Microsoft (MSFT) just brought Christmas early for all Xbox 360 owners. Starting today, Microsoft is gradually rolling out the new Xbox 360 dashboard update to Xbox LIVE subscribers across the globe. The new update refines the previous Metro-inspired UI to bring it closer in line with the company’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Aside from a few cosmetic changes to the UI, the Xbox 360 now has Internet Explorer, a “Recommendations and Ratings” section, improved Bing voice search with Kinect and the addition of 9 new supported languages and customizable homescreens. Microsoft’s Director of Programming for Xbox Live, Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb wrote in a blog post that Xbox SmartGlass will also land on October 26th alongside Windows 8. More →
At last, the Xbox 360 Gamerscore is no longer just for show. Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox Live Rewards program is now giving gamers special perks for having higher Gamerscores. Rewards are split into three tiers: Contender, Champion and Legend. Contender rewards gamers with a Gamerscore of 3,000 to 9,999 with a “special gift” during their birthday month (the prize is only worth $0.25 and is likely an Avatar item). Champion-level Gamerscores between 10,000 and 24,999 will be rewarded the special gift and 1% rebate on Xbox Live Marketplace purchases every month. And lastly, gamers with Gamerscores of 25,000 and higher qualify for Legend status, which includes everything Champion players get, but instead of a 1% rebate, they’ll get a 2% rebate every month. The Xbox Live Rewards program is only available for Gold members, so Silver members are out of luck. Now get out there and start unlocking those game achievements and boosting that Gamerscore! Xbox 360 gamers can sign up for the Xbox Live Rewards program here. More →
Announced at E3, Xbox Music is Microsoft’s (MSFT) own subscription-based music service that will rival the likes of Spotify. A new online leak for an update to the Xbox 360’s dashboard in the U.K. has prematurely revealed that Xbox Music will be priced at £8.99 for a monthly pass and £89.90 for an annual pass. It’s speculated that Microsoft will launch Xbox Music in the U.S. with the same prices as its current Zune Music Pass service: $10 per month or $100 for a yearly pass. Another leak from NeoGAF also suggests that a free, ad-supported version of Xbox Music will also launch alongside the subscription service that will allow cross-platform playlist syncing between Xbox 360, Windows 8 PCs and Windows Phone 8 smartphones. Xbox Music is slated for a launch this fall and will replace Zune Music Pass. Microsoft says the service will have a library of 30 million tracks.
With 40 million users on Xbox Live, Microsoft (MSFT) is reportedly preparing to create original video programming to be distributed on the Xbox 360, according to a report from The New York Times. The report states that Microsoft has hired ex-CBS TV executive Nancy Tellem to “oversee a Microsoft production studio based in Los Angeles that will create both traditional ‘linear’ programming and interactive programming that fuses video and gamelike content.” It’s not immediately clear what the latter would be like, but something along 1 vs. 100 comes to mind. It’s also possible “video and gamelike content” could be referring to the company’s upcoming SmartGlass initiative that will use tablets and smartphones as secondary screens alongside TV content. As it stands now, Xbox Live only delivers videos from standard content providers.
Despite fears of video games sales slumping due to the lack of new consoles, Microsoft’s (MSFT) seven-year-old Xbox 360 continues to be the No.1 selling console in the U.S. for the 20th consecutive month, according to NPD Group. The data reveals 193,000 Xbox 360 systems were sold in August giving Microsoft’s console a lofty 48% share of the U.S. console gaming market. In addition to holding the top spot for hardware, five out of the top-10 selling games in the U.S. last month were Xbox 360 titles: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Darksiders II, NCAA Football 13, Sleeping Dogs, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. NPD gathers that retail spending on the Xbox 360 topped out at $196 million and expects this holiday’s strong lineup of titles including Halo 4, Forza Horizon, Dance Central 3, Fable: The Journey, Kinect Sesame Street TV, Kinect Nat Geo TV and enhancement features such as SmartGlass to keep the Xbox 360 as the frontrunner for the current console generation. More →
Barnes & Noble has taken to personally debunking the rumor that it will be in any way involved in Microsoft’s mystery news today. Although speculation ran rampant over the weekend that Microsoft would be releasing a tablet in collaboration with the bookseller, a company spokesman today told Benzinga that it has nothing to do with the rumored Microsoft tablet. Without Barnes & Noble in the mix, speculation on the new tablet shifts to how it will integrate with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console. CNET, for one, reports on rumors that the new tablet will double as an Xbox controller that will “include an ARM processor from Texas Instruments for ‘Kinect workloads,’ as well as custom IBM engine for ‘scale out.’ ” More →
