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Xbox and Madden: The next generation
New console, game will debut on MTV, ESPN. Video game marketing has grown up.
April 20, 2005: 1:14 PM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – It's much too early to know how successful Xbox 360, the new Xbox from Microsoft, will be when it's released later this year. But it may have already changed the way the industry operates.

In the past, when a console maker unveiled their latest system or a publisher announced the latest entry in a game series, it was a pretty low-key event in the grand scheme of things. Sure, there might be hype-filled press releases, flashy press conferences and perhaps even celebrity cameos. But all of that was done for the media, which then carried the message to a larger audience.

As the next generation of video games and video game systems prepares to hit store shelves, though, a shift is in the air. Last week, Microsoft announced it would pull the curtain back on Xbox 360 on an MTV special on May 12, the week before the E3 trade show. Now, Electronic Arts plans to show the first footage from the next generation version of "Madden 2006" (a likely Xbox 360 launch title) this Saturday on ESPN, during the first hour of the NFL Draft.

Those flashy press conferences and releases will still occur – and they'll likely offer many more concrete details – but by pre-empting them with orchestrated events, Microsoft and EA have the chance to make their own first impression with potential buyers, not one that's filtered through the media.

It's an innovative approach – and one that could pay off big, especially for EA.

"This might be a chance for EA (Research) to get two bites of the apple," said John Taylor, an analyst with Arcadia Research. "The dedicated Madden fans are going to get the game when it launches [for existing machines] in August in order to get the updated rosters. Maybe they'll also go back and get the next-gen version when that next-gen console launches, which may be in November."

The move's not without risk, though. Seeing the advanced footage of a next-gen Madden could make people less excited about versions of the game for current machines. And not everyone has $300 or more to shell out for a new game system.

If you're Microsoft (Research), the dual-edged sword is a little less sharp. Certainly, the ability to control the message to the masses has its benefits, but the company will also have to reassure current Xbox owners that they won't be left holding a large, high-tech doorstop.

"I think they're probably going to have two goals," said Taylor. "One is to highlight the advanced features of the next Xbox and at the same time provide comfort to the industry and consumers that the Xbox as a platform is going to remain viable well into the future.

"There's a risk you're going to distract consumers' attention and put it on something that doesn't exist yet in the marketplace. The last thing anyone wants to do is undercut demand for product in the market now."

While Microsoft is the first company to actually unveil a new console on MTV, the network has played a significant part of a new gaming console once before.

When Sega launched the Dreamcast on Sept. 9. 1999, it spent nearly $100 million on marketing – on that day alone. A notable chunk of that went for a full sponsorship of the MTV Video Music Awards, which were broadcast on launch day.

It's probably not coincidental that Peter Moore, who was vice president of marketing for Sega during the Dreamcast's launch, now holds the same position at Microsoft's Xbox division.

Microsoft saw the benefits of non-traditional marketing last year with the launch of "Halo 2." Granted, there was a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for the title, but the publisher made a point to extend its efforts beyond the gaming world, running a trailer for the in movie theaters and taking over signs in New York's Times Square.

The strategy worked. In its first 24 hours of availability, the game sold 2.4 million copies, racking up $125 million in sales.

Want a sneak peak at this year's E3? Click here.

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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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