Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Xbox Launch Day

I have yet to read anything that makes me want to run out and buy an Xbox 360 this afternoon--not that I could get my hands on one if I tried--but these two Washington Post stories make me wish that newspaper reporters could do a more respectable job of covering the video game industry.

In the first piece, in the Post's Business section, the reporters write a ludicrous appraisal of the Xbox 360's prospects as a multi-media hub. No doubt some people will use the new gaming system as a media extender, but surely the vast, vast majority of buyers will use the Xbox . . . to play games.

In fact, the Post reporters admit as much in their story's sixth graph:
Microsoft's vision has skeptics. Paul Saffo, director of Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think tank, said the Xbox 360's non-gaming features "make nice ad copy" but doubts that owners will use all the extras. It remains, he said, a video game machine.

No doubt that Saffo is right. Here's what bothers me: Do the editors at the Post feel as though they need to puff the Xbox up into something it isn't to justify the D-1 story? They shouldn't. Gaming is a big enough business that the story of the new Xbox launch should be newsworthy in its right, without the need to buy into futurist fantasies.

The other story, on the front page of the Style section is even more breathless. It's a profile of the Xbox "box" designer, Jonathan Hayes. And it begins with this off-the-shelf hyperbole:
There's something a little off here: The designer of the Microsoft Xbox 360 -- the video-game console landing in a place of honor right next to the television in millions of living rooms starting today -- doesn't play video games.

Except that Microsoft's goal is to sell only 3 million units in the next 90 days. The Xbox 360 isn't going into "millions" of homes today. Or tomorrow. Or over the weekend.

Which leads us to the third bit of puffery in the Post: In the Business section story we have a passage included which is meant to push readers over to the Hayes profile in the Style section. Here's the line:
To keep the device from being banished to the basement or the kids' room, Allard's team has spent almost as much time worrying over the appearance of the new Xbox as about the technology inside the console.

I don't mean to be nit-picky--none of this is important in the grand scheme of things--but this just can't be true. Do you think Microsoft spent "almost as much time" worrying about the cosmetics of their system as they did the technology inside? Really? If they did, it means that Sony has already won the console war and Bill Gates should have everyone on Team Xbox garroted in their sleep.


Bill Walsh said...

You're totally right that the gaming business is at least as worth of coverage as, say, the movie business, not least because the former is often credited for the fading revenues of the latter.

Videogames are still seen as pretty low-rent and nerdy (not entirely without reason), and I suspect it'll be easily as long before newspapers cover them even as well as they do the computer industry (which they were similarly slow to understand and remain hit-or-miss in their coverage).

Anonymous said...

What do you think "starting today" means? It doesn't mean "starting and ending today". And it doesn't mean "starting today and ending tomorrow". And it doesn't mean "starting today and ending next week." It means "in an undefined period of time beginning today".

Sheesh. If you are going to pick nits, at least pick them correctly. Because it's mighty annoying when you pick nits and you are wrong.

Anonymous said...

I don't spend a lot of time playing video games -- I never did finish Mario 64 -- but you're absolutely right that newspapers should have better coverage of video games, both as a business and as entertainment. By some measures, Americans spend more money on video games than movies, yet I can't turn to the Post, or really any major daily, for reviews of Jade Empire or previews of the NCAA version of MVP Baseball for 2006.

But your final point is silly. Of course Microsoft spent a huge amount of concern on the shape of the box. For one thing, the shape of the box greatly affects the performance of the processor. You can have a tiny box, but that means a hot machine with limited space and loud cooling fans. You can have a huge box, and place no limits on what goes inside, and have it all cooled with passive airflows, but then nobody outside of the United States will buy the thing. Which is pretty much the product history of Xbox. Great game platform; consistently better graphics and memory performance that PS2. But Microsoft got creamed outside of North America, especially Japan, where people refused to put a Hummeresque giant black box on their shelves.

The design of the box is not an arbitrary aesthetic concern. It's an integral part of the technical design of the device and it plays a hugely important role in determining whether the product sells.

Anonymous said...

I've never paid much attention to computer games, but can almost guarentee that Microsoft will NEVER be the best in anything. They're sort of like GM...big, still sell more than anything else, but appear to have no real thinkers nor any ability to do anything state-of-the-art without purchasing it from someone else. Of course, following the purchase, progress stops.

Wulf said...

Do gamers even read the papers? The gamers I hang out with don't. Their news definitely comes from non-print sources. I would be pretty surprised to see any print paper catering to the gamers of the world.

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