Microsoft opens up Xbox 360 to casual gaming even more with new online service

game developers conferenceMicrosoft’s announcement today that it is starting a new online service for the Xbox 360 to showcase games made by independent developers was met with three cheers for the developers, ho-hum for everybody else.

I’m not so sure about that.

The so-called experts believe that Microsoft opening up the Xbox 360 to more casual gaming will have a greater impact on game development and distribution than to mass-market consumers, who are not inclined to buy expensive, powerful consoles like the Xbox 360 or Sony’s PlayStation 3 just to play Taxi Gone Wild, Dress Shop Hop, and Speed Racer.

“This would appeal to the more independent developers, people who want to break into the market, and get them started on the Xbox,” Colin Sebastian, an analyst for Lazard Capital Markets, told the Associated Press. “It makes the development and distribution of video games more accessible.”

Sebastian doesn’t think the Xbox download service, announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, will appeal to mass-market consumers.

Why is that?

  • Microsoft wouldn’t want to spoil the hard-core gaming appeal of the Xbox 360 by attracting casual gamers to the platform?
  • The Xbox 360 is overkill for casual gaming?
  • Nintendo owns the casual-game market with the Wii?
  • Casual gaming is more conducive to the Web with destinations such as Yahoo! Games?

xbox 360Maybe.

But it seems to me that the Xbox 360 is a perfect platform for hard-core and casual gaming (together an $18 billion industry) because it’s more than just a gaming console now. Like the PlayStation 3, AppleTV, and TiVo, the Xbox 360 is being positioned as a set-top box that’s an entertainment hub for the living room.

Think about it. The Xbox 360 already offers on-demand video content through the Xbox Live Video Store. Both standard definition and high definition television programs (to own) and movies (to rent) are available from major studios including Paramount Pictures, CBS, MTV Networks, NBC, Warner Bros., Lionsgate Films, ABC Television, MGM, and Walt Disney Pictures. It plays games, whereas the AppleTV and TiVo do not.

Rumors also persist that Netflix, the Internet-based movie rental service, is also coming to the Xbox 360 (and rival PlayStation 3) any day now.

So why not add casual gaming to the mix? Maybe it’s enough to convince Mom that the Xbox 360 isn’t so much a hard-core gaming console as it is the heart and soul of the family’s entertainment hub, offering something for everybody.

Even — gasp — casual games.

For more news from the Game Developers Conference, see CNET, Gamespot and Gamasutra.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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