Coverage: Xbox 360 Arcade console launch

icon_news1I am late! That’s the first thing that pops into my head as soon as I wake up. It’s 11:30 and I am supposed to attend the Xbox 360 Arcade launch event at 12:00. I take a quick shower, skip breakfast and I am good to go. As I get there it’s already 12:10 and I rush up to the PVR inside the mall. I keep thinking ‘I am late’. I get to the entrance and a very pretty girl smiles and welcomes me, “Are you here for the Microsoft event?” “Yes.” “This way please.” I am ushered downstairs. It’s almost 12:20 and as I walk downstairs, the voice pipes up in my head again. “I am lat….”, but is cut midway through.

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We didn’t have a camera with us, so you’ll have to make do with Photoshopped stock images

Actually it turns out I am early; quite a bit early. The seating area is still mostly empty and it’s quite apparent that the event hasn’t started yet. So I take some time to look around. The whole setup is quite elegant. There are comfortable sofas spread around. A few demo consoles are set up. Ironically mirroring Microsoft India’s concurrent theme of getting things here too late, the consoles are playing (the demo versions of) PGR3, Call of Duty 3, Pac Man and a couple of other LIVE Arcade games. I am not bored enough to try any of them yet. The food and drinks bar is set up on the left and I am informed everything is on the house. Thanks MS. I grab a soda and sit around for a while and am starting to get bored. Keeznah calls me and helps me kill some time by talking dirty to me, but since I am in a public place, it doesn’t work. Once I get bored enough, I saunter off to a demo console to mess around for a bit in PGR3.

As I am starting up the demo a cute girl walks over and stands right next to me and smiles. She says she is with one of the newspapers covering the show. We make polite conversation while I whip up the demo and start it up in the toughest difficulty to show off my l337 skills. After that I immediately smash into the wall at the first hairpin turn and end up coming last place in the 3 lap event. I manage a weak smile and offer a tame excuse. The cute girl smiles and drifts away. Video games – not helping me get some since 1992.

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Close to 12: 45 we are all ushered from the seating/waiting area into the auditorium. A large Arcade picture is set up on the theatre screen while electronic music pumps from the speakers. An emcee bids us to welcome Jaspreet Bindra and Ashim Mathur. Ashim Mathur starts up by apologising for being late, citing traffic as the reason. He tells us how proud he is to be here bringing in the Arcade unit. He then makes way for Jaspreet. Jaspreet too apologises for being late and says hopefully we didn’t mind waiting because of the rather excellent set up out side. I didn’t mind waiting; I got neutered by PGR3.

Jaspreet then dives right into it and we see an Xbox advertisement on the screen. It’s an old one a lot you might have seen earlier. Not the Indian one from way back when, but one with a bunch of people enjoying the console. He then introduces the star of the show – the Xbox 360 Arcade console. Jaspreet mentions that they didn’t need a celebrity to launch the unit this time around. Frankly, I agree with him. I have no intention of seeing some has-been/wannabe Bollywood star, who has no clue about video games. Let’s talk about the console itself.

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Soon it’s time for a PowerPoint presentation. Before the presentation begins, the mic falls off from Jaspreet and one of his henchmen helps him with that. Then it’s stats time; Jaspreet says they are pretty happy with the past year for the Xbox. Global sales stand at 28 million; 8 million more than their prime rival, the PS3. The console has an attach rate of 9.1 games per console, and they have over 17 million Xbox live users. He then moves on to other features that the console is capable of aside from gaming; he mentions that it can be used as a media hub etc. He also highlights the capabilities of the Arcade unit; the 256MB memory, HDMI port, wireless controller etc. Interestingly he also mentions they (the Arcade units) are using a Jasper chip. Soon the presentation is over and Jaspreet signals for questions.

I will just get some of the more pertinent answers out the way here. He mentions that at the moment, there are no other bundles planned. I quiz him on the lack of availability of LIVE subscription and MS Points cards and he confirms (as he did on the press conference later) that they will be indeed more readily available soon enough. I also ask him about localised video content on LIVE. He mistakes that for a question on localised video games and says that MS will do it properly when they get into it.

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The Q&A session is over for the minute and Jaspreet moves to the outside waiting area for a more relaxed informal chat with the journos. In the mean while, we are invited to play some Gears of War 2 on the large theatre screen. The experience of playing Gears 2 on a humongous screen with a kick-ass sound system cannot be described in words. My friend (whom I invited over after I got there) played for about five minutes and ended up exploding a locust with the grenade. The blood splatter was apparently too much (probably due to the presence of whiny NDTV camera crew) so they changed the game to Pac Man. I left the theatre in sheer disgust.

Outside, I ran into Jacob from Skoar, who was also covering the event and I got to listen in on some more Q&A. Jaspreet politely decline to speculate (or confirm) on the number of units they have managed to sell here. He also “No comment”-ed a question regarding the number of LIVE subscribers. EA’s marketing office getting shut down elicited the same response. On being compared to PS3, he commented on the choice presented to the buyers.

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And lastly when he was asked about the price point of the console when compared to the US or the rest of the world, he mentioned that the various duties etc that MS have to pay amounts to close to 50 per cent of the cost. Into that, you have to factor in retailers’ margin. Hence the high price. He also mentioned that they are working with their rivals to get the costs down from the Government (Seriously good luck with that; never gonna happen).

With that it was time for some on camera interviews and Jaspreet left, and so did yours truly. Hope you enjoyed reading about the adventures of Aftrunner. Oh, by the way; did I mention there was Champagne served? At 12:30 in the afternoon. I guess the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was scheduled for later.

Xbox 360 Arcade launch event was held at Select Citywalk Mall in Delhi on April 8, 2009

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