by Brian Jensen
Despite its best efforts, Microsoft had the most ground to make up leading to E3. As more news came out about how the system operated, the internet seemed to become an ever expanding hurricane of hate, filled with more disappointment and even more questions. Microsoft's rejection of the status quo and what most gamers see as the traditional gaming experience did not sit well with the audience they were trying to win over. It also didn't help seeing a $499.99 price-tag, only to be upstaged by the PS4's $399.99 price-tag. This may be weird to hear coming from a PlayStation loyalist and PC enthusiast, but the Xbox One may not be as bad as it seems.
What They Got Right
After the reveal of Xbox One, Microsoft had created an uphill battle for themselves by only focusing on TV. Everyone was scratching their heads asking, "Where are the games?" Time didn't heal any wounds here, as E3 drew closer, Microsoft had tried to clear the smoke, only creating a more confused and disappointed crowd.
E3 had arrived, and they were first up to bat. Their presentation was wall-to-wall games, and to their credit, games we hadn't even seen. Despite Sony's overwhelmingly positive reception, their conference had shown games we have known about for months now. Even though not every reveal was a winner, Microsoft seemed confident that their lineup would bring in their key demographic: the gamers. Whether or not it paid off, remains to be seen.
The messaging has been anything but clear. We're told about how used games are becoming a thing of the past, always online connections, the intrusive eye of Kinect, and we react accordingly. We have been trading in games, buying used games, playing games offline, and never buying Kinect for years. It has been working out for us, so why do things need to change? Well, it's not that they need to change, it's that Microsoft wants them to change. They have a very different vision for gaming that we may not all be onboard with, and it's completely understandable to be against change when what's in front of us already works. The response to those without an internet connection being the Xbox 360 was a dick move, and did anything but help their already dwindling audience.
What Should Have Been Done
Xbox is no longer a gaming console, it is a distribution service for games. Much like Steam and services alike, it is a user experience. They could have easily sold it as such, instead of "no used games." It could have been marketed as an ever increasing library of games for you and your family. My Steam library is insane, and worth more than I care to know, yet I have no issue having them forever. If I ever feel nostalgic, I will always have those games available to me, whenever I want. It is the Steam Box we have been clamoring for, but because it is a brand we associate with traditional consoles, it becomes sacrilegious to ever suggest that this is where gaming is going: all digital. Being a PC enthusiast, it is hard to deny that this all-digital future is enviable. Ask any gamer, and they will say the same.
This Isn't Their First Rodeo
Many may say, "We just don't have the infrastructure to support that kind of environment yet." Microsoft is no stranger to pushing change on consumers. If you can recall, the original Xbox had a "broadband only" online service in a time when it wasn't the norm. Now, it's silly to imagine a world where someone doesn't have high-speed internet. With so many people blocked out of this experience due insufficient internet, this device effectively pushes those connections on a global level to gain a greater market. Microsoft isn't limiting their market, they are incentivizing the expansion of it.
Armed Forces Left Out to Dry
Being a veteran (U.S. Navy), I know first hand that decent internet is anything but accessible, and when it is, it can lose to dialup. This will probably go unchanged for quite some time, and it is one of the unfortunate flaws that Xbox One won't be able to overcome. Maybe in time, Microsoft will ease up the restrictions for its always on system, but this is where Xbox One hits a wall.
"You can focus on things that are barriers, or you can focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem." -Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Computers
So how does Microsoft fix their blunders? Let's not get ahead of ourselves by eliminating the system's key points (always online being one of them). Microsoft is trying to redefine gaming, but neglecting to rebrand what an Xbox is. As stated before, the console has become a box that enables gamers to access a service, not a box that simply plays games. As much as we want Xbox One to fall in line with the consoles we know today, that is not where they want to go.
The Potential of Always Online
It's hard to trust the "Always Online" model when we have seen so many failures in the past. From SimCity (2013) to Diablo III, an always connected experience hasn't worked. Ubisoft had been one of the frontrunners for the idea and ultimately gave up on it for the same reason gamers are concerned it won't work for Xbox. It isn't ready. We get lofty promises of greater potential in games, taking stress off of the system and onto magic servers that make our games run and compute better. Maybe there is truth to this "feature," but not yet. Assuming that Xbox One pushes online stability to the next level and the world is able to meet the demands of the system. What can we expect?
Cloud gaming is something that has been tested, and thanks to services like OnLive, has become a reality. Gone are the days where we even download games. We can now stream them like we do with our movies, TV shows, and music. This is one possibility that makes the "Always Online" feature a worthy endeavor, better defining what Xbox is.
The Fuzzy Future of Kinect
Most of Xbox One's downsides might have been alleviated with proper branding, but the requirement of Kinect is one that is harder to justify. The technology is impressive and always has been, but its implementation has a lot to be desired. So why make it a requirement when it's rarely used?
Let's look at the Xbox One controller. The controller, is inherently the tool you need to play games and navigate your Xbox's interface. It works fine and has the ability to power on your system without having to hit the power button directly. It's a necessity to do what you bought the system for.
Microsoft has made the console only function with Kinect, which in our minds, is an accessory at best. In a gamer's mind, it isn't even needed, nor does it make things entirely easier. Personally, I'd much rather press a button than say, "Xbox, on." So why is it even needed? Frankly, it isn't needed, but neither is the camera on your phone.
Think of all of the revolutions we have made in technology just through the addition of a camera on cell phones. We now have a device on us at all times with the capability of documenting every event and connecting us closer together simply because of this one addition. Now, needless to say Kinect isn't to the Xbox One that a camera is to a cell phone. However, it does increase the functionality of that device to support more applications (i.e. Skype). We may even see video chat put into our games, and be able to call out the 12 year olds who have been swearing worse than the most foulmouthed of sailors. I should know, I was both at one point.
[Side Note: As far as the "Always On" feature goes, it has good potential. Unfortunately it is far more likely to be abused. That is another topic for another time.]
Not As Bad As It Seems
With a higher asking price and higher standards, the negatives of the systems are in much larger font, if not in bold writing. Xbox One is a system for different times and tries to reach a destination before the station is even built. Sony took advantage of the situation and nailed the coffin shut. Sony will have the strongest start, but will they have the race?
We talk so much about who has won what, but we don't ask where? Sony may win the launch, but we aren't able to see where the gaming mindshare will be. This generation, Xbox 360 dominated the gaming mindshare while Sony came second. With Sony having such a great start, it's hard to imagine the PlayStation 4 not taking the lead in this generation. Will Xbox One be able to make up for its starting missteps and catch up? That is the new question we should begin analyzing truthfully.
Brian Jensen is Executive Editor for 1985FM. Follow him on Twitter @Brian85FM