Microsoft: 'Most People Think Xbox 360 Games Look Better'

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Sony's PS3 finally had its moment in the limelight, taking top honors in September hardware unit sales, but according to research firm NPD, Microsoft's Xbox 360 platform "contributed the most to industry unit and dollar sales," ringing up 32 percent of the month's turnaround video game revenue.

Microsoft was quick to point this out in a post-NPD sales call last night.

"We've been beating the drum on this for a long time, that you have to look at more than just the number of consoles or games that are shipped," said Microsoft spokesperson David Dennis. "If you look at the full ecosystem, we have $404 million consumer dollars spent. That's over $100 million more than Sony and roughly $120 million more than Nintendo. It shows the high level of engagement of consumers on the platform."

Accessorize Me

Part of the ecosystem often overlooked in the monthly rush to proclaim hardware or software winners involves game accessories. NPD doesn't itemize accessory sales, but notes Microsoft held five of the top 10 slots comprising September's $157 million in overall accessory-related revenue.

"Our accessory attach rate is higher than anyone's," said Dennis. "It's 4.1 for us, 2.2 for PS3, and 3.4 for the Wii. That mirrors software too. We typically have a very high attach rate, which--getting back to total dollars spent--shows the high level of consumer engagement with the platform. They don't just buy it once with the pack-in game, then sit around and not use it. They're out actively spending, which is great for the industry."

But what about the Xbox 360's accessory pricing, broadly criticized as unusually--and, some would argue, unjustifiably--high-priced?

"Accessory pricing is certainly something we've heard a lot about from consumers," said Dennis. "That said, we go to great lengths to ensure the accessories we're selling are high quality. A lot of the price comparisons you hear have to do with the hard drive, but your average off-the-shelf PC hard drive isn't as exhaustively tested or run through the same quality and safety compliance checklists we employ."

Topping the list of arguments favoring existing pricing? First-party loyalty, says Dennis. "The fact that people continue to purchase our accessories over a lot of third-party alternatives in many instances shows that people do gravitate toward the ones they know they can trust."

Xbox 360 'Outmatched' by PS3?

EEDAR Analyst Jesse Divnich recently described Microsoft's Xbox 360 as "technologically…not at the same level as" Sony's PS3, adding that "this puts the Xbox 360 into a tough position where it is outmatched in terms of hardware capabilities."

Debating Xbox 360 and PS3 performance is a bit like arguing whether Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is a better running back than Chicago's Matt Forte, but I put the question to Dennis to get his position.

"Of course I don't agree with Jesse's take," said Dennis. "I think we've been able to show that third-party developers and Microsoft Game Studios are able to extract tons of amazing, immersive experiences from the 360. It's got all the bells and whistles, and in most head-to-head cases I've seen with multiplatform games, people generally think the Xbox 360 games look better.

"The 360's clearly a powerful piece of hardware that can hold its own against anyone."

Third-Party Helping the Industry Party

The recession finally caught up with video games last March and ran year-over-year numbers down for six consecutive months--you couldn't swing a ruler without hitting dour sales data until September.

Does Microsoft think the downturn's over?

"I'll leave the forecasting to the analysts, but I look at the short term windows and certainly feel like the industry's in position to have a great holiday," said Dennis. "There's an amazing lineup of games on the horizon, particularly games for the Xbox 360, along with features we're bringing to the table like Facebook and Twitter."

"The 360 also drives a ton of third-party spend. If you look at just this month, $154 million dollars was spent on third-party games for the Xbox 360, compared to $88 million on the Wii, or $114 million on the PS3. So I think the Xbox 360 is doing a lot to drive value for the industry and help its partners as well as the industry grow."

Xbox LIVE: Double the Price?

Yesterday Microsoft's Xbox LIVE pricing went under the microscope when Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter suggested the company's $50 Xbox LIVE membership fee, which players pay to access special features, could double in the next couple years.

"You can't hook a guy into Xbox LIVE Gold if he's playing on a PC," said Pachter. "That's the other problem. You really want to hook every gamer who has a 360, you want them to buy all their games on 360, play everything multiplayer, pay $50 a year, so that in a couple of years, it's $100 a year. That's going up, we all know that."

Microsoft's response?

"I don't foresee a scenario where we're going to double the price of LIVE anytime in the next couple months," said Dennis.

So not a flat denial (Pachter spoke in terms of years, after all, not months) but clearly something off-radar for LIVE's near-term future.

Peace of mind through the holidays, then.

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