Xbox chief calls for more casual games

Robbie Bach, Microsoft Corp.'s chief Xbox officer, loves to talk about gaming, but not yet about the new Xbox game console that Microsoft is slated to unveil on May 12.

Bach spoke to an audience of Silicon Valley businesspeople at an event organized by the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, California, on Wednesday. He would not discuss any of the features of the new Xbox, not until after it is shown to consumers first on MTV next month, as opposed to the usual launch event for media and industry insiders.

"This is the first time the industry is saying: 'Hey we want consumers to see this first,'" Bach said. "We think that is an important milestone for Xbox. It is recognition of this as a broad consumer market."

Part of what changed the game console market from a toy business to a consumer electronics business is the growing group of gamers, Bach said. Gamers used to be, on average, 12 years old. "The average age of the gamer now is 28," Bach said.

Bach did offer a glimpse of what's coming beyond the next Xbox. He sees a future with more games that don't take a long time to master. "If you want to be good at some of the games ... you have to practice, you have to work at it. What we need is more experiences that are casual fun," Bach said.

Also, software, instead of hardware, will drive advancements in console gaming, Bach said when asked about plans for a third-generation Xbox console.

"Sure there will be a next generation at some point, but you will also see innovation happen along the way more and more frequently because [of] software ... without requiring shifts on the hardware side," he said. An example is Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service, Bach said.

The Microsoft senior vice president and Xbox chief gave a rundown of success stories: Xbox sales beat Sony Corp. PlayStation 2 sales in the U.S. in a recent quarter, Microsoft sold US$125 million worth of Halo 2 games in the U.S. in one day and Xbox Live users have played Halo 2 for over 200 million hours.

"When we talk about some of the numbers, it makes you worry about productivity in America," Bach quipped. In his household he restricts gaming. "My kids don't get to play during the week. That is just the rule of the house," he said.

Microsoft's new Xbox is one of three new consoles expected on the market in the next year. Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. is planning to show its next generation PlayStation console next month at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which starts May 17 in Los Angeles. Nintendo Co. Ltd. is also developing a new console.

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