Kotaku recently asked Microsoft if the flourishing of non-gaming features like Netflix, Facebook, Last.fm and Twitter on the Xbox 360 will someday invalidate the classification of the device as a gaming console.
Since the original Xbox launched in 2001, Microsoft has worked hard to deflate suspicions that the company wasn't serious about video games.
Microsoft, skeptics assumed, was going to push gaming only as long as necessary to get Xboxes installed under every home TV. And then? The theory was that Microsoft would focus on the alchemy of dominating the set-top box market, with gaming as something less than the primary focus.
Much of that suspicion has been eliminated thanks to the Xbox 360's dominance with the hardcore gaming market and the platform's string of leading games. Microsoft has recently earned the reputation, in fact, of producing the premiere gamer's game machine of this console generation.
But non-gaming aspects of the Xbox 360 are on the rise. Netflix has become a big story for the Xbox 360 since it was integrated into the platform last fall. And this E3 saw announcements of Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm integration into the machine. Microsoft is selling movies and TV shows on the 360 and is in the midst of beta-testing a game show that would network thousands of homes. In the U.K. it will push the 360 as a new portal through which to watch major soccer matches and other Sky TV programming. Even Project Natal, which has been characterized as a next-level game controller was also shown at E3 as a next-level TV remote.
With all that in mind last week, we asked Shane Kim, Microsoft's corporate vice president of interactive entertainment strategy whether the "video game console" term was going to soon become invalid for the Xbox 360.
"The Center Of Home Entertainment," Kim responded, suggesting a more encompassing term. "It happens to be a great video game console. That's not going away."
Kim said the best sign of gaming's continued importance to the Xbox 360 was its lead position during Microsoft's E3 2009 briefing. The show started with games. "We want to make people understand that we're not leaving the gaming space. I definitely think that we can expand off that base, and that gaming is still going to be an important part of entertainment."
Two years ago, while speaking of Microsoft's entry into the console business, Bill Gates told Kotaku that "we wouldn't have done it if it was just a gaming device." He added: ""We wouldn't have gone into the category at all. It was strategically getting into the living room. This is not some big secret, Sony says the same things."
There was a time when comments about the Xbox's expansion beyond gaming would have panicked gamers. But it's worth re-assessing that fear. As Microsoft branches out from supporting a gaming-only home console, those who suggested that would be a bad thing don't seem to be speaking as loudly as before.