E3 2008: Microsoft looks to Wii to take on PS3

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - The Electronics and Entertainment Expo (E3) doesn’t kick off until tomorrow, but Microsoft has already fired the first shots in what is shaping up to be an epic battle this year between the three console manufacturers.

At Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference this morning the senior vice-president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, Don Mattrick, announced bullishly that Microsoft will “sell more consoles worldwide this generation than PS3." But it was hard to miss what he was really saying: “Wii want to play, too!”

Microsoft's Don Mattrick

Although the press conference opened with a variety of expected “hardcore” titles – Fallout 3, Fable 2, Resident Evil 5, and Gears of War 2 – it wasn’t long before John Schappert, corporate vice-president of Interactive Entertainment LIVE at Microsoft, appeared to announce officially what had already been rumoured: That the Xbox 360 interface is to change completely and feature new “avatars,” cute personalized figures attached to a player's Gamertag. Clearly heavily influenced by the Miis found on Nintendo’s Wii, it was apparent that Microsoft’s efforts are to be exerted almost solely on trying to capture the casual gamer market so captivated by the Wii.

It does sound like the company is going to do a good job of it, too. Unlike Nintendo, which makes it hard for players to connect online due to stringent safety concerns, Microsoft seem to be building the whole “new” Xbox 360 experience around online community. Players will be able to meet and chat in groups of avatars, share pictures and even watch movies together thanks to a deal with Netflix which allows Xbox Live subscribers access to a catalogue of movies online and instantly.

Of course, that’s only been announced for the U.S. - Canada, as usual, is the poor cousin who has to wait and find out if a similar service will be offered here.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)