How Xbox Is Changing Its Dudebro Image

How Xbox is Changing its Dudebro Image

You know the strange thing about my eight years with the Xbox 360? Despite the fact that I played it most days, I often felt kind of alienated by it.

The ads it was serving me, the language used on the dash and the games that Xbox always chose to highlight made me feel distinctly like I was not the target audience; I was perhaps playing something that was not actually intended for me. The Xbox One reveal, with its heavy emphasis on TV, sports and military shooting — three things that, if I'm honest, I struggle to muster much personal enthusiasm for — did little to alter the overriding impression that Xbox was aiming for a very specific demographic that did not include me. If it happened to have things that I wanted to play as well, that would be a happy coincidence.

The trailer for the newest instalment in the Call of Duty series, Advanced Warfare.

In the early days of the Xbox One, leading up to its reveal and launch, it looked like Microsoft was doubling down on the sports and shooter consumer, spending what must have been gigantic money on timed DLC exclusivity deals with EA and Activision. Meanwhile, Sony set about tending to its diversity garden, wooing the non-sports, non-shooter types with an attractive array of indie and off-beat games. But since then, things have changed. Xbox is under new leadership in Phil Spencer, and we're starting to see different kinds of games featuring in Xbox's presentations: games like Below, D4, Inside, Superhot, Ori and the Blind Forest and, yes, Tomb Raider.

Microsoft is making a conscious effort to diversify, says Phil Spencer, whose background in the studio side of the Xbox business means he has a different approach to what he wants to bring to the platform. "I don't know if I've said this publicly, but I'm actually not the biggest first-person shooter fan," he tells me at Gamescom. "I'm playing Valiant Hearts right now, I loved Max: Curse of the Brotherhood, I loved Brothers last year, Limbo is probably my favourite game of the last five years. These are the kind of games I play. I don't want it to be only about what I play, but I'm definitely going to have a flavour of games that I want to show up on our platform in addition to the things that traditionally shoot to the top."

The kind of game that shoots to the top has itself diversified in recent years, though — on PC, most noticeably, but also on console. "When I think about who the gamers are on Xbox and what's at the top of the list on Live, FIFA is up there, sports is up there, COD is up there, but there's also this crazy thing called Minecraft that does really well on 360 and which I think will shoot right to the top on Xbox One when it comes out there," Spencer points out. "That says to me that there is some diversity. The sports gamers tend to be a little different to the FPS gamers - [I couldn't say] whether or not that's necessarily 'bro,' there may be a gender difference there that's not showing up, but in terms of what people like to play were seeing a diverse set of things."

Trailer for light-hearted prison-escape game The Escapists.

Spencer feels that although the early Xbox One adopters are likely to be what we'd imagine to be the traditional "core" gamer, the console is already starting to move past the "shooterbox" image that stuck to the Xbox 360 for years. "It's interesting - from a first-party standpoint we haven't really had a great shooter on the box yet," he says. "We've got Master Chief Collection, which you could either say is four old games or re-imagined Halo depending on your cynicism on it. One of the things I would applaud Sony on in their [Gamescom] presentation is the diversity of games that they showed… it's something that we strive for as well."

The limiting factor here, of course, is money: even Microsoft does not have unlimited money, and must choose where to invest. If Microsoft previously chose to invest in big third-party partnerships, like the COD map packs and FIFA Ultimate Team, that means that it isn't investing in a variety of smaller projects for the platform. But it's not necessarily a case of one versus the other, says Spencer; rather, it's a question of balance.

Screamride is an example of the more quirky side of the Xbox One's new game catalogue.

"I don't at all have infinite money," he says. "The smaller stuff isn't as expensive, so you can do more of it...the industry isn't all that large. It's really about relationships with people, and sometimes those people work at big studios and some of them work at small ones. And on the small studio side you're probably going to invest in more things at a lower cost. I think they co-exist really well. The console business is great because it can support the big and the small. The diversity of what we see on console should be a strength. Can it be challenging? Yes, but I think we have to succeed at that as a platform owner."

"My goal is to have a very diverse portfolio, more diverse than we had on 360 certainly, and that's the kind of stuff we're going to invest in."

