 License, get out of the way and let me access my content. Your job as a company is to provide the best products and services around the content. Get out of the way, give the end user freedom to use the content they bought the way they want.
Xbox Dashboard on my console, my PC, my Desktop, my Tablet and my iPhone and Andriod. MS can sell games/add-ons on every platform. They are leaving piles of money on the table.
Once I purchase an Xbox and Gold Membership level (even $100 Gold membership) I should have full access to my games and content from any MS system. Games are sold as a licenses either by disk or downloaded from the cloud. Push this content to iPhone and Andriod devices and you are now in the bonus round.
New game came out and I am at work? I can just use my nifty Xbox dashboard on my phone (any phone) to purchase it and have it downloaded to my system at home without even being there. Make it cheaper for Cloud purchases and you will drive innovation faster. Look at the iTunes model. Steve was right; $0.99 per song is the right price point and grow, if not explode the industry more than they could have every imagined selling CDs alone.
I can buy a movie and watch it on all my Apple products just by connect to the cloud and accessing my account. Where is Microsoft?? There are many possibilities when you consider tying all these devices/form factors and processing power together into one giant gamer Lovejoy.
Instant Game Releases
The Dashboard on console and PC should have a special section devoted to hosting live major game releases. Users log in to their Dashboard on the console or PC and can instantly download games the moment they come out. Even maybe before hand and they all unlock at midnight like Diablo III did to some success.
This will up-sell PCs and laptops, I will buy a console and upgrade my pc. Not only will this help hardware sales, it will help you sell Windows 8. It will hit all key brand value points. Giving the customer the most options and real reasons to buy Windows related products.
With the Cloud Microsoft is touting, it is shameful not to.
- Full Data integration between the Rift and Kinect. Rock solid plug and play for both Xbox and Windows 8.
- Publish a well documented API for developers, with working examples.
- Streamlined developer process to create, publish and sell applications they design for Xbox and Windows platforms using the Rift+Kinect bundle.
- Free to download with membership, Xbox VM for PC. Dashboard and games on PC and Tablet. Pay once, play on all devices the game can run on.
- Cross platform Live service. PC users can play Console and Tablet users. Each game license allows for play on up to 3 devices simultaneously as family membership Gold level.
- Instant Game Releases (no more late night lines)
Treat your loyal customers with respect and show thanks for selecting the Microsoft brand. Show us why we should stay loyal.
Give back to the community, make them a part of what you are building for them instead of at them. Hire great talent and respect them. Give loyal customers prime access and pricing. This will reward people who deserve it most and provide an incentive to make new sales and keep customers/developers who may want to leave.
I don’t say all this as a bystander. I had an Xbox on the first day of launch. I was there the moment Xbox Live went “Live”. I purchased a number of Xbox systems over the years for personal use as well as gifts and even replacements. I have stood by through the red-ring-of-death in the middle of my epic battle. I ignored the number of ads in my dashboard even though I pay a $60 a year fee. I still would continue to buy Xbox systems. But after the Xbone launch and the terrible feature list and lack of respect for their core gamer community, it was too much.
There is no guarantee they will not go back on their word and enable the mandatory features they originally wanted at a later date. I will sail ship to the other side and buy a PS4 from Sony before purchasing the phallic of console MS is currently selling.