AKQA Designs Xbox 360 Game Interface

NEW YORK San Francisco independent AKQA has branched into video game design, developing an interface for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 360 game console.

AKQA, which has worked with Microsoft for eight years, designed the Xbox 360’s dashboard and guide, testing several prototypes with focus groups in five countries. The interface lets users navigate to the Xbox 360’s various capabilities, including gaming and entertainment functions. The project marked the first time AKQA has been involved in video game design.

“This is going into a product that’s going to be shipped around the world,” said Tom Bedecarre, San Francisco-based AKQA’s CEO. “It’s not just a marketing campaign or Web site that comes and goes.”

As more media becomes digital and Web-like, interactive agencies will have opportunities to translate their Internet site-building expertise to other media and technology platforms. Interpublic Group’s RGA, for instance, designs mobile games for an outdoor billboard in Times Square and does projects for digital signs in retail stores. AKQA is also designing in-store kiosks for Xbox 360.

“Digital agencies that are learning to work across various technology platforms are generating a skill set that applies to essentially all digital content and platforms,” said Bedecarre. “It is just going to stretch into anywhere there is a screen.”

AKQA has formed an interface design group to pitch for other projects like the Xbox 360 console interface. Microsoft has hired the agency to redesign the interface for MSN TV, its Internet-enabled television product.

The Xbox project marks for AKQA a deepening of its relationship with Microsoft. The Xbox 360, under development for three years and set for release during the holiday season, is Microsoft’s bid to outpace rivals Sony and Nintendo in the red-hot video game console market. Consoles have evolved beyond video game fanatics with new consoles that have the capabilities to play various forms of digital entertainment, including movies and music. Microsoft introduced Xbox 360 during a half-hour program on MTV last week.

According to Jupiter Research, Xbox had 19 percent of the game console market in 2004, trailing Sony’s PlayStation, which had 43 percent.

AKQA has built Web sites to promote Xbox games, including the Halo 2 venue, where it created a language used by the Covenant race that invades the earth in the game. The agency created a Web site for Xbox 360 that launches tomorrow.

Bedecarre said AKQA would also handle online advertising creative for Xbox 360 and at least a dozen game titles.