On Tuesday, May 21st, Microsoft unveiled their upcoming next-gen console, the Xbox One. As of this year, the Xbox 360 has sold over 76 million units worldwide. Even when faced with criticism over their system’s stability (about ⅓ systems would face the ‘red ring of death’) and their comparatively costly Xbox Live subscription, the system did amazingly well. Though it sold less than both the Wii and PS3 in Australia, Canada, and Japan, it sold over 10 million more units in the US than the PS3. While not dominating the last gen as the Wii did, it had a huge cultural impact. It launched the Gears of War franchise, finished the fight started by the Halo series, and became the console of choice for Call of Duty as well as many EA Sports titles. Will Microsoft’s latest live up to its legacy, or become the black sheep of the family?
Now, snarky title aside, the console itself has some pretty neat features going for it. While some fears about “always on” and the fate of used games haven’t been totally answered and are leaving some gamers questioning Microsoft’s next-gen, many are praising the system’s fast and intuitive design in regards to system controls as well as the connectivity between apps on the system itself. If anything is clear about the new system, it is that it is less focused on games and more pointed towards becoming a media hub for a much broader audience. While this might not be a fault of Microsoft’s specifically, they seem to be trying to switch the focus of their box from a gaming console which offers multimedia experiences to a multimedia system which will offer experiences for gamers.
So, what exactly is the Xbox One and what will it offer? It’s a pretty neat little machine that actually has some really cool and intuitive features. The system’s specs boast 8 gigs of RAM, Wifi direct, a Bluray drive, and a 64bit native architecture. The main goal of the system seems to be to offer quick and seamless transitions between programs and applications. It looks like Microsoft will want its users switching between TV, movies, internet, and games very quickly. In fact, they’ve attached the ‘Snap’ function which will let users attach outside applications to their current window. This will allow those watching sports to update their fantasy team, or go step-by-step with a game’s walkthrough. So, while it looks like Sony was focusing on updating and connecting the gaming experience in new ways, Microsoft has focused on opening up its machine to a larger market and is perhaps trying to adopt the same sort of marketing that made the Wii such a success. I found that this theme really ran throughout the reveal and conference, particularly with the system’s added and enhanced functionality.
The Xbox One will come loaded with the new Kinect. The fact that they decided to go this route and give it to consumers right out of the gate means that they’re either trying to aim at families right off the bat, or make Kinect fans out of core gamers (who, let’s face it, are going to be the early adopters of the system). The updated Kinect offers a 1080p HD RGB camera, 30 FPS colour, Time of Flight technology (which uses the known speed of light to measure the distance of a light signal between the camera and each subject in an image), and microphone arrays. The idea is that, again, Kinect won’t just be for gaming, but for using and browsing through the system’s applications and functions. From watching TV to browsing the web, Kinect will be the new remote.
A second inclusion, which was a wise move on Microsoft’s part, was the connectivity and fidelity of SmartGlass into the new console. They built the new system with SmartGlass in mind, and this results in a myriad of capabilities. Marc Whitten, CVP and GM of Xbox Live, was quoted as saying “For example, when you press power on, volume up, or change channel on your SmartGlass device, Kinect seamlessly makes it work. Or, when you pick up a controller, Kinect recognizes you and the controller, getting you into your latest game save instantly.” Xbox Live will also be receiving an update, though one very similar to the PS4’s. This means easier ways to share your gaming experiences on various social media platforms. While all these new technological inclusions are nice, one has to wonder how much of a gaming machine Microsoft is trying to build.
Don’t fret, reading gamer, there were indeed a few game announcements at the event, but were they really all that interesting? There were announcements of all the classic EA Sports titles. Great, sure, but it should be a given that there are more EA Sports games coming. Much like Square Enix at the Sony reveal, you don’t need to tell us a new Final Fantasy is coming. There will always be a new Final Fantasy coming. What else did Microsoft choose to announce to the gaming public? Well, there was Forza Motorsport 5. Again, this will surely be a great game, but nothing to really get anyone excited about a new generation of consoles. Microsoft should have really tried to showcase new gaming experiences that just wouldn’t have been possible on an older system. Remedy’s Quantum Break seeks to blend TV with the game, perhaps highlighting broadcast-only events that will use the Snap function. While it looked interesting, again, why would this not have been possible on the 360? What else was there, anything new to get us excited? Well, how about Call of Duty: Ghosts? Nope, not excited? Me neither.
So, overall, this is what Microsoft offered as its new console generation. They never cleanly addressed threats of ‘Always on’ requirements, but instead put the onus on developers by saying that they may choose to feature online-only content. They have also yet to really say anything to finally quell the questions surrounding used games. As of now, they’ve stated that “Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future.” Will they be forcing gamers to pay a fee? Will they need to register a used-game to their account online? Regardless it seems that they’ve really dropped the ball for gamers.
And that is really the theme of their new console, isn’t it? They’ve built what looks to be an awesome multimedia platform for a larger demographic, but really failing to offer much for the core gamer. If they are indeed going after the Wii approach, they should really think about the nostalgia and gaming factor that Nintendo used to bolster its casual approach. This is why the Wii took off so early, early adopters wanted to see the new Mario, the new Zelda, and the new Metroid which helped provide a nice base before Jim Everyman decided to see what Wii Sports was all about. Microsoft should have learned from their last generation that you need to get a large core of gamers to adopt you early on, otherwise when you try to appeal to the broader family audience you quickly find out they’ve already got their Wii U or PS4. I feel that Microsoft’s handling of their new console is mostly targeting a non-gaming audience. This is fine and maybe even a good move, but they might find themselves on the losing end of the battle for gamers with Sony and Nintendo.