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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Xbox woos younger gamers
Hermida, BBC
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Microsoft is trying to change the image of the Xbox as a console just for hardcore gamers by turning its attention to family-friendly games.

Screenshot from Grabbed by the Ghoulies
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is the first Xbox title by Rare
A number of games for children are planned in the run-up to Christmas, including the first title by British developers Rare, bought out by Microsoft a year ago.

"The Xbox started off as a mature console," said Ed Fries, Vice President of Xbox game content, "that is starting to change."

"We are shifting away from the hardcore player and getting a broader line of content," he told BBC News Online.

'Need for experimentation'

Just a quick look at the shelves in any shop shows that most of the games for the Xbox are squarely aimed at men in their twenties and thirties.

On offer are a wide range of racing, fighting and shooting titles, such as Project Gotham Racing and Halo.

But there are few child-friendly games for the Xbox that cannot be found on rival consoles, the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube.

XBOX LINE-UP
Xbox
Dancing Stage Unleashed: 24/10/2003
Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup: 7/11/2003
Grabbed by the Ghoulies: 14/11/2003
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: 28/11/2003
Xbox Music Mixer: Christmas 2003
Kameo: Spring 2004
"We need more experimentation," admitted Mr Fries.

"We know how to reach the hardcore gamer. We know how to make role-playing games, racing games. We need to find out how to reach a wider audience."

In an attempt to capture some of the ground traditionally occupied by Nintendo and its GameCube, Microsoft is planning around 10 child-friendly games for the Xbox.

Among the titles it hopes will tempt children and their parents is the dance game Dancing Stage Unleashed and Harry Potter: Quidditch Cup.

Mr Fries said part of the blame for the relative lack of Xbox games for children on game makers.

He said that in the past many had been reluctant to make games for children just for the Xbox as they were not convinced they would sell.

"It has taken a while to convince them that we have more than a hardcore audience, that we are going to be a broad appeal machine," said Mr Fries.

Grabbing ghoulies

Last year, Microsoft took matters into its own hands by buying independent British games developer Rare for $375 million in cash so that it would make games exclusively for the Xbox.

The company has an accomplished track record in coming up with original and child-friendly games for Nintendo, behind hits such as Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark.

Screenshot from Kameo
Kameo will not be out until next year
"Rare provides an opportunity to go after a much wider demographic," said Ken Lobb, Studio Manager at Microsoft Game Studios.

"It maps to the long-term strategy of the Xbox. Part of the reason of the purchase was to broaden the portfolio."

The first game from Rare is aimed at a younger gamer. Even the name, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, is bound to bring a smirk to a child, as well as an adult.

This sort of British humour was littered throughout the game. Some of it would go over the head of children but bring a smile to the face of adults.

Mr Lobb said this was deliberate so that the game, set in a haunted house, would appeal to gamers of all ages.

Microsoft is also pinning its hopes on another Rare title, Kameo, a magical adventure game due out next spring.

The challenge, said Mr Lobb, was coming up with games that did not patronise children and also offered something for adults.

"You don't dumb games down just because you think they are for children," he said.




SEE ALSO:
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02 Sep 03  |  Technology
Online sci-fi shooter listens to fans
01 Sep 03  |  Technology
Xbox set sights on gaming crown
23 May 03  |  Technology
Xbox aims for wider appeal
13 May 03  |  Technology
Xbox tests European online waters
29 Nov 02  |  Technology
Xbox Live put to the test
23 Feb 03  |  Technology


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