Microsoft ushered in their own brand of next-generation home entertainment last night with the highly-anticipated reveal of the “Xbox One,” their third Xbox console and the all-encompassing successor to the world conquering Xbox 360.
I really don’t use the phrase “all-encompassing,” too lightly here. As it is, Xbox One is seemingly more interested in being an expensive entertainment Swiss Army Knife than that of a mere video game console, the basic premise that made the Xbox brand what it is today.
Under the hood, Xbox One packs some incredibly impressive features for a console – a Blu-ray drive, 500GB of storage space, the ability to interact with live TV, a new Xbox dashboard interface controlled using your voice and the inevitable evolution of their hands free Kinect controller. Throw in Skype, cloud saves, evolving game achievements, an expanded Xbox Live service and impressive first and third party support for the console – and on paper, Xbox One seems like an impressive evolution of brand Xbox. Microsoft clearly want this new Xbox to have more of a relationship with your living room and with your day to day life, an impetus that they have been eluding for the last couple of years with Xbox 360.
Based on last night’s reveal, you can’t help but feel that games, the reason that most of us actually made space below our heavily cluttered TV units for an Xbox to begin with, has now been relegated to the sidelines to some extent. While the architecture is clearly impressive and the huge next-generational games that we all expect from this new console will no doubt be announced and revealed in the coming months, last night Microsoft only managed to alienate the core demographic of gamers, who made them who they were to begin with. Apart from the fact that they had very little in terms of games that we didn’t already know about like a new ‘FIFA,’ and a new ‘Call of Duty,’ to show us last night, it was revealed that Xbox One will support a pre-owned “fee,” to play games.
What this means is that individual games will be tied to individual accounts – meaning your titles can only be played elsewhere on another Xbox One if the second user ‘chokes up,’ an additional fee. Paying the fee means both users now own the game, and the disc isn’t needed going forward. So basically the days of getting a new game on Christmas morning, trying it on your Xbox and then bringing it over to your cousins house, after your dinner, to try it on his new Xbox, are gone, unless of course your cousin is happy to incur a pre-owned fee. PC’s have been locking games to people’s hardware or on-line accounts for years now. Consoles have always had an advantage over PC’s in so much as you can take one single retail disc and do whatever you please with it. Xbox One just relinquished this advantage.
Xbox 360 Games Not Backwards-Compatible With Xbox One
In addition, your current catalogue of Xbox 360 games are not backwards-compatible with Xbox One, meaning you cannot play your current 360 games on Xbox One. There was no suggestion of Xbox 360 games being made available through another on-line service or the cloud. As you can imagine, these announcements, coupled with a seemingly everything but the game-centric entertainment energy, have made the game playing public very unhappy.
And then there’s the question of always on-line connectivity and the suggestion that the new Xbox requires you to be always connected to the internet to play and interact with its it fruitful features. Thankfully, it does not require an always on-line connection, BUT it still requires an internet connection and it still needs a connection to the web at least once a day. You know, in this day and the age of Smart-phones, 3G, high power fibre-optic broadband and enhanced connectivity; it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a connection to the internet readily available to them where they live. God knows Ireland’s greater broadband issues are by now well documented. Xbox One will reportedly require an internet connect once every 24 hours. If you don’t have an internet connection, then your Xbox One is rendered unusable it would now appear.
You might ask yourself just what Microsoft is thinking about with these features, but in truth, any gamer will tell you that these revelations aren’t as surprising as you think. They’re actually merely reinforcing the precedents already firmly established in this industry. Paid un-lockable content already on the shipped game disc, micro-transactions in games, games that require an on-line connection to actually play and paid subscription services to do things like browse the web, go on social media or play on-line (things that are already free to begin with) have become stalwarts of this industry – and its continuously getting worse. If you have money, games companies and publishers will try and put both hands in your pocket, because they know that you’re a sucker for your favourite game or your favourite gaming franchise.
Your Move Sony
You must wonder what Sony, Microsoft’s biggest rival in the games industry arena, makes of all of this. In the wake of the Xbox One Sony reveal their financial stock actually rose significantly. Last February they were the first to weigh in with their new next-generation console, the PlayStation4. What did they confirm? Yes games and lots of them. That’s what gamers want. Yes, PlayStation 4 will use different applications, watch movies, play music, allow you to browse on-line and do all the other things that you expect it to do, but if PS4 is anything like PS3, you won’t have to pay for the privilege. As it is, on-line services on PS3 via the PlayStation Network are free – No subscription required and if you do want a little more “bang for your buck,” you can subscribe to PlayStation Plus, a completely optional ‘Games on Demand Service,’ that grants the user access to dozens of free games every year for a flat €50 a year entry fee. The service is a unanimous success and you never feel like you’re paying for something you shouldn’t be. Sony has also confirmed that PlayStation 4 will not discourage pre-owned games users, so don’t expect any kind of entry level fee to play a game you don’t actually own unlike with Xbox One. But Sony must come out and reaffirm this stance. The ball is squarely in their court.
In early June at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angles, both Sony and Microsoft will fully reveal their final console wares, ahead of the Xbox One and PS4 releases this holiday. For Microsoft you would think, it’s an operation in damage control and in saving some face on last night. If they can justify all of the confusion and unnecessary fees that surround their new console with big exclusive games that people want and need to play, they might just be able to get the gaming public behind them again.
As for Sony, if they’re clever enough, they could rub further salt into Microsoft’s wounds. If they stick to their guns, keep their console free to use on-line and don’t block or discourage used games, while continuing to deliver on their promise to release a games console ahead of all else, there might be no way back for the Xbox One. Microsoft appear to be more interested in gaining customers and not passionate gamers.
As we say at Chess, “Your move Sony.”
Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are both expected in time for Christmas this year in Ireland. Which “one” will you choose?