Microsoft is planning to launch interactive ads on its Xbox 360 streaming services that will rival television networks. The software giant has signed on Toyota, Unilever and Samsung Mobile to offer its new “NUads,” The Los Angeles Times reported. The advertisements will debut this fall and will be found on Microsoft’s Xbox video apps, including those offered by ESPN, TMZ, NBC News and UFC. The first iteration of NUads will let users vote in response to different questions. For instance, Toyota will ask users what other devices they would like to see “reinvented” the way the company has “reinvented” some of its auto models. Users will be able to respond through the Xbox controller or voice and hand gestures with the Kinect. Toyota will then have access to the data and demographic information. Microsoft’s general manager of entertainment and advertising for the Xbox Live online service, Ross Honey, said the company plans to charge a “premium” compared with typical commercial rates. “There have been interactive ads on the Web before, but the beauty of it is that we’re bringing that to the TV,” he said. “It’s a substantially more valuable ad product.” More →
Microsoft recently filed a patent application for technology that would give its Xbox 360 Kinect sensor the ability to read users’ facial expressions and body language, thus enabling Microsoft to send them ads based on their emotional states. Jacob Aron at New Scientist writes that the technology in the patent application “suggests a company could choose which emotions would match to its adverts.” For example, Aron speculates that people who are generally happy might get fewer advertisements for weight-loss programs and more advertisements for new gadgets, while sad people might get fewer advertisements for local night clubs and confused people may get ads from “a technical support firm to help them out.” It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how people react to their own Xbox telling them that they’re depressed, stupid or overweight. More →
The next version of Microsoft’s best-selling Xbox shooter, Halo, will reportedly follow a TV season structure with free daily mission episodes, according to The Guardian. 343 Studios, the game’s developer, will offer a free “Season One” of daily downloadable co-op missions following the game’s release. The first season will feature five new co-op missions each week that will continue the storyline of the main game. “A single season will run for months, not weeks,” explained Halo’s franchise development director, Frank O’Connor. “It’s a significant amount of content: both gameplay and story-wise. And the story will matter. Characters you know and love will be effected in dramatic ways, the story driving the universe forward in a meaningful way.” Microsoft has not committed to a Season Two, however O’Connor is optimistic and believes the team’s creative generosity will pay off. “We believe that players will play episodes day by day – it’s short, sharp gaming, something entirely different I think.” Halo 4 is scheduled to launch on the Xbox 360 on November 6th. More →
$99 Xbox 360 consoles just got a little bit easier to find. Xbox Live programming director Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb said on Tuesday that Microsoft is expanding its pilot program that lets customers pay just $99 for a 4GB Xbox 360 as long as they sign a two-year service agreement to pay $14.99 a month for an Xbox Gold subscription. While the $99 Xbox deal was initially only available in certain Microsoft retail stores, Hryb said it will soon be available in select Best Buy and Game Stop locations as well. Hryb made sure to emphasize that the $99 Xbox deal is still a pilot program and that gamers shouldn’t come to expect $99 consoles to become the new norm just yet. “This next phase of the pilot program will be limited in terms of both timing and the number of units available—we’re excited to forge new ground and explore a new retail model for Xbox 360, but also want to emphasize that this is a pilot period for the program,” he said. “Call your local Best Buy, GameStop or Microsoft Store if you’d like more information about how and where to purchase.” More →
Microsoft on Monday revealed that its Xbox 360 gaming console is now the world’s top selling console, beating out the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, during its keynote at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Despite the fact that the software giant has no plans to introduce the next-generation Xbox until next year at the earliest, Microsoft’s Don Mattrick said “There never has been a better time to own an Xbox.” Read on for more. More →
Yusuf Mehdi, the CMO of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Division, announced on Tuesday that more than 67 million Xbox 360s have been sold since the console launched in 2005, and it has generated more than $56 billion in sales. The motion sensing input accessory, Kinect, has sold more than 19 million units and the company’s Xbox Live service now boast 40 million members. Xbox users are spending more time on the system and are averaging 84 hours of usage each month. Mehdi also revealed that Microsoft holds a 47% market share of the current-generation console market, however he did note that sales, while continuing to increase year-over-year, are slowing down. More →
Amazon announced on Tuesday that its Prime Instant Video service and access to “Your Video Library” is now available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers. The streaming service, which is available as a part of Amazon Prime for $79 a year and offers customers free two-day shipping, features more than 17,000 movies and TV episodes, including hundreds of Paramount films. “Working with Amazon.com marks a significant milestone in our mission to make the entertainment you love more amazing on Xbox,” said Ross Honey, general manager of Xbox LIVE Entertainment and Advertising, Microsoft Corp. “By bringing the Amazon Instant Video app to Xbox LIVE and adding voice search and voice control through the magic of Kinect, we’re transforming the way people discover and experience entertainment.” Amazon’s press release can be found after the break. More →