June 7, 2011

Microsoft Touts New Xbox, Kinect Updates

On Monday Microsoft premiered a treasure trove of new games and plans to make its popular Kinect motion-sensing system the core of its Xbox gaming console. The company also unveiled plans to allow Xbox users to control live television feeds, search YouTube and play video games with voice commands.

The plans, announced at a news conference ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, should help Microsoft further its goals to make the Xbox and Kinect an essential media hub in the living room, according to a Reuters report.

Microsoft is showcasing a host of new games that will be exclusive to the Xbox, including "Gears of War 3," Forza Motorsport 4," and "Halo 4." Microsoft hinted that its follow-up in the Halo franchise would be the "dawn of a new trilogy" for the blockbuster series. Its previous installment, "Halo: Reach," made more than $200 million on its first day on the market and sold 3.3 million copies in its first month last year, according to industry tracker NPD Group.

The software giant will also debut the next installment of the popular "Fable" franchise with "Fable: The Journey," a game developed with the Kinect in mind by developer Peter Molyneux. Other titles Microsoft will be showcasing are "Ryse" and "Minecraft" -- an independent PC game that has drawn in an impressive gathering. Minecraft will also be exclusive for the Xbox 360.

Analysts were initially skeptical that core gamers would migrate to the Kinect, which has attracted mostly newcomers. "The concept of playing a core game without a controller is difficult," Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Reuters. "A controller makes sense for most actions. It's awkward when you combine Kinect and a controller. But it's a start for Microsoft."

The Kinect captivated millions of consumers all over the world when it debuted in 2010, making it the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history. This year, millions of Kinect users will use their whole body to experience Kinect-based games including "Kinect: Disneyland Adventures," "Kinect Star Wars" "Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster," "Dance Central 2," and "Kinect Sports: Season Two."

Also, a new hub called Kinect Fun Labs showcasing the latest Kinect innovations was unveiled and was available to all Xbox Live members starting Monday.

Other industry leaders in development and publishing demonstrated their commitment to bring Xbox fans even closer to the action.

Ubisoft announced that all future Tom Clancy games will be Kinect-enhanced, starting with the upcoming "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier."

EA Sports announced Kinect support for several of its hit game franchises in 2012, including "Tiger Woods PGA Tour," "Madden NFL," and "FIFA." EA will also have several additional titles for use with Kinect in the coming year, including "The Sims 3 Pets," "Family Game Night 4," and powerhouse follow-up "Mass Effect 3."

"For Xbox, games have always been at the heart of who we are: the world's biggest blockbusters, enduring stories from the world's best storytellers and innovative entertainment experiences that you can't find anywhere else," said Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Studios.

"Kinect has been wildly successfully, and we want to provide experiences with it for that broad audience but also the core crowd that made Xbox what it is," Mike Delman, marketing vice president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment division, told The Associated Press. "For example, in 'Forza,' you'll be able to tilt your head to see different angles from the driver's seat."

Another announcement by the software giant was plans to bring Live TV to the Xbox 360. The feature will give users access to live programming through the Xbox in the United States sometime next year, following live TV services that are already offered in Britain, France and Australia.

Xbox users will also be able to access Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube and also be able to surf the Internet on the system, all controllable with the Kinect, Microsoft said.

Perhaps one of the biggest entertainment additions to the Xbox will be UFC. Starting this fall, Xbox Live Gold Members will be able to subscribe to UFC to access live pay-per-view matches, classic fights, interviews and behind-the-scenes bonus features.

Microsoft said Live TV would be offered by domestic and international broadcasters, but had no other details at the time of the announcement. While Live TV for Xbox 360 is offered in other countries, the service will unveiled Monday would be the first such offering for a game console in the US. Xbox 360 already has the ability to stream and download movies and shows, however.

This year's E3 runs from June 7 - 9 and will be a jumping off point for many industry leaders who are trying to keep up with the rapid growth of online and mobile gaming. The show is also expected to feature comeback attempts from two other heavyweights: Sony and Nintendo.

Sony is expected to release details on its new handheld gaming device, and Nintendo will be launching its new video game home console on Tuesday. 


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