Media outlets across the nation have found all sorts of interesting things to say about the rollout of Microsoft’s new gaming system, the Xbox 360. But amidst the flurry of coverage, a report from National Public Radio yesterday stood out.
“For many people, game consoles bring to mind teen-age boys with agile thumbs and dreams of shooting aliens,” reported Laura Sydell on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “Yes, those boys are going to love the Xbox 360, says Peter Moore, vice president of marketing and publishing at Microsoft, but hopefully Mom, Dad and maybe Grandma will too.”
Grandma, too? Silly us. We always assumed that grandmas were more interested in, say, knitting than playing Grand Theft Auto. Fortunately, NPR scored an interview with a Microsoft marketing exec to clear up that common misconception.
That wasn’t NPR’s only scoop. The radio network also managed to dig up the information (embedded deep in a corporate press release, we presume) that MTV is cross-promoting the new game system with its music video business.
And lest we remain unconvinced that we should run out and buy an Xbox 360, Sydell broadcast some unidentified voices praising its virtues (Man #3: “Feel the Experience!”). Then she talked to yet another Microsoft employee. This one happened at the time to be playing an Xbox game online. And he was having fun!
Video games are big business. The competition between the major producers is fierce. And the world’s most famous company, which until recently had very little experience selling this sort of product, has just made a huge bet on a new game. This is a story that calls for some digging and tough questions.
Instead, the NPR broadcast something that sounded like a Ginsu knife commercial.
Sydell’s fluff is all the more unforgivable given that so many other reporters were able to critically analyze the story that Microsoft’s flacks were feeding them. USA Today, for instance, explained that not every heavily hyped game system is able to rack up high scores in the market place. “Remember the Sega Dreamcast?” noted writer Byron Acohido. “It was hyped in late 1999 as breakthrough technology. But Sony cagily spread the word that it was developing a superior console. The PlayStation 2 hit store shelves a year later, obliterating the Dreamcast and forcing Sega out of the console business. … Hoping to repeat history, the Japanese electronics maker has spread the word that PlayStation 3, due next summer, will feature advances that make the Xbox 360 look archaic.”
Meanwhile, Josh Korr at the St. Petersburg Times noted that despite all the bells and whistles, game consoles are ultimately only as good as their games. “You can tell right away that the game system is powerful,” Korr wrote. “But the next generation of games, which began with the choreographed release of the new Xbox at 12:01 a.m. today, is supposed to offer more than just pretty pictures. At this point, the 360 doesn’t.”
The Los Angeles Times added that all of the Xbox 360’s extra features significantly drove up the price of the system. This might drive off customers who don’t see the added value. “Why so expensive?” wrote Pete Metzger. “Simply put, the Xbox 360 gives us a bunch of features that you don’t need on a game system if you already have a personal computer.”
The Wall Street Journal took a broader view, looking at the circumstances under which Microsoft was originally lured into the hardware business. The launch of the Xbox 360 “underscores the growing strategic importance to the software giant of getting easy-to-use hardware into the hands of consumers,” reported Robert A. Guth. “At the least, the foray represents a broadening of Microsoft’s three-decades-old business model. The company became an industry giant by supplying its software to computer makers and letting them handle the messy details of manufacturing. But its growing interest in making its own hardware reflects its eagerness to offer consumers new gadgets that smoothly integrate hardware, software and services.”