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Outside the Box: A Look at How Outside Services Are Effecting the Big 3

November 6, 2009

Outside the Box: A Look at How Outside Services Are Effecting the Big 3
By: Steven Hopper

With Facebook, Twitter, and last.fm launching on Xbox 360 and Netflix finally coming to PS3 next month, how has this affected the hardware publishers?

There was a time when a console was just a console. An Atari 2600 played Atari 2600 games, and that’s it. An Intellivision played Intellivision games, and that’s it. An NES played NES games, and that’s, well, I guess you had to blow on the cartridge a little bit first. However, today’s gamer is faced with a completely different landscape. As the Communication Age continues to thrive, gamers can connect in ways never thought possible even twenty years ago, be it playing a game online or simply chatting with a friend over Messenger.

This month marks a big milestone for Xbox 360 owners, as Microsoft’s upcoming update is poised to begin allowing Facebook, Twitter, and last.fm users to connect with other people around the globe. After the success that both Microsoft and Netflix saw last year respectively with their joint venture, allowing Netflix subscribers to access the company’s Watch Instantly library on their consoles, it seems like a no-brainer that Xbox 360 owners are clamoring for more ways to access previously PC-only features on their machines. Microsoft is definitely leading the pack for outside partnerships, but where do the other two members of the Big 3 fit in?

On top of Microsoft’s upcoming feature boost, Sony recently announced a partnership with Netflix themselves, finally allowing PS3 owners to access their streaming library. This update is also set to occur this month, but there is a caveat that PS3 owners will have to deal with that their 360-owning compatriots won’t. At least at first, Netflix subscribers will have to order a free disc from Netflix which they’ll have to have inside of their console in order to access the streaming library. Granted, it is free (which is almost a step-up from Microsoft’s offering, as users are currently required to have a paid Gold Xbox LIVE account in order to make use of their streaming queues), but the disc factor is an annoyance nonetheless. Fortunately, an update is on the way in early 2010 which would allow users to access their streaming libraries without the use of a disc.

However, while the Netflix integration is definitely a nice selling point for all companies involved, there is the question of other types of social integration. There’s really no denying that the PS3 can be a cold place for those looking for some social interaction elements. Home never shaped out to be the revolution that Sony wanted it to be, instead being little more than a clumsy and uninspired chat service with character models thrown into the mix. If Sony wants to make some headway against Microsoft in this regard, then they either need to put some serious effort into making Home a viable place for gamers to interact with one another, or scrap it and try to flex some of that financial muscle in order to gain some of the business relationships that Microsoft wields so effectively.

Pulling up the rear for in the feature set is the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo rather stubbornly has been on the refusing end of offering any outside services aside from their Opera-based web browser, instead relying solely on their console’s proprietary features, like Miis, to connect gamers. While rumors have been circling concerning Netflix making a move for the hat trick and bringing their streaming service to all three platforms, as of yet it’s still up in the air for Wii owners. With Wii sales beginning to plateau and the company lowering their profit forecasts for the first time in years, maybe it’s finally time for Nintendo to play their cards and start taking advantage of their impressively huge user base.

Facebook and Twitter integration is definitely an ace in Microsoft’s hole this holiday season, as just about everyone and their dog uses the service to some extent. It’s a great way for people to meet and even catch up with each other, which could undoubtedly lead to some new gaming buddies for many 360 owners. And Sony’s new deal with Netflix is also a step in the right direction for the PS3, as the more outside services they can integrate into their consoles, the better. Hopefully we’ll see more connectivity features from all three publishers in the future, but in the meantime, we can all be excited for more ways to interact with our friends than ever before.

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