If you said back in 2005 that the Xbox 360 would be pushing more units than the most popular video game console of all time (PS2) did at a similar point in its life cycle most gamers would dismiss you as either misinformed or a lunatic. The 360 wasn’t supposed to win. It was competing against the PS3, which based on momentum alone should have pulverized the competition, and the Wii – a less powerful, yet more novel system that appealed to an untapped audience, namely the casual gamer. But as of this day, almost seven years after its unspectacular launch, the Xbox 360 is standing head and shoulders above the competition.
Take a look at the current statistics: $56 billion dollars in revenue from retail sales alone, 67 million units pushed and 19 million Kinect’s sold. Yes, the Wii has sold almost 30 million more units and the PS3 is only lagging behind the Xbox slightly, but while the aforementioned consoles are showing their age, the Xbox 360 is thriving. What is even more striking is that the 360 is the only console of this generation selling more units each year. How did they manage such a feat?
The answer begins and ends with the dashboard. Having undergone several makeovers in the past seven years, what started out as a simplistic hub that tracked your current achievements, friends and games has turned into a full fledged, all inclusive living room box. Remember the bladed, Windows 3.1 style dashboard the 360 launched with? Don’t be embarrassed if the answer is no, I hardly do either.
But there is a school of thought that insinuates that Microsoft sold their soul in order to gain the attention of individuals who desired a console that did more than just play games. Admittedly, the fact that the new dashboard resembles the layout of a Windows phone and regulated the Games section to what…the sixth tab over, can be regarded as a bit insulting to hardcore gamers. The plethora of menus that invade our screen as we boot up the system is overwhelming at best, and utterly disjointing at worst. But such is the sacrifice that must be made if a gaming console is to transition into a social media and entertainment hub. And while the inclusion of the somewhat maligned bing was a bit over the top for most gamers’ tastes, the new dashboard has fared well.
Then of course we have Xbox Live. Widely regarded as the quintessential example of an online gaming service done right, Xbox Live has attracted over 40 million members, and while we don’t know exactly how many of them are Gold or Silver, we do know that millions of people log on every day. And with the extended functionality of the new dashboard many users are there to do more than play games.
Along the same lines, games that are meant to be played via matchmaking services or with friends online excel on the 360. It is not uncommon for titles like Call of Duty to sell twice as many units on the 360 than the PS3. Considering the PS3’s superior graphical capabilities and the fickleness of FPS gamers in regards to hardware, this comes across as a monumental feat – all thanks to Microsoft’s superior online service. We may have scoffed at Xbox Live way back in 2003, but it appears that it was Microsoft’s plan all along to slowly evolve the service over the course of a decade, only to have it flourish once every feature was fully incorporated.
Finally we have Microsoft’s marketing campaigns, that typically come bundled with the Kinect. Although the latest $99 plus two-year membership plan was revealed by many websites to be an atrocious deal hardly worthy of the term “bargain,” most of their bundles, console options and discounted XBLA games have proved successful in bringing in new customers. They’re still no Steam, but the gap is closing.
The Xbox 360 launched as a system that played games and HD DVDs – ho hum. Considering that their first system was maligned by many problems and proved more of an experiment than a legit system, gamers were quite ambivalent about the release of another MS console. Yet as the years passed, Microsoft kept making the right moves – at least from a marketing point of view and to date they carry the most momentum of the big three. The only unfortunate aspect of the Xbox 360 faring so well is that it might delay the release of the 720. Here’s hoping that next week’s E3 answers some of our most pressing questions.