Tonight, at midnight, Microsoft's new Xbox 360 gaming console will be launched around the country. It's a critical first step for Microsoft, which has said it expects to move as many as 3 million of the new consoles in the coming three months. Microsoft's big midnight launch last year, for flagship game Halo 2, was a clear marketing success. The demand for that title was so high that the game rang up $125 million in first-day sales, a record in the booming entertainment industry, according to Microsoft. (By comparison, the fourth Harry Potter film just took in $101 million, over an entire weekend). Will Microsoft break its earlier record?
Seems like a long shot. The 360's hefty price-tag, $300 for the core system or $400 with a hard drive and extra accessories, will reduce the number of willing purchasers. Couple that with the rumor going around that Microsoft is intentionally limiting the supply of consoles to ensure they sell out, and it seems that "Halo 2"-type success may be much harder to come by.
If that strategy seems self-defeating, Microsoft may be shooting itself in the foot with other aspects of this launch too. The television marketing has been badly handled. One spot shows teenagers jumping rope double-dutch. Another shows dozens of kids in a water balloon fight. The Xbox 360 logo appears at the end. The logo surprised me the first time I saw it. How can this be? There are no shots of the sleek machine, no video of the high-definition graphics. It's just kids playing. While I understand the message, large numbers of teens playing together as a metaphor for the 360's robust online community, I don't think the ads are effective in selling the system.
That's not a good start toward creating momentum and establishing the next generation of gaming.