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Circle of Light: The Concept Behind Microsoft's Killer Strategy
posted by: Chris Martin
date posted: 10:39 PM Sat Sep 24th, 2005
last revision: 03:22 AM Sun Sep 25th, 2005

Click to read.We know that Nintendo\'s strategy in the coming years revolves around its input device, the wand. But Microsoft\'s strategy, it seems, is much the deviation from changing the input. Instead, Microsoft has broadened their output, taken their online community and expanded it. With well over a million subscribers to Xbox Live, they are leaps and bounds ahead of Nintendo and Sony in online gaming. It is there, arguably, that they see their biggest draw. This is the online age, in a manner of speaking, and Microsoft is looking to capitalize. Right in the center of this strategy is their big X, the glowing circle of light. On a second glance, the circle is literally built as the hub of the Xbox 360 system and its controller. Is this important? Very. This article will attempt to reveal the purpose of the circle and its implications in regards to Microsoft\'s future strategy.

com?mu?ni?ty Audio pronunciation of \"Community\" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (k-myn-t)
n. pl. com?mu?ni?ties

  • 1.
    • a. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government.
    • b. The district or locality in which such a group lives.

  • 2.
    • a. A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community.
    • b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.

  • 3.
    • a. Similarity or identity: a community of interests.
    • b. Sharing, participation, and fellowship.

  • 4. Society as a whole; the public.

Community. It is #3 that we\'re particularly interested with. This is the idea of identity within a group, of many people sharing interests that make them identify with each other, which Microsoft is betting on. Brett Lovelady, president of Astro Studios (the company Microsoft hired to design Xbox 360) told Gamasutra.com in an interview: \"You know what - a lot of the real Xbox 360 came from the kind of circle/ring of light aspect of it, and the wireless. Even the idea that it starts with people, and no matter where you go, it comes back to you. So the completion of the circle became kind of a theme.\"

The theme of Xbox 360 is clearly community, with Microsoft banking so much effort into refining and expanding Xbox Live and their idea of wireless and connectivity. But the people, the million plus people that subscribe to Live, make it possible. The idea of online console games tickled gamers, and more and more gamers have joined in after they saw that it was good. As Lovelady so eloquently puts it: \"It starts with people, and no matter where you go, it comes back to you.\" The circle reaches back to you, stretches out to the clandestine community and returns again. It is almost transcendental: in the circle of light, you and the community coexist.

As is the draw with many online PC games, the community aspect becomes even more important with a single console. While you may see the same people on Counter-Strike, you\'d see completely different people on Warcraft 3; more often than not, you would never see the same people on multiple games. This is because of the broadness of the Internet, the depth of a thing that is, in many ways, infinite. You can find gamers through MSN, AOL, or ICQ, but possibilities for community are limited by size and capability. Most games, for instance, do not share a host server. That is, they do not run from the same locality.

With Xbox 360 the community is large, but manageable. And familiar \'gamertags\' are merely a button press away. Thus, the circle comes back to you; press the glowing gateway button on the controller and you can reach back out to the community of gamers. With the service all under a single service (Xbox Live) gamers are more connected than they think. To put it literally, gamers on Xbox Live all share the same cyber-space.

While online games are important, Microsoft also understands the need for splitting the screen. The circle on the controller completes itself in quarters depending on the number of gamers playing on the same system. In this way, Microsoft is promoting multiplayer, co-op, and versus play. Their circle of light becomes a void that needs to be filled, and is, by friends: by community. It is not filled by single player games, but by up to four cohorts together. The importance of multiplayer should not be overlooked, considering that Sony\'s PlayStation 2 was criticized for the lack of controller ports (only 2). On top of that, the PS2 \'multitap\' (four controller port add-on) was difficult to find. For multiplayer games, the Xbox 360 is set-up as a serious contender for your time.

If Microsoft takes care of the multiplayer aspect of the console (which takes more work on the part of the box) it will have undoubtedly produced a single-player experience as well - graphically anyway. If the system is made to handle these split-screen frame rates, we\'ll see a sharper, smoother picture while questing with our friends - and questing alone too.

Xbox Live is at the center of Microsoft\'s plans for the future, and the community has been steadily building as we approach the Xbox 360\'s release. It is a smart move by Microsoft to include Xbox Live silver free with the purchase of the 360. This can only increase the feeling of community, while teasing the gamer with the possibilities of being \'gold,\' of jumping in and playing online with friends. Devious, but smart. Microsoft wants as close to a hundred percent Live penetration as it can get, and by offering a free and standard element of their online service with every 360, they\'re likely to get it.

The circle of light is a commentary on Microsoft\'s view of gaming, that gaming is going online to stay, and that gamers have to define what makes up the games through their online participation. Without this idea of community, the circle would only be a symbol of a product. Instead, it is a fully realized metaphor of Microsoft\'s future, that in gamers lies the future of gaming.

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