Game Consoles Marketed As Multimedia Living Room Boxes

PlayStation 4 is out, and next week, the new Xbox is released. These systems do a whole lot more than just play video games. Microsoft in particular is selling non-gamers on its system's television features. For more, Steve Inskeep talks to Christopher Grant, editor-in-chief of the video game website Polygon.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If a video game fan in your office calls in sick to work today, it may be because the new PlayStation 4 went on sale this morning. It is Sony's first new PlayStation home console in seven years. And next week, Microsoft follows it up with a new Xbox. Each of these devices has its own marketing strategy. PlayStation is promoting itself for games - as you might expect. Xbox wants you to think of the console as something much more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICROSOFT AD)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Xbox on.

INSKEEP: This is the first ad that Microsoft put out for the new Xbox. And in this ad people are using the device to watch football, use Skype, do everything but play video games.

Let's try to figure out what's going on here. Christopher Grant is on the line. He's editor-in-chief at the video game news site, Polygon. He's in New York. Welcome to the program.

CHRISTOPHER GRANT: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should clarify first that whether you have a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox, you can do a wide variety of things. They're both actually equipped for this, right?

GRANT: Yeah. They both - and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 - have been for years turning into these multimedia living room boxes. You know, it's interesting, after PlayStation's had a lot of success as a Netflix box, for example...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

GRANT: ...PlayStation 3, last year Netflix announced it was the top - set-top box for Netflix. This time when they've got the PlayStation 4 coming out, it's not their focus. It has Netflix. It has Hulu. It has other streaming web apps. But the big focus is gaming. That's all they want to talk about. That's all they're focused on. You know, when you listen to Microsoft's Xbox 1 ad, it's so different. You wouldn't even know it played games if you didn't know Xbox was a gaming brand.

INSKEEP: I guess this is on one level a classic business problem; who's my market? And these two companies have come up with somewhat different answers to that question.

GRANT: Yup. You know, I think Microsoft's strategy is very close. The core gamers are going to buy an Xbox 1 for all the exclusive games coming out this holiday. But once it's in the living room, they want your TV to always have the Xbox on. If your cable runs through the Xbox 1 into your television, so at any point you could say: Xbox, go to CNN, and it automatically jumps to CNN. They think that, let's say, the spouse of a gamer in the house, or the parents of the gamer in the house might not even realize that they're using an Xbox until they start to realize that there's some of these really fluid benefits, and then slowly they start to use are those features and that power and find themselves Xbox consumers in a way that, you know, Microsoft really hopes.

INSKEEP: Can PlayStation 4 - being a little bit simpler - also just be the one device for many peoples' television?

GRANT: I think so. There's a couple big benefits for it. You can watch Netflix on the PlayStation 4 without paying for a PlayStation subscription. On Xbox, you need to have what they call Xbox Live in order to use the apps. The big question is really going to be these guys are going to compete against each other. They have boxes that are very powerful video game devices that are expensive to make. Will somebody else come in at a much lower price point and do it better? And a lot of people are looking obviously, to Apple, to Google to do that.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask about the goal here - the goal of being the one device that controls everything on your television? Short of that goal, video game makers are still making a lot of money. Cable companies are seen as legacy companies, but they're making a lot of money. Apple is making a lot of money. Does anybody really need to be the one device that controls everything going in and out of the television?

GRANT: I think that's a really fair question. You know, I think for a younger audience a lot of my audience looks at it and says, you know, we have portable game consoles. We have the Web. We have our tablets. We have phones. We have our TV that might not be even hooked up to cable. So why do we need all this other stuff? The way Microsoft looks at it is when they look at the actual demographics of the living room - who uses the TV, how long do they use it and what are they doing on it - the amount of gaming played in the living room is completely and embarrassingly dwarfed by the amount of television watched in the living room. So I think Microsoft sees this not as an either/or but as an and.

INSKEEP: Christopher Grant, thanks very much.

GRANT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's editor-in-chief of Polygon.

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