Microsoft preps gamers for the Xbox Experience

At last July's E3, Microsoft first announced its concept of an avatar-based community for online gaming, along with the ability to install games to the hard drive. At the Tokyo Game Show, the experience got a launch date: November 19.

With what's now being called the "Xbox Experience," gamers will be able to create customized avatars (similar to, but more tweakable than Nintendo's Miis) that can host "Live Parties" or engage in one-to-one chats with other users. These avatars will also be fixtures of new massively multi-player social games that are expected to arrive by the holidays like Scene It? Box Office Smash and Lips, a multi-player Karaoke game not unlike Singstar.

These additions fall under the well-worn "casual gaming" banner carried almost exclusively by the Nintendo Wii through this generation of consoles. Microsoft has stacked up an offering that includes: the lowest price for a console ($199 Arcade Edition), a large and active online community, and a dense library of streaming multimedia content, all wrapped up in a casual gaming-style environment.

If this does not secure at least some interest in the Casual Gamer demographic that GameStop's Daniel A. DeMatteo told The New York Times was fully driving console sales last holiday season, then we will be able to say once and for all that the Wii has changed the gaming market.

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