Robbie Bach is betting more than half a billion dollars that Microsoft has got game. Make that a totally awesome, wet-your-pants, slime-green-colored game machine called Xbox, which Microsoft is certain will thrash the likes of Nintendo and Sony in the ferociously competitive video game business.
Bach is heading up what is perhaps Microsofts most aggressive product rollout ever. Over the next 18 months, Microsoft expects to spend some $500 million marketing Xbox, more than it spent to promote Windows 95. The Xbox game system, expected to cost less than $300, is slated to hit stores this fall though Microsoft is notorious for slipping its ship dates.
Why is Microsoft playing games? First, the market opportunity is gigantic: Video game hardware and software sales totaled $6.5 billion in 2000, according to research firm NPD Group. But more important, Xbox represents Microsofts best chance to bust out of the PC and get into the living room. Xbox will have an Ethernet port for broadband Internet gaming, which analysts expect to become a sizable market segment.
From his résumé, you might not figure Bach to be a hard-core game fanatic. He joined Microsoft in 1988 and has spent most of his tenure there marketing Office, the companys important but unsexy application suite. These days, Bach is well-versed in what gets the gaming set jazzed, boasting that Xbox has three times the graphics performance of competing game consoles.
Bachs secret weapon behind Xbox is to win the devotion of game developers, who have not been thrilled with the attention theyve received from Sony, according to industry analysts. "Microsoft is listening to their games developers and treating them very well," says Schelley Olhava, a senior analyst at International Data Corp.
So far, Bach says hes lined up more than 200 companies to produce game titles for Xbox. Were just waiting for the games to begin.