An Xbox employee has commented as to how the architecture of the Xbox One dashboard has been created “with advertising in mind”. The team also gave us an exclusive insight into what the future of advertising on the Xbox One will and could look like using Kinect, Smartglass and personalised information.
I was invited to Microsoft and Xbox UK London HQ earlier this week to meet with members of the Xbox LIVE advertising team to discuss the current advertising strategies for the Xbox 360, and what gamers can expect from the Xbox One. During our 2 hour session, I fully expected to have my perceptions of what Microsoft thought of their hardware and how they utilised advertising on the platform to be firmly certified. What I found though is that, even on their home turf, my expectations of the answers from these three Xbox employees were frequently challenged.
One of the biggest revelations that took me completely by surprise was when the Senior Digital Art Director/UX Designer very openly confessed how, like many gamers, he found the inclusion of Kinect movement gameplay completely unnecessary in some AAA titles. “Lots of people are using Kinect for voice control on dashboard and some games. I’ve played Mass Effect and Dragon Age and it’s awesome, it’s amazing. You can speak to your mates, to your teammates and make them do stuff, you can change your weapons. It’s brilliant, it’s great.”
“But on the other side of that, I tried to play Forza 4 with Kinect and sitting for half an hour doing this (stretches arms out and mimics driving motion) and it’s silly. Just stick to the controller and do it properly.”
He went on to share his thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages to Kinect, commenting that “one of the disadvantages of Kinect is that’s it’s not always useful for certain interfaces. We’re all excited about the Minority Report of doing this stuff, but try doing that for half an hour. It’s not very pleasant and you might break something in your house. So actually you feel like the controller makes perfect sense in this situation, but the Kinect makes more sense when you’re doing something more interactive, a bit more engaging in a game or when you’re prompted.”
When it comes to Kinect and advertising, all adverts created for the current Xbox dashboard must be compatible with the controller and with Kinect, whilst ensuring that they “work exactly the same”. Interestingly enough though, the Xbox LIVE advertising team don’t have any current data on the engagement split between those who use a controller or Kinect, but they “would like to know”. What they do know is that “the users will turn on the Kinect when they are prompted to do it.”
Of course with the Kinect being bundled with the Xbox One, not only is there bound to be an increase in advertising engagement with the peripheral, but also the opportunity for more targeted advertisements. Xbox already utilise some form of minimal targeting, for example age and brand engagement, allowing them to serve personalised ads. “For example 18+ people; we can target these ads at people who haven’t used the LoveFilm app,” but Kinect and the Xbox One could allow them to take this to the next level.
“With the new Xbox One, the technology and Kinect has improved a lot,” commented the Technical Account Manager for Xbox LIVE Advertising, “so that actually the voice recognition, the way you speak to your Xbox and the transition between gaming and watching TV is a lot smoother, and hopefully we can transpire that into advertising that we do.” Gamers have already expressed concerns over the Kinect being able to spy on them and their habits, but it’s not quite at that level of CIA-grade espionage.
The attending Xbox LIVE Advertising Developer commented that they don’t actually receive a lot of the biometric information collected by Kinect. “This sort of works at two levels. There’s the game producers who have a different API, so a different set of code and system that they use, and they’ve got a lot more control of the whole thing,” he stated, “whereas from the advertising point of view we have a slightly more limited set, which is designed to protect the user. The company is very keen on protecting the user from any sort of abuse so we can’t do certain things.”
What could transpire in the future though is something that we’re already seeing with a lot of facial recognition technology and personalised information being used to target advertisements. For example, Kinect could detect how many users are in the room and could serve advertisements aimed at families, groups, or individuals. Additional information from your Xbox LIVE account could also influence these by using metrics such as your gender, age, location, media habits and more, and Microsoft are very aware of the potential around this.
“Xbox is moving more outside of the bedroom. We’re seeing much, much more people use it in living rooms where there is family, friends, there is lots going on, so there is a context of perceiving the content,” says the Senior Digital Art Director/UX Designer. “It’s not like when you’re at work when you sit in front of a screen and your experience is very personal. But with Xbox, it’s lots of people in front of once big screen. They are playing or watching together and advertising is being consumed in a totally different way.”
And like all advertising agencies, the Xbox team are just as interested in their audience. As an Xbox 360 user for around 4 years who never clicks on the ads and is fully aware on where they are placed on the dashboard, it was certainly interesting to hear their facts and opinions on the Xbox audience who do, and could potentially, engage with advertisements on the console.
“On Xbox, the ad is part of the actual experience, it’s not something that is outside. The only difference is that the advertisement we have is quite small and not disruptive so people are not aware of clicking on the banners because they know this is a part of the whole experience on the dash,” said the Senior Digital Art Director/UX Designer. “So the users know that this is something that when they click on it, they won’t be hit by something crazy or something dangerous like on the web. Everything that lands there, we create.”
The Xbox team are utilising something called ‘native advertising’ which is when the adverts are built into the actual content, as opposed to tacked on at the side or above. Statistics have shown that this sort of advertising achieves 52% more clicks than traditional advertising and combats ‘ad blindness’ – a situation where you automatically ignore advertising space on websites. However I and many other gamers are aware of where these ads are, negating this, so definitely expect a change in the future.
In addition to Kinect, Xbox seem very keen to push Smartglass and Surface, and while you’d expect an advertising firm to jump all over any additional opportunities to serve you ads, the Xbox team don’t actually have access and really aren’t that interested in having it unless it’s opening URLs or displaying visual content.
“We do have quite a lot of questions about how we can put together video with Surface but apart from the fact that it’s a controller and we already have two controllers that we have to deal with, this is just an unnecessary obstacle.”
“I’m always after very simple user journey so if someone forces me to introduce another step in the way, I will be fighting against it. Because technology is one thing that allows us to do lots of amazing stuff but sometimes people forget about that the technology is only the catalyst. If I have to use this technology I will use it because it adds something to the journey and the user experience, but just for the sake of using it I think it might be confusing for the user.”
So what about the future of advertising on the Xbox One? “It’s going to be an exciting transition though because the 360 console wasn’t built with advertising in mind, it was more of an afterthought, so we’ve had to adapt to the technology and how we work to fit them in to the console,” said Technical Account Manager for Xbox LIVE Advertising, “whereas this new one is going to have advertising in mind. So a lot of the limitations that we have now, hopefully the release of the boundaries will widened so the opportunities will be a lot greater.”
The next generation has also showed that publisher are incredibly interested in boosting the hardware’s social elements, and advertising on the Xbox One won’t be an exception. According the the Senior Digital Art Director/UX Designer, “We will definitely be focusing on sharing when we’re using the new engine for the ads on the new Xbox as it’s extremely important for us, but at the moment we cannot do it, mostly because of the authorisation system.”
It’s incredibly interesting to see that of all the people who typically get demonised in the games industry, the advertising team seem to be genuinely interested in providing a full and engaging experience for the users. Advertising is always going to be a part of the Xbox and many users will still disagree with personal information being used to target adverts, but I personally find that having the same information used by web agencies typically serving dull banners used to create something, usually with an incentive, much more rewarding.
Note: For those who may consider me to be some sort of Microsoft/Xbox fanboy, I’d like to direct you to this article.
What do you think about the current advertising on the Xbox? How do you feel about your information being used to serve you personalised advertisements? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter and Facebook.