How to Retool Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Group

ms-devicesThe departure of two key members of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices group comes as a shock to those in the know. Robbie Bach, head of the group and its Chief Experience Officer J Allard are leaving the massive software giant (Business Insider). The Microsoft spin is that Bach is retiring and Allard himself says that he’s going to swap the 95% of his Microsoft life in for 95% of his personal life. Yet, when you look at the group’s successes, the list comes up short with only one success – Xbox 360. The list of failures is far longer by avoiding a full-on recall with Xbox 360s (due to a design/manufacturing flaw), Windows Mobile, Zune and the recently ditched dual touch screen Courier device.

Microsoft needs to come back. Here’s what it should do to start:

1)      Release a handheld gaming device that isn’t named Zune. As the iPhone proved, there can be more than one dominant player in the handheld market. Release a device with the same power as an iPhone but with a 3D graphics chip that makes games look Xbox 360 hot. Of course, make the device compatible with Xbox 360, Natal and add in major benefits for those who own both (faster leveling up for characters, special unlocks, etc. to start).

2)      Make DirectX open. While Microsoft’s gaming API really is a great piece of work, it only works on Windows machines, the newest version only works in Vista/7 and an older variant works on Xbox 360. And that’s the issue. Make it open and see if someone can port the API to Linux, Apple and Android machines. Of course, controlling the purchasing methods and security here would be key for Microsoft’s revenue stream but making sales on volume is better than building higher walls around the walled garden.

3)      Kill Games for Windows because it never worked. Seriously, it was a confusing marketing term that never caught on. Kill it and be better for it.

4)      Work with a TV manufacturer to create touchscreen TVs. I’ve played with Microsoft’s Surface concept and it really is amazing when you play. Now they need to get it out of the museum and into classrooms and homes.

5)      Buy TiVo. I love TiVo for their nice interface and so many other things that no other DVR UI has. Yet, TiVo lovers aren’t so hot for the new TiVo Premiere boxes which feel like more upsell than functionality. Microsoft includes TiVo-like software on nearly Windows machine, software that actually is good and it plays well with both my PS3 and Xbox 360. Of course, Microsoft needs to give TiVo some autonomy to create new upgrades. With Microsoft’s marketing muscle, and the option of releasing a TiVo/Xbox 360 hybrid, would be a worthy merger.

6)      Kill Windows Mobile. Seriously. I only have a single friend who uses Windows Mobile and he loves it. Interestingly, he works with Microsoft.

7)      Give away a million Xbox 360x units. The old box is flawed and many of my friends are on their 5th refurbished Xbox 360 after hitting the Red Ring of death. Solution: Come up with a better design, shrink the size down and give out a million of those to players who have had countless issue. Costly, yes. But it’s a great way to sow the seeds of respect and Microsoft’s gaming future.

8)      Make Zune the new Windows Mobile, cut the licensing rates and go more in the way of Kin. I like the Kin concept but it’s a bit weak out of the gate. Still, it’s more consumer focused than MS has been in years past so I think that there’s a great growth opportunity here.

9)      Invest heavily in the upcoming Cloud Gaming industry. Ideas like Gaikai and OnLine are also slow out of the game but investing now in a disc-less, online gaming future may come from one of these companies. Plus, publishers would love it if all those used games were out of play.

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