Realistically, Xbox is never going to stop courting the players (and makers) of probably the two most lucrative genres in gaming, sports and shooters. There's too much money in it. But the change in Xbox's public attitude to other kinds of games in the past year or so is encouraging - and though it's easy to see it as a reaction to Sony's clever positioning since the PS4 reveal, I believe there's a genuine desire to diversify the Xbox's image, and make it appealing to a greater cross-section of people. Xbox will always serve its core demographic, but it's also starting to feel a little less alienating to everyone else.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


    I have never understood the need to be a target demographic, I don't fit into the aimed advertising of the xbox or pc gaming ring, I am just not sure why people feel slighted about it as this is not stopping anyone from owning one (otherwise I would still be playing a megadrive). Personally I would prefer not to be the target of advertising as I have yet to see many that are not inherently insulting to a target that is not the shooter crowd.

      I think a big part of it is in their head. They see the imbalance of attention being aimed at other demographics compared to their own as neglect, especially when we're talking about games with huge advertising budgets like shooters or games that blend together and appear to be perpetually in the new release tab like sports games. Not quite being jealous of the attention another demographic gets but still feeling like an afterthought.

      The interesting thing is that, for the most part, the target audience will never realise that they are the target audience. They are too busy going, " Wow that explosion was awesome!" or " Did you see Space Citizen has fly-by-wire controls?" If you feel that the advertising is inherently insulting, then you are not the target market of said advertising.

      I don't really care about being a target demographic, but if they're going to have a service of the form "pay for this, and we give you stuff," I'm not about to fork over when the offered "stuff" is not of interest to me.

      Ergo I've long been a subscriber for PSN (which gives me a good, wide variety of games, including some pretty high profile ones, quite cheaply). On the other hand, XBox Live Gold, before they started giving out free games, seemed to me to be an attempt to get me to pay for things I shouldn't have to expect to pay for, and once they started including games, they all seemed to be either very old titles or else more recent bargain-basement ones.

      Basically I don't care whether their monolithic marketing machine "cares" about me, but I do care about whether their offers are worth paying for, given my own preferences.

    Definitely agree with Keza's feeling about the XBox. As a young(ish) straight white male who spends the majority of his leisure time gaming, it is amazing that the XBox dashboard manages to make me feel not young straight white male ENOUGH.

      It's not just young and white male... it's young white and male Americans they seem to be doubling down on. I don't care for CoD or Halo, so all this branding flies right over my head.

    Phil Spencer seems to be pretty good at his job. He's turned a lot of things around.

      I am sure his amazing work getting the PS3 from way behind to kneck and kneck with the 360 in less time was why MS snapped him up.
      There is no reason for his not to do the same, though circumstance is slightly different as MS alienated and pissed people off big time while Sony was just really expensive and unfocused. IMO.
      Either way he has a great personality and the right attitude unlike say Major Nelson who annoys me - I feel he is an arrogant dick that thinks he is cool.

    The Escapists looks awesome!

    If only it were ported to the 3DS

    Last edited 16/08/14 2:25 pm

    I understand this article.. I had an xbox as did my friends, then the 360 felt like a better fit for me then the ps3. Towards the end of the ps3 generation i felt i missed some truely interesting games. Then the sports, sports, tv, shooting, always on, kinnect xbox One came along and it was nothing i was (never was). Despite missing Halo, that sweet controller, and the solid xbox Live, i bought a ps4. So far, i have had a great time :)

      The 3 things that I can't go without :)

    I originally got a 360 because of cost & game catalogue rather than marketing factor. To be honest, I don't think MS really spent much money in Oz on TV campaigns or the like. they had a hard enough time dealing with the whole Red Ring of Death cluster.
    When I worked at JB, I noticed that the 360 sold more to males from 16 to 22, regardless of racial background, because of the more testosterone driven games like CoD, Halo, GoW, etc & the fact that it was generally cheaper to get (games still cost a bucket though). Parents wanted the Wii because of costs & more family oriented stuff, with the Ps3 being for people who wanted a wider range of games as well as blu-ray related functions.
    Most females that I spoke to who brought the 360 were either doing so for a specific game or to share with their partners.

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