Cannes Lions

Xbox: Walking In Steve's Dreams

215 McCANN, San Francisco / MICROSOFT / 2021

MP3 Original Language
MP3 Original Language
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Xbox was launching their next generation video game console, the Xbox Series X. But the average gamer didn’t see the point. Graphics and processing power were already great and there was a feeling that the next-generation machines would only offer minor, incremental improvements.

Dispelling that perception would be hard because there’s some truth to it. While next-generation consoles are a step change, the launch games aren’t. Until game developers have enough time to optimize their games to the new specification, games on the Series X won’t look dramatically different than games on the current generation console. The marketing challenge was clear: How do you get gamers talking about (and lining up to buy) our new console when the games don’t look or feel like an improvement? Our objective was to drive engagement, media buzz, and ultimately sales during the launch window.


Gamers who are blind experience games differently. Commonly, they rely on spatial and directional audio in order to game. The new Xbox Series X was built with innovative Spatial Audio technology to make gaming more inclusive for players. To highlight this feature, Xbox partnered with a leading research facility to create a first-of-it-kind product demo, showing off the capabilities of the console’s 360 degree-spatial audio by tapping into the real dreams of a real gamer with blindness.

For the study, Xbox partnered with Steve Saylor, creator of Blind Gamer. After playing the game Destiny 2, Steve was guided to a sleep state where he was able to describe his Series X-inspired dream in real time. The dream data was then recreated to be an immersive 3D audio story allowing anyone who listened to experience the unique and amazing way in which Steve experiences sound and gaming.


Research showed our gamer audience expressed limited enthusiasm to skepticism around the next-generation consoles. They were not passionate about the high-tech specifications. They were, however, interested in the actual experience they might have when playing.

We reframed our thinking from what they play on to why they play. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, gamers brains are made better by games. Gamers don’t play graphic fidelity; they play to expand their experiences beyond their reality. Imagination, creativity, and curiosity are rewarded in games. As a result, games make us dreamers. The console Xbox was launching was not a ten-pound black box called the Series X, it was the squishy three-pound enigma between gamers’ ears. The hardware was simply a means to an end. Our strategy was to show that all the power of a new gaming console existed to bring gamers’ dreams to life.


Steve participated in a study which allowed scientists to explore his dreams after playing the Series X for the first time. He was guided to a semi-conscious sleep state known as hypnagogia, which was tracked via a Hypnodyne Headband he wore. During hypnagogia, we begin to dream, but can still hear the world around us. At this stage Steve was asked to describe his dreams. This dream data was then brought to life as the audio story, which stayed true to Steve’s subconscious narratives.

Walking in Steve’s Dreams was a part of bigger content series that was released over the course of a week. Each piece of content telling the story of a gamer’s dream. The dreams were realized in different forms–film, digital art, augmented reality, and audio–which were released on Xbox’s social channels. The creators and gamer participants, including Steve, also shared the content on their channels.


The Series X launch was the most successful in Xbox history. By every measure the campaign beat its benchmarks, driving awareness, buzz and ultimately sales.

The launch campaign generated a significant lift in awareness among our target audience. Brand attribute measures for innovation and leadership rose dramatically, a strong indicator the power of the Series X was coming though in an emotional and memorable way.

The campaign sparked curiosity and intrigue, even more than when the console was first revealed. Our social media efforts during the launch window generated higher total engagements than any preceding Series X marketing beat. And net sentiment, measured via social listening, was 99% positive.

This gamer excitement drove demand. There was a significant lift in purchase intent beating benchmarks, and Xbox recorded record sales, making the Series X their best console launch in history.

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