At the recent E3 Expo, Xbox fans eagerly anticipated news around their favorite gaming console. Expected announcements ranged from the unveiling of a new motion-control system to the release of several hot new games including "Halo 3: ODST." While each of these is a big deal for the gaming community, it was another announcement that might result in a "game over" message to the competition and a significant shift in the impact of gaming and in-game marketing.
Move over "Beatles: Rock Band." Step aside "Max Payne 3." Look out "Resident Evil 5." Twitter and Facebook are coming to Xbox. That's right, the people of Xbox 360 announced they are integrating these leading social networks to Xbox Live, the company's online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service.
When pitted against the likes of a motion-control system, Twitter and Facebook are fighting an uphill battle for buzz. From what I can see the news that these social-networking giants are coming to Xbox has been met with virtual silence. But if you take a few minutes to glance over the official company statements concerning these integrations you will quickly discover why this move is one of pure genius. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Microsoft might have just have just announced what could be the real deathblow to the competition.
"By bringing Twitter, Facebook and Last.fm to Xbox 360, we're not only extending the walls of your living room beyond your home to your friends all over the world, we're creating the definitive social network, uniting more than 300 million people to share thoughts on music, play games and tweet."
By incorporating these social-networking tools into their gaming device, Microsoft is uniting a passionate community that comprises hundreds of millions of people and, in large part, revolves around its brand. Just think about all the possibilities this creates.
First Microsoft's Xbox team will be able to more efficiently interact with their audience, alerting them to new games and features, unveiling unknown secrets and hints and rolling out the red carpet to upcoming gaming events, all directly to the gamer's couch. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
More interesting is the ability for Xbox gamers to easily and effectively communicate with friends (both gamers and non-gamers), advocating both the Xbox gaming platform and new games via Facebook mini-feeds and Twitter. The new Xbox additions will allow gamers to easily comment on games they're actively playing and share in-game screen shots with ease.
Now thousands of new messages and game images will enter these services daily and in doing so will forever change the way games are marketed. But how will it affect the in-game advertising market when the likelihood of in-game ads get more and more media exposure, thanks to these shared screenshots? These ads are going to become a hotter weapon.
Even the most dedicated gamers have interests and passions outside of the games, and Microsoft has made strides toward establishing the Xbox as the definitive media hub of your home. That's where services such as Last.fm come into play. Now gamers can turn their Xbox into a music center that has access to millions of songs that can be streamed through their device, which undoubtedly is connected the best speakers in the house. Another soon-to-be-released feature includes the ability to watch movies as a group via Xbox Live and communicate via microphone and your avatars. Combine this with the recent addition of a Netflix movie-streaming service and you have one very powerful device that is finally leveraging the power of a social, tech-savvy community.
Frankly, I'm sick of talking about social media. I've had a long-standing view that eventually everything online would have social functionality and that it would become a commodity function of the web. For me, this is a clear indication of how much I may have underestimated how far this could go. As more and more electronic devices become internet enabled and the concept of sharing our lives via the social web becomes more commonplace, how many other devices in the near future will take on similar functionality to what Xbox is pioneering? For example, adding this functionality to a DVR could change the broadcast or movie industry profoundly as it would allow them to use social media far more effectively as a marketing channel.
I was hoping that I wouldn't be talking about social media in the next couple of years, but as this evolves from device to device maybe this is not the end but just the beginning. Stay tuned.
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Freddie Laker is the director of digital strategy at Sapient. He has also founded the Society of Digital Agencies, a collective of notable digital agencies focused on thought leadership and positive industry change, and blogs at takemetoyourleader.com.