A new status report on the current business and marketing trends of Microsoft involving their entertainment line has been called into question, ultimately leaving readers to ponder on whether Microsoft's next great gaming venture will be aimed at the casuals or the cores?
GameIndustry.biz International writes the lengthy piece about the history of Microsoft's rise in the mainstream interactive entertainment industry, to their current bittersweet relationship with core gamers over the focus of the company's entertainment related priorities.
While the Kinect has seen massive success for Microsoft, and Xbox Live continues to turn a profit, the biggest issue is the focus of these services, which many feel vie more towards casuals than core gamers. However, as was the case with the 95 million Wii units sold, the casual market is an enormous honey pot and Microsoft wants to cash in on it...and in some ways, they have.
The recent complaints about the company though is that other than Halo and Forza Motorsport, they haven't really been putting effort into maintaining an exclusive presence with core gamers. And while this may ring true, from a business perspective Microsoft's real focus is on that casual market honey pot.
Now while it's true that casual gamers make up for a larger part of the entertainment market, and contribute billions to social, casual and family oriented gaming, it's usually the core market that drive first sales. For instance, it obviously wasn't casuals who made Mortal Kombat a household name, and it wasn't the casuals who helped turn the Xbox brand and the PlayStation brand into a well known rivalry. It also wasn't the casuals who put icons such as Marcus Fenix and Master Chief on the board of popularity. It started with the core audience. However, Microsoft has moved away from that audience slowly due to lacking sustainability.
This puts gamers and Microsoft in a very unique predicament because we all know the next Xbox console will at least be unveiled next year, but the real question is: will it start off as a core or casual machine? Will its focus be on catering to the mainstream market or winning over the core market?
Most casuals aren't keen on laying down hundreds of dollars for new gaming hardware on brand name alone...usually there needs to be a hook or gimmick. And while it's already guaranteed that Kinect 2.0 will be a prominent feature of the next console, it all depends on how it will be utilized, especially given that the current Kinect is entirely centered around casual gaming, such as Star Wars Kinect. There's also the off-beat action title from Capcom, Steel Battaltion: Heavy Armor, but mid-grade games like that are not console-movers.
I think it will be very interesting to see how Microsoft approaches their entry into their third console cycle. We know already that Nintendo has made it clear that they will be focusing on the core market with the launch of the Wii U, and I'm betting they're hoping that casuals will latch on. However, with Microsoft, it's unclear if they'll be heading into the next-generation with hardware and software aimed at casuals, or a blockbuster line-up of media entertainment centered around the core audience?