“Gaming is emerging as the third pillar of entertainment”

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Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 has redefined the way gamers interact with their gaming and entertainment console. Claimed to be one of the fastest selling gadgets in history, it takes gaming from individuals to the family.

Jaspreet Bindra, who spearheads Microsoft Entertainment & Devices Division in India, is responsible for strategy, operations and marketing and sales efforts for gaming (Xbox 360 and games) in addition to IT hardware products (like mice and keyboards) and home productivity software (Windows/Student Home Office) sales at retail.

Bindra speaks to Uma Bansal, executive editor at EFY, about console gaming in India, difference made by Kinect and way forward…


JASPREET BINDRA, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, ENTERTAINMENT & DEVICES, DIVISION, MICROSOFT INDIA
JASPREET BINDRA, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, ENTERTAINMENT & DEVICES, DIVISION, MICROSOFT INDIA

MARCH 2011: How was the year 2010 for console gaming in India?
Year 2010 was perhaps the best year in terms of innovations in console gaming. It saw three big trends—move beyond core gamers to family, motion gaming and 3D. We saw a lot of innovations across these trends. The biggest innovation, however, was controllerless gaming with Kinect.

We brought Kinect and other innovations to India literally at the same time as they happened across the world. We launched Kinect in November. With this, we saw sales of Xbox 360 more than doubling between November and December last year. We also saw our market share, especially in large-format retail stores like Croma, going up to 65 per cent.

Why does the need arise for a gaming console when one has a PC for gaming?
There are four different kinds of gaming: mobile, browser (on the Web), PC and console. Console gaming is the ultimate form of gaming with the richest graphics, the best effects and immersive experience. We have seen in the market that people who do browser or mobile gaming are actually those who then move on to or upgrade to console gaming.

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But there are not many games available for consoles…
PC games are very small games that can be made with very low investment from both time and money perspectives. Making a PC game costs thousands of rupees—in that range. Console gaming is like producing huge blockbusters. It’s like producing a two-minute movie with your camera for YouTube versus creating an Avatar. You will see only a few Avatars. In console gaming, a good game like Halo costs tens of millions of dollars. So it’s a different scale altogether. There will always be more mobile and PC games than console games as they are much less expensive to produce.

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What will turn around console gaming in India?
India is still a very small gaming market comparatively. As per a NASSCOM-FICCI estimate, it’s about $300 million or Rs 12-13 billion in size. One-third to half of that is console gaming. In comparison, China is a $6-billion gaming market. The US is estimated to be a $15-20 billion market. And gaming globally is a $45-billion market.

However, India is one of the fastest growing markets. And in the overall entertainment category in India (movies, TV and gaming), gaming is growing the fastest at about 35 per cent. Pretty much, gaming is emerging as the third pillar of entertainment.

Still, gaming is a very small market. There are three reasons for that. One is tariff. We have 27-30 per cent customs and excise duty. So a console is cheaper in Singapore and Dubai than in India. Duties have been going down but still the price is high.

Second, true gaming experience happens with broadband. For example, with Xbox LIVE, where we have 30 million subscribers across the world and you have your Xbox connected to broadband, you can do many, many things on the Xbox, like download games and movies, play with others across the world, and access

Facebook and Twitter. But India is still a small broadband market.

Third really is that, for a long time, gaming has been restricted to hard-core gamers.

How does your Kinect controller for Xbox 360 differ from other gaming consoles in the market? How does it enhance the man-machine interface?
Kinect is an attachment or accessory to Xbox 360. So if you have an Xbox 360, you buy Kinect along with that and just plug it in. It doesn’t have any comparison as it’s the only controllerless motion gaming system. You don’t hold anything. Your body is the controller. In comparison, with other products, you have to hold something in your hand.

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The fact that Kinect is generation ahead is apparent from its sales. Kinect has actually become one of the fastest selling gadgets in history. It was launched in the US and across the world in early November last year and by 31st December globally we had sold about eight million Kinect controllers—making it the fastest selling ever.

Price-wise, how does it compare?
The Xbox comes in two variations: 4GB and 250GB. The 4GB model costs ` 14,990 and the 250GB model ` 21,990. If you buy a Kinect along with the 4GB model, you get a free Kinect game and the complete package costs you ` 22,990. The corresponding prices if you buy other consoles are equal to or higher than this.

When you buy other consoles with controllers, you have to buy more and more controllers, for every person needs to have at least one controller in hand. Each controller costs about ` 2000-3000. And thus the cost keeps on adding up.

On the other hand, because Kinect is controller-free, you don’t need to buy additional controllers once you buy a Kinect.

What could be the other uses for such kind of man-machine interface?
Right upfront you had things like DOS where you interacted through just typing keystrokes. Then you had GUI (graphical user interface) which used a mouse through which you could drag and drop. Kinect is something which we call NUI or natural user interface. It goes beyond GUI. Literally, it uses voice, gestures, emotions, etc to control or interact with machines. Little before Kinect, we had Surface—a form of NUI.

Kinect is probably the best and the most popular form of NUI. Gaming is the first killer app of Kinect. We are pretty much sure that going forward it can extend to many more different form factors and scenarios. It could extend to PCs, mobile phones, etc. And beyond gaming, it could go to education, productivity, healthcare and entertainment.

Even with Kinect for the Xbox, you can play movies without a controller. You can do Video Kinect without a controller. That is, without using your hands, you can play on the Xbox with someone in another city through Xbox LIVE. Because Kinect is a camera, you can actually video chat with each other while playing. You can also create a gaming avatar with your hand and dress it up.

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So it has already started to go beyond gaming and can go across devices and scenarios.

Why is Microsoft not keen on adding Blu-ray player in its Xbox 360?
Well, the Xbox console does support high-definition (HD). Most of the games are HD and if you have an HD TV, the movies that you see through Xbox LIVE are HD. As a console, we see the Xbox as an entertainment and gaming platform. We have lots of movies on the console—in fact, more movies can be seen through Xbox LIVE than any other player. Actually, it’s a far better and futuristic way to get movies where you connect through the Xbox. Just download movies on the Xbox and play in HD. We don’t really see why we should be putting in a drive in the console and increasing its cost.

After Kinect, what is your next area of focus in console gaming?
Kinect is a far-reaching innovation. At Microsoft, we have decided to focus on the family gaming bit and the motion gaming bit for the near future. You will see more and more games coming on the Xbox which are family-friendly. You will also see more and more features like Video Kinect being added to Kinect and Kinect extending to more and more scenarios.

Finally, what do you suggest to those planning to buy a gaming console?
First of all, gaming consoles today have gone beyond gaming. So buyers should look at buying a gaming and entertainment system. For example, consider what you need when you are at home—you need something to play games on, watch movies, play music, play with many people across the world and hence be part of a network, do social networking, etc. Also ascertain whether you want the console for one-person hard-core gaming or for the family.


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