Saturday, May 26, 2018
TV and Media

Pizza Hut partnership gives Microsoft's Xbox Live a piece of the service-app pie

For years, console makers have been telling us their machines are destined to be the nerve centers of our homes. It's taken awhile for that to happen, but it turns out all it took was a little pizza.

Pizza Hut announced in early April it was partnering with Microsoft to create its Xbox Live app to order pies directly from your couch. Unlike the online interface used by a computer, the app got rid of that pesky mouse and keyboard and let you use your Kinect with voice commands, or even swipes of your hand.

Turns out it was a bit of a success, because the company said earlier this month it moved a million pizzas in the first four months of the app's release alone. That's a pretty deep dish. (Of course, when you consider the company moves 2 million pizzas just for the one day the Super Bowl is on, the stat loses some luster, but that's a much wider audience.)

"It's been a source of unbelievable growth for us," Pizza Hut PR director Doug Terfehr told Polygon.com. "Just the explosion of people who wanted to download it, experiment with it, play with it with Kinect. As soon as we did one, everyone was contacting us to do the next (one)."

The company has been allowing online orders since 1994, making it one of the earliest adopters of the practice. It also brought out mobile apps to place orders early in the smartphone era, too. But using a game console to streamline the process for gamers with the munchies? That was a stroke of genius.

That says something about the use of apps in our gaming experience. Media apps for things like TV stations, video streaming services and music channels have long dominated the most-downloaded lists, but we see precious few services. Some shopping sites get a look from users, but the ability to order food from a national chain is a rarity.

Some of that is because of the product, of course. Pizza naturally lends itself both to in-home ordering and the gamer demographic. The big shift here seems to be consumers' willingness to use a game machine to do what they would likely otherwise do on a computer. Nobody wants to use a phone to talk anymore, anyway.

Conspicuously absent from reports about the million pizzas is an accounting of how many downloads were involved in those orders, but unless it garnered numbers similar to a new iOS upgrade, it's pretty safe to assume they weren't obscenely high. In any event, it was enough for Terfehr to mention they're now considering apps for Nintendo and Sony, as well as next-gen machines. An Xbox One app has since been announced.

"When you talk about a sweet spot for the pizza category, it's definitely gamers and gaming. We're not done in that space," he said.

Given gamers' fickle attitudes toward both early adoption and tried-and-true formats, the idea that a sea change from laptops to consoles to perform most tasks says a lot. Consoles are growing up, expanding beyond being entertainment centers — I usually watch Amazon Prime or Netflix through my PlayStation 3 more than play any games on it — and becoming utility centers.

This is the kind of direction Microsoft, Sony and to a lesser extent Nintendo hoped their next-gen machines would head. For every person who balks at using a game controller as a remote control (I'm looking at my wife here), there has to be a solution that allows the user to access services without feeling like they're playing with a toy. As maligned as Kinect was when it came out, it was solution to that problem.

It's not hard to imagine a site like Cars.com, which allows you to tailor a vehicle to your wishes and locate it at a dealership, ending up on a voice-activated console. Or maybe a home repair app that lets the homeowners among us to schedule a plumber without having to dial a phone. And just think of being able to alter vacation plans or make restaurant reservations with a virtual concierge that responds to your questions. It's everything computers are trying to do, but on your game console.

All these technologies are dovetailing into singular devices, as has been the trend for the last three decades. With the success of something as simple as a pizza ordering app, the gaming industry is showing it's going to have a say in what those devices look, feel and play like.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at [email protected]

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