Call it a sign of changing times--times in which the battle for your living room reigns supreme in the minds of traditional tech powerhouses. One example: About an hour in to Microsoft's Xbox press event at Grauman's Chinese Theater here in Los Angeles today at E3, Bill Gates, Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, made a surprise appearance--his first time at this lively multimedia gaming confab.
Gates was on hand to introduce Xbox Live Anywhere, the company's new initative to unite your gaming opportunities across multiple platforms.
Xbox Live Anywhere, according to Gates, will be cross-platform, regardless of the device you're using.
"The vision here is that each platform plays its own role, and the platform development tools let you share everything," Gates said. "It will be part of Windows Vista. When it ships in January, this capability will be built in. It means you will have one online community. One user interface, awards, friends, one marketplace [to purchase games and entertainment from]."
Gates and Scott Henson, director of platform strategy, showed how you can have one gamer tag (gamer identity) across the Xbox, Windows Vista desktop, and Windows Mobile platforms.
The intention is to make things easy, says Gates. "I challenged the team that we need tight integration, and yet the concepts, and the way you learn, [should be] very straightforward to learn."
Gates noted that the initiative is "about making gaming attractive to people of every age, driving the industry to a whole new size." His observation and stated goal echoes that of Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo. Iwata earlier said something very similar about his company's goals with its forthcoming Wii.
Earlier in his presentation, Gates said, "The future of gaming really involves software." Now, "you want to use these games on any of the devices you happen to have. We think this [initiative] is a unique contribution that only Microsoft could pull off."
Gates also reasserted the success of the Xbox 360 to date, noting that the scarce supply of the game console at launch led to some interesting results.
"All of us at Microsoft found we'd had friends we'd never heard of before," he laughed. Even so, he added, "By the end of June, we'll be at 5 million consoles, maybe even 5.5 million. Before our competition even enters the market place, we will have a 10-million-unit headstart with Xbox 360.
"We have the pieces in place," Gates continued. "A key element of this is Xbox Live. By the next E3, we'll be at more than 6 million on Xbox Live."
Independent of its console system, Microsoft already has a large user base of gamers. "Windows is a very important game platform--150 million Windows gamers," he said. If you count those who use game-ready cell phones, that number is even higher, he added. "The richness of what you'll see for Windows Mobile games is just at the beginning."