Adjusts flame-retardant suit and takes a deep breath.
Microsoft and the Xbox One are not all that bad, you guys!
Please? Not in my beautiful, beautiful face!
Ok, so I unabashedly declared Sony undisputed winner of E3 2013 (how brave of me). But that cloud of doom hanging low on the shoulders of Microsoft made my heart sad and I really hate kicking a guy when he’s down. So I’m here to say to all those Xbox loyalists to lift up your heads and dry your eyes because it’s not that bad.
First, let’s talk about how Microsoft screwed the pooch in May and then again this week— just bear with me.
Where Are My Games?
This seems like a no-brainer but not showing any games or even listing off a strong line-up of titles is kind of a no-no. Sony managed to debut a couple of new titles and even had lead developers share them on stage. I’m not saying that MS needed to blow their pre-E3 wad on the best and brightest but showing Forza and Call of Duty isn’t really groundbreaking. Where was MS’s “Knack”? They obviously had something for E3 with “Project Spark” — the video game world builder for Kinect and Smart Glass. Their May presentation was the time to get a sneak peek on these high-concept, but low visibility projects.
Focusing Too Much On Services
Instead of games the talk was all about services, apps, and TV. Look, I know that the War on Boredom® is won in the living room but you’re talking to gamers at these press releases (well you’re probably actually talking to investors, but that’s beside the point) and not the general public. Teddy V. Watcher (wow, that’s heavy handed) doesn’t even know your little May event existed and they only want to see cool trailers after the live streams on GT and Spike are over. They aren’t hard core gamers. Trying to win over gamers by telling them about all the cool TV, movie, and sports apps you’ve created isn’t exciting anybody.
Not Telling Us Enough About Services
On the other hand, MS stayed relatively quiet about the specificity of used games and how sharing, trading, and accounts will be handled. After revealing in May about online DRM and remaining mum about used games, they flat out refused to address the exact way gamers would be able to trade in or possibly buy used games at E3 — passing the buck to publishers — upsetting consumers further.
Let’s shift from focus a bit and talk about the good parts. Here’s where I think MS is sitting. Or at least what I think they’re thinking.
Streamlining Their Market
MS is focusing on their business where it counts most for them — the US and Europe. Let’s face it, the Xbox 360 wasn’t exactly a massive success overseas, especially in the Asian markets. And while Europe has traditionally leaned towards Sony, MS has been slowly invading the region. At its heart though, the Xbox is an American console. Despite not giving a rat’s ass about any of the TV and Sports apps, many Americans do. And we yanks are also very lazy. If we have a console that doubles as a virtual set top so we can watch our stories and play the vidja — that’s a winner.
A Totally Connected Future
This internet thing is kinda of a big deal, right? Having to check in every 24 hours is a bummer, (it could be worse) but it’s not a total disaster. Even popular PC download services — like a worrying mother — require a call from time to time. Though Steam does have an offline mode, the whole process essentially takes place in the nebulous realm of the internet. Sega knew it all those years ago with the Dreamcast — hell, even before that with Sega Channel — that the future is the internet. Unfortunately for Sega, they reached a bit too far and ultimately outpaced themself into becoming a third-part publisher. Fast forward to this year and Microsoft felt that this was the time for consoles to go embrace online with all it’s glory and ugliness completely. Day one digital games, a smoother online presence via “The Cloud” (oooh scary), and social connectivity are all pretty cool and undoubtedly features some people want.
A Closed Loop
There’s no way to say it but not being able to trade games easily or buy used really sucks. I’m not advocating the collapse of the used market, but let’s remove ourselves for a moment — eventually this will happen. It might be next year (it won’t) or a 50 years (probably sooner) but physical media is fading away. This is the first massive company to push this industry forward — Apple did it with iTunes and Microsoft is doing it with (console) games. I mentioned previously that final say on traded/used games is in the publishers’ hands and while I can’t see any particular publisher (EA and Ubisoft) pushing hard on ultra-restrictive DRM ultimately a solution will be sussed out that pleases everyone. As a bonus, this quirk in the gaming community might be the spark to finally get some definitive legislation on Digital Rights for consumers.
It’s Got Some Neat Features
There has been a fairly strong thread about sharing your gaming experiences the last several years. I can’t even count how many Youtube videos, Let’s Plays, Machinima’s, Speed Runs, Tweets, Tumblrs, social buzzword, social buzzword, social buzzword that have been created and watched by hundreds of thousands of people (I’m a huge sucker for sequence breaking “Metroid” speed runs). The Xbox One is embracing this change in consumption and production of content — content you make and you want. Having an HDMI in/out is a huge boon for gamers wanting to experiment with video production. Also, the ability for a console to run multiple apps is really cool. Wanna switch quickly to show while playing game? Boom there’s a button for that. Additionally, MS basically answered the second screen call that Nintendo and Sony started with Wii U and PS Vita. Smart Glass could be seen as a very real, very pervasive new feature for those that already have a tablets and smart phones. Lastly, the Kinect is bundled. Yes, it might be secretly recording your very thoughts, (kindly move along, citizen) but you can turn off that functionality. The good side is that if motion gaming is going to advance enough for the Xbox, it needs to have a huge install base. This can only happen by including a single SKU.
I’m not trying to say Xbox One is the best choice above all others, and I’m definitely not taking sides. Realistically, the Xbox One (and PS4) are pared down PCs, but the features are all there but smaller and cheaper (for many). But looking past some of the annoying miscommunications by MS, the Xbox One isn’t entirely Xboned.