Like Sands Through the Hourglass, so is the XBOX 360

by Davis Freeberg

In an interview with MTV earlier this month, Peter Moore, one of the chief architects of the new XBOX 360 talked about some of the new features and programs that will be avaible for the new console. In the the interview, he announces the introduction of an XBOX 360 marketplace, where gamers will be “able to sell machinima or character avatars on the service”, as well as the introduction of “episodic gaming.”

The introduction of an XBOX 360 marketplace may sound more then a little crazy to most people, but gamers have been selling electronic characters for some time now. In 2001, Yahoo and Ebay both agreed to try and crack down on the practice, after Sony expressed concerns over what they saw as intellectual property theft. While there isn’t a lot of money to be made playing video games, I’ve seen estimates that suggest one could make about $3.50 an hour building up and selling characters online.

The introduction of “episodic gaming” is a much more exciting development. Earlier this month at the Digital Tech Life expo, Moore had said that “While we’ve seen the 360’s ability to download new content and features, there are currently no plans to stream full-length, new releases. The real focus has instead been on XBOX Live Arcade; those “bite-sized” classic titles accessible right from the dashboard.”

I’ve been hoping that we would see an electronic distribution model for the new XBOX and while there does not seem to be support for the downloading of full length titles, I do think that the introduction of epidsodic gaming could dramatically change the way that people play video games.

“Moore, who oversees the marketing effort for the system as well as first-party game development, also said he thinks episodic gaming — the release of game content at regularly scheduled weekly intervals — will become popular in the future. Players are “going to have the same experience as people who religiously watch ‘Lost’ or ’24,’ who can’t wait for Wednesday nights at 8 o’clock or whenever,” he said.”

The introduction of weekly content could not only extend the shelf life of many games, but it could also serve as a new business model for the video game industry. By using weekly updates, a video game could track a weekly TV show or they could create a virtual world whose attributes can change based upon the play of online gamers. This would not only provide new content to gamers, but will also create weekly releases for gamers to look forward to. Undoubtably, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the final shape of this format, but I think that this is one of the more exciting developments that I’ve seen in a long time.

Update – Chiablo pointed out a great article & video discussing episodic gaming and whether consumers will be accepting of this format. In the video, Tom Mustane of Ritual Entertainment really does a good job of illustrating some of the benefits that this format could bring.

“we can track some major decisions points that people make, like up to 5, 10, maybe big decisions that they make. Did they kill this guy at the end of the episode, did they protect one of the protagonists correctly or not and that will help to determine in the next epidsode either on a per player tracking basis or a global community basis for these types of changes that we are building into the content